Five Myths about the Crimean Referendum

As voting gets underway – and by all accounts, it seems to be overwhelmingly heading for the pro-secession choice – it’s worthwhile to dispel four common but erroneous beliefs about it.

(1) The referendum is unconstitutional.

Where political power in Ukraine rests today.

Where political power in Ukraine rests today.

This is true enough, as all of Ukraine would have to vote on it. But there is one big catch: The Ukrainian Constitution has been null and void since around February 22, 2014, when the Kiev mob overthrew a democratically elected President and the opposition seized power.  If the new regime absolutely insists on constitutional niceties, then it should dissolve itself and bring back Yanukovych from Rostov. This is hardly going to be happening anytime soon, so the only conclusion to be drawn is that, as in much else, the new regime and its Western backers only discover legality when it suits them. And that’s just fine, it’s “people power” and that’s supposed to be great and all, especially when it’s happening outside the West… but unless one wants to proudly and openly embrace double standards, then the mobs in Crimea have just as much of a right to decide their own destiny as do the mobs in Kiev.

(2) The referendum can’t be fair because of the presence of armed Russian troops.

Of course, nobody is buying the official Kremlin line that there are no Russian troops – or at least mercenaries – operating in Crimea. That said, if we insist on going by this standard, then we’ll have to concede that all Afghan elections since 2001 and all Iraqi elections since 2003 will have to be likewise invalidated. For some reason, I don’t see Washington conceding this anytime soon.

(3) There is no choice – both options are, in effect, a “yes.”

cimeaHere is the form, which is printed in the Russian, Ukrainian, and Tatar languages. The two options are:

  1. Do you support joining Crimea with the Russian Federation as a subject of Russian Federation?
  2. Do you support restoration of 1992 Crimean Constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine?

It is also clearly stated that marking both answers will count as a spoiled ballot.

So the option isn’t between joining Russia or joining Russia, but between joining Russia and getting more autonomy. Furthermore, there is a clear and democratic way to vote AGAINST any changes – boycott the referendum (as official Kiev and the Mejlis have been urging Crimeans to do). If turnout is below 50%, the referendum is automatically invalidated.

(4) Most Crimeans do not support independence.

Two pieces of evidence are typically wheeled out in support for this: The fact that the Crimean PM Aksynov’s Russian Unity Party only achieved 4% in the 2010 elections in Crimea, and a February 8-18 poll showing that only 41% of Crimeans supported union with Russia.

The rejoinder to the former is easy – tactical voting. An outfit such as the Russian Unity Party would have no chance at the all-Ukraine level, so pro-Russian Crimeans understandable voted for the Party of Regions. And overwhelmingly so.

The poll is harder to argue with, but far from impossible.

Bisn5MTCMAET6yXFirst, 41% is a very substantial share of the population, and clearly enough to justify a referendum. Most polls show lower support for Scottish independence, and yet they are going through with it. The referendum that split Montenegro from Serbia succeeded by the lowest of margins.

Second, the political situation has changed cardinally since mid-February. The President that Crimeans overwhelmingly voted for has since been overthrown in an unconstitutional coup, and power has been parceled out between Batkivschina and the fascist Svoboda party. Instead of maintaining the status quo until the elections – a not unreasonable expectation of an unelected transition government – they have instead pushed to roll back the Russian language, “lustrate” Party of Regions officials, appoint oligarchs to rule the restive eastern provinces, and formalize the status of Right Sector – the armed wing of Svoboda – as a paramilitary force. At the same time, Russian intervention has transformed the prospect of joining Russia from a pipedream held by Soviet nostalgics to a real choice on a paper ballot. In these circumstances, it is almost certain that support for Crimean secession has gone up.

Up, and radically so. Since then, two more recent polls have shown support for joining Russia at 77% and more than 80%. This is largely confirmed by anecdotal evidence (with all the necessary caveats about it being a lower standard of evidence than polls). Residential buildings and cars are festooned with Russian flags. There is nary a voice of objection to be heard at the (politically neutral) Sevastopol city forum. Turnout at the pro-Russian rallies in Crimea was several times higher than at the pro-Ukrainian one. Source? That infamous Kremlin stooge, The Economist’s Russia correspondant:

New update 3/16 – futhermore, as several commentators have pointed out, the precise wording of the poll that showed 41% support for union with Russia asked the question for Ukraine as a whole, as opposed to just the respondents’ region. In which case the cause of the discrepancy between it and the two recent polls becomes eminently clear: While Crimeans would very much like to join Russia themselves, they also realize that Lviv, say, wouldn’t be too happy or productive with such an the arrangement.

