Fireworks exploded and Russian flags fluttered above jubilant crowds Sunday after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The United States and Europe condemned the ballot as illegal and destabilizing and were expected to slap sanctions against Russia for it.
Ukraine’s new government in Kiev called the referendum a “circus” directed at gunpoint by Moscow — referring to the thousands of Russian troops now in the strategic Black Sea peninsula after seizing it two weeks ago.
But after the polls closed late Sunday, crowds of ethnic Russians in the regional Crimean capital of Simferopol erupted with jubilant chants in the main square, overjoyed at the prospect of once again becoming part of Russia.
The Crimea referendum offered voters the choice of seeking annexation by Russia or remaining in Ukraine with greater autonomy. After 50 percent of the ballots were counted, Mikhail Malishev, head of the referendum committee, said more than 95 percent of voters had approved splitting off and joining Russia.
I have no doubt some people in Crimea are overjoyed. Maybe more than half. But 95%? No fair vote is 95%. And there’s no reason to think this was a fair vote:
Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade stage-managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for widespread harassment.
There was never any question the vote would be for secession; no other result would have been allowed.
As for what the US, NATO, and Europe will do, I predict sanctions that will have little effect. And the eastern Ukraine, which is similar in Russian-leaning tendencies to Crimea, may be chomping at the bit to follow Crimea. It’s western Ukraine that wants greater ties to the west.
Oh, and by the way, let’s look at a little history in the area:
Crimea may have a majority Russian population today, but it hasn’t always been that way.
The peninsula’s dark history of ethnic cleansing is visible in the following chart from Reuters.
The chart shows a collapse in the population of native Crimean Tatars from 34.1% in 1897 to zero in 1959, marking brutal harassment leading up to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s forcible deportation of the entire population in 1944, with nearly half dying in the process. It took decades for the population to climb back to 12% by 2001.
While the population of Ukrainians and especially Russians rose, the percentage of the population falling into an unlisted category also fell from more than 20% in 1921 to around 5% in 1959. This was a consequence of the deportation of Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks, and other groups.
Here’s the chart:
Stalin paved the way.