Crimea is the only region of Ukraine where ethnic Russians, at 58% according to the last Census in 2001, constitute an absolute majority. Conquered by Russian arms, it was handed over to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954, at a time when inter-Soviet borders were little more than a formality, to mark the 300-year anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav that bound Ukraine’s destiny with Russia’s. Now that Kiev has been taken over by a clique who utterly and entirely reject this shared legacy, and see their future as an outpost of the Euro-Atlantic Empire, it is hardly fair to expect Crimeans to suppress their own cultural and political traditions in pursuit of a revolutionary project spearheaded by Kiev and Lviv that they themselves have no interest in and no attachment to.

(5) The Crimean Tatars will be persecuted or marginalized.

The problem with the above argument, a Euromaidanite might rejoinder, is that Crimea really belongs to the Tatars.

With Sochi over and the Circassians once again relegated to the margins now that they are no longer useful for kicking Russia, many crocodile tears are now being shed in editorials and blog comments about the Tsarist persecution and Stalinist deportations of the Crimean Tatars. Their blood, their land, so to speak. But then, why not the Scythians? Or the Greeks? Or for that matter, why no consideration for the three million Slavs – Russians, Ukrainians, and Poles – that were sold into slavery by the Crimean Khanate during its three centuries of existence? Funnily enough, the people who are concern trolling all the way back into 18th century history conveniently stop at that precise point when Catherine the Great conquers the Crimean Khanate.

Short of Turkey invading and ethnically cleansing the Slavs, or making the Tatars into a ruling caste, Crimea will never “belong” to the Tatars under any vaguely liberal and democratic political order.

Back in the real world of 2014, the Crimean Tatars are going to guarantees of proportional representation in the legislative and executive bodies, and official status for the Tatar language (this is more, incidentally, than they could bargain on in a Ukraine co-run by Svoboda and Right Sector). Bearing in mind all this, it should come as no surprise that Crimean Tatars are nowhere near as monolithic on the secession question as the Western media has made them out to be. For a start, Crimea’s Deputy PM, Rustam Temirgaliev, is an ethnic Tatar. Many ethnic Tatars can be found – including by the none too Russophilic Guardian – who do not subscribe to the Mejlis’ party line.


  1. Fair enought, but I thought that the referendum was advertised now as being whether Crimea should be *independent* versus staying with Ukraine, rather than about joining the Russian Federation.

  2. Also, I sympathize with the people of Crimea, especially the older folks who woke up one day being transferred from Russia to Ukraine (perhaps a silly action of Khrushchev, that should have been reversed before the fall of the CCCP.) However, there is also a treaty (of which I know little detail) including Russia and USA, guaranteeing Ukrainian borders in return for their giving up nuclear weapons. This needs to be addressed, in addition to the points here which are actually rather appropriate to make.

    • There is such a treaty, from I believe 1994. However, I also believe the treaty was signed when Crimea was guaranteed a much higher level of autonomy than it has today, for example it could elect its own president. This right was unilaterally taken away from it by Kyiv, which therefore was the first to usurp the arrangement from 1994.

    • I’ve read somewhere on the Internet but have lost the link, that Khrushchev gifted Crimea to Ukraine in part to win the support of all Ukrainians for the Soviet Union. Stepan Bandera was apparently still active in parts of Ukraine after the Second World War. He had contacts with the CIA and MI6 and was running their agents into Ukraine. Giving Crimea to Ukraine was a ploy to persuade Ukrainians not to support Bandera’s activities. If the Crimea-Bandera link is true, then Khrushchev’s action becomes more understandable.

      • Yes and no:

        “But the rest of the story, much of which is revealed in CIA records released in 2007, reveals irony in Yushchenko’s award. After the war Bandera lived in Munich. British intelligence used him to help run agents into Ukraine to gather intelligence and to help the Ukrainian underground against the Soviets. The CIA used some of Bandera’s former cronies for similar reasons, but never used Bandera himself, owing to Bandera’s infatuation with his own legend. “Bandera,” said one CIA report from 1948, “is by nature a political intransigent of great personal ambition [who] has…opposed all political organizations in the emigration which favor a representative form of government in the Ukraine, as opposed to a mono-party, OUN/Bandera regime.”

        Ukrainian sources confirmed that “fighting people in the homeland … [were] not prepared to accept [Bandera] as a dictator,” and that Bandera’s program “was unacceptable to the resistance movement inside [Ukraine]. In 1952 Bandera temporarily resigned as head of the OUN, pressured “by the growing opposition to his leadership among … top-ranking nationalist leaders who opposed him on the grounds of his totalitarian tactics….” Bandera’s subsequent petulance and his insistence on directing all facets of the Ukrainian underground at home and abroad led the British to drop him in 1953. With no high level contacts to listen to him, Bandera was now on the outside looking in.

        Owing to his self-promotion in print and on West German radio, Bandera remained popular with thousands of Ukrainian émigrés in West Germany. His superficial effectiveness prompted West German intelligence (the BND) to establish contact in 1956. By 1959 the BND was helping Bandera to run a new generation of Ukrainian agents from West Germany into the USSR. General Reinhard Gehlen, the head of the BND, had lead German Army intelligence in the USSR during the war. He and his subordinates were surely familiar with Bandera’s wartime record. They were less familiar with the fact that the BND was by now thoroughly penetrated with Soviet agents. On October 14, 1959, Bandera had lunch with senior BND officials to discuss the expansion of operations in Ukraine. The next day the KGB assassinated Bandera in his apartment building.”


    • Concerning Neil Bates comment that Russia signed the treaty on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia did not sign a guarantee that it will go to war over this integrity and enforce the boundaries of Ukraine. It simply promised not to violate that integrity. This means that if Crimea decided to split and become independent, that’s not a cause for Russia to start the war. Once Crimea became independent, it is no longer part of Ukraine and it is no violation of Ukraine’s integrity to annex Crimea into Russia. And no, the Crimeans voted for being part of Russia, not for independence. However, that accession could not have happened before they became formally independent first, to assure Russia’s compliance with the treaty.

  3. An excellent article. Agree with every part of it.

  4. Mr Bates. Karlin is correct on the translation of the referendum terms. Some of the WMSM is lying that the choice is Russia or independence. The actual choice is Russia or stay in Ukraine with more autonomy.

    The Budapest Memorandum, which is what you refer to, (not a treaty) states ,according to Wikipedia
    “Russia, the U.S., and the UK confirmed, in recognition of Ukraine becoming party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in effect abandoning its nuclear arsenal to Russia, that they would:

    Respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders.
    Refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine.
    Refrain from using economic pressure on Ukraine in order to influence its politics.
    Seek United Nations Security Council action if nuclear weapons are used against Ukraine.
    Refrain from the use of nuclear arms against Ukraine.
    Consult with one another if questions arise regarding these commitments.[6]”

    Do you think Victoria Nuland was respecting “Ukrainian independence and sovereignty” when she was arranging the new government and supporting the overthrow of the elected government and president? Let alone “economic pressure” or “consulting with one another”? The agreement was already killed by one side. It’s dead. International law, such as it is, and treaties and agreements, such as they are, are not just for one side to be held to while the other breaks them at will.
    The US and EU broke it and they have made it impossible for the state of Ukraine to continue.
    All easily predictable consequences. Here I am predicting trouble in December But nothing amazing in my getting it right: lots and lots of people knew that too. But, it seems, none in Washington or Brussels. And so here we are today.

    • Nuland’s presence in Kiev and her private expressions of whom she likes or doesn’t like are hardly comparable in scope to thousands of soldiers on the ground, is it?

      • Did you miss the bit about her and Serry deciding who should be in government. Are they employees of a) Kiev city street cleaning department; b) McDonalds; c) very high level employees of the US Department of State with the ear of man who is the most powerful in the world? Hard, isn’t it?

        • “Did you miss the bit about her and Serry deciding who should be in government.

          Yes. Where is the proof that they were selecting leaders? They simply expressed their preferences. I don’t recall thousands of American soldiers fanning across Ukraine.

  5. Very well said indeed Mr. Armstrong, a very healthy and courageous point of view.

  6. “…a February 8-18 poll showing that only 41% of Crimeans supported union with Russia.”

    Another thing, I believe this poll asked the participants whether they supported a union of Russia and the entire Ukraine. I think this is a fairly distinct question from the one Crimeans are being asked in the referendum. Possibly there are Crimeans who want for Crimea to join Russia on its own, but who would not want for the entire Ukraine to join Russia, for example because they believed it would lead to chaos, instability and worse if Lviv and Moscow found themselves part of the same state again.

    Certainly support in Russia for a Russia-Crimea union is greater than support for one between Russia and Ukraine.

    • That’s an interesting point. Polling on even seemingly simple controversial questions can often boil down to awkward wording. That’s why I rarely buy any poll on those issues unless it’s the straight referendum question. I know I’ve read multiple polls over the years where even though I’d be relatively “extreme” in support of one side, the poll question would make it seem like I was on the other side.

      For instance, even assuming union with Russia is the question, imagine the difference between different types of unions. One option might destroy Ukraine as a political entity, with the regions of Ukraine becoming Russian Federation subjects. On the other extreme, Ukraine might join a loose confederation that only shares a common military and foreign policy while maintaining separate legal systems for the constituent republics. I’d imagine a loose confederation would have significantly more support than the former, even though it still wouldn’t reach a majority of Ukrainians. Not to mention the myriads of options in between.

  7. Rudolph Pitman says:

    Your first two points really don’t make sense.

    #1: Since when is a country’s constitution ‘null and void’ when a party violates it? To believe so is absurd — whenever any party is deemed (by a foreign power, mind you) to have acted unconstitutionally, everyone can act unconstitutionally?.

    Further, Ukraine has its own courts to decide if the president was unconstitutionally ousted (after resigning), and Russia has no right under Ukraine’s constitution, or int’l law, to invade and take control (unless the right to protect one’s citizens in foreign lands is taken to such a preposterous extreme that it would universally legitimize all foreign invasions). The vote is unconstitutional. Period.

    #2: It’s a strawman to answer the argument as though it is, “The referendum can’t be fair because of the presence of armed…troops”. The issue isn’t armed troops. The issue is that the armed troops are from a particular country that clearly wants to incorporate the territory, are there for the purpose of incorporating the territory, and that no fair vote can take place while the most vested nation controls the region and is doing so in a blatantly partisan manner.

    Meanwhile, Afghanistan was a war zone at the time of election. There was no conceivable way to have an election without troops there. This is not the case in Crimea. Further, the troops in Afghanistan were multi-national and resulted from explicit United Nations approval. Russia has explicitly rejected having the UN replace Russian troops.

  8. Rudolph Pitman says:

    #5 is also a strawman — you haven’t answered the problem as even you have presented it. To answer whether the Tatars will be (that there is good reason to believe that they will be) marginalized or persecuted, it is irrelevant whether the region “belongs” to the Tatars. What, it’s ok to persecute and marginalize the Tatars (on the order of how Stalin did??) so long as they don’t own the place? A truly ridiculous argument.

    • You have not offered a “good reason to believe” that the marginalization or persecution of the Crimea Tartar community will happen in the future.
      Why are you ignoring the linked rt article which shows that the new Crimean authorities want to win the support of the Crimean Tartars for the reformed Crimean republic?

      • Rudolph Pitman says:

        ‘Good’ meaning valid, not necessarily more than likely. My point is that the author’s response to the *valid* concern — based on a history of brutal persecution by Russia and supported by current Russian nationalism in Crimea encouraged by Russia — does nothing to address it. It is a furphy to here expound on whether Crimea “belongs” to the group, in fact doing such is simply inflammatory in its disregard for the fear felt by many as its play with nationalistic undertones.

      • Rudolph Pitman says:

        I’ll let you consider why I didn’t address what a Russian mouthpiece says.

        • Southerncross says:

          You can’t dispute the facts so you reject the source. Presumably you think the Crimea Tatars would have gotten a better deal from the people in Kiev who wave “white power” flags.

  9. nirvichara says:

    US nullified effectively all treaties of 1994 by creating a coupe in Ukraine

    • Mike Campbell says:

      How is that then?

      Firstly of course the preposterous notion that the USA “created” the coup has been debunked already – no the least by the proximate cause of the coup actually being the $15 billion bribe from Putin to Yanuchenko to pull out of the agreement with Europe.

      Secondly – even that crass action doesn’t actually negate any treaty at all.

  10. Rudolph Pitman says:

    Russia violated (?nullified) the 1994 memorandum by extorting allegiance. Neither make an unconstitutional vote for secession constitutional.

  11. This is from a blog…any comments?

    The referendum appears to have been rather fishy. I suspect the pro-Russian side would have won even without cheating, but it looks like the new authorities didn’t want to take chances.

  12. My comments:

    1. I agree with Rudolph Pitman here: “Since when is a country’s constitution ‘null and void’ when a party violates it? To believe so is absurd — whenever any party is deemed (by a foreign power, mind you) to have acted unconstitutionally, everyone can act unconstitutionally?….Further, Ukraine has its own courts to decide if the president was unconstitutionally ousted (after resigning), and Russia has no right under Ukraine’s constitution, or int’l law, to invade and take control.” To add to what he said, violating Ukraine’s constitution began not with the mobs in Kiev’s streets but right after Yanukovich took power, in 2010. At the time when he was elected, there was an elected Orange parliament. Yanukovich flipped the elected Orange parliament unconstitutionally, giving himself total (unelected) power over all branches of Ukraine’s government.* His subsequent actions and subsequent events in Ukraine were products of this violation of Ukraine’s Constitution. The recent violation of Ukraine’s constitution by the opposition-now-government (with the support of the Ukrainian people) was a reaction to the violation of the constitution by the President. Ignoring the whole story and just focusing on the events of early 2014 creates a false impression. This was not simply a legitimately elected president driven form power by a mob. It was a legitimately elected president with limited powers, furthermore limited by an opposition parliament, who unconstitutionally amassed total power over the country, who was eventually driven from power by forces supported by more of the people than those who supported him.

    2. Your argument seems to be that the Iraqi and Afghanistani elections also weren’t valid. Maybe. But does this make the Crimean referendum valid?

    3. I agree here.

    4. I also agree with you on this.

    5. The Tatars are Crimea’s natives. As such they ought to have some special consideration in spite of their minority status. The ways Kosovo’a native Serbs were treated by the West was wrong. Crimean Tatars’ situation is quite analogous to that of the Serbs, and the way they are being treated is likewise wrong.

    * Going back to 2010. In the parliamentary elections the people voted strictly for parties, not for individuals. The results were Party of Regions, Communists, and Lytvyn’s bloc had a combined 222 votes, Tymoshenko plus Our Ukraine had 227 votes. Soon after coming to power, Yanukovich (who has control over the courts and prosecutor’s office) managed to get over 250 votes for his side, to depose Tymoshenko from the post of PM, and to ram through a bunch of laws opposed by the parties who had actually won the last parliamentary election such as ratifying the Black Sea fleet extension, the language laws, granting itself an additional year in office, etc. This was unconstitutional – the unelected MPs were bound to represent the parties whom the people voted for, and not to vote against those parties.

    Article 81 of Ukraine’s Constitution stated:

    The authority of a People’s Deputy of Ukraine shall terminate prior to the expiration of his or her term in office in the event of:

    6.his or her failure, as having been elected from a political party (an electoral bloc of political parties), to join the parliamentary faction representing the same political party (the same electoral bloc of political parties) or his or her exit from such a faction.

    Where a People’s Deputy of Ukraine, as having been elected from a political party (an electoral bloc of political parties), fails to join the parliamentary faction representing the same political party (the same electoral bloc of political parties) or exits from such a faction, the highest steering body of the respective political party (electoral bloc of political parties) shall decide to terminate early his or her authority on the basis of a law, with the termination taking effect on the date of such a decision.

    So tossing aside the Constitution was something Yanukovich started.

    • Thanks, good info. A reminder how MP defections are easily and regularly used to subvert the democratic will of the people.

  13. Unpeudesommeil says:

    ” As such they ought to have some special consideration in spite of their minority status. ” This is not how it works in modern liberal democracies, and I find this point of view to be very bizarre. (The older population gets more votes, what the hell?) Anyway, Tatars are not some second-class group in Crimea, so this is all a nonissue.

    • “This is not how it works in modern liberal democracies, and I find this point of view to be very bizarre”

      So you don’t object to Kosovo, where the native Serbs were down to 10%, getting out of Serbia the way it did? I do.

      • Kosovo’s native Serbs currently get special treatment under Kosovar law. Although they’re only about 6% of the population, they have 10 out of 120 seats reserved for them in the Assembly — and since they can *also* vote for other seats, they hold a total of 12 seats in the current Assembly, meaning they have nearly double representation. The Kosovo Constitution also guarantees that a Serb must hold one of the two Deputy President positions and at least one of the twelve Cabinet ministries, and a seat on the Supreme Court. The Serbs also are guaranteed their own judges in Serb-majority communities, a couple of seats on the Election Commission, and so forth.

        In addition, they have a bunch of other special rights and protections. So, Serbian is an official language of Kosovo — all government documents must be in Serbian as well as Albanian, testimony in Serbian must be accepted in all courts, etc. etc. Serb communities are guaranteed elementary and high schools in their communities, there’s a state-funded Serbian TV channel, and the like.

        This is not to say that being a Serb in Kosovo is great! It most certainly isn’t. But legally, they’ve got lots of very carefully detailed special rights.

        And this is not actually a weird or strange thing. Lots of countries have special protections for particular minority groups.

        Doug M.

  14. Unpeudesommeil says:

    I hereby submit that the native population in Alaska should get more votes than other ethnic groups. Seriously, what the fuck. Hey here’s an idea. The Greek population in Crimea (which is sizeable) should get 5 times as many votes as everybody else, since they’ve been there since 300 BC.

    • See my note above on the Kosovar Serbs. Again, this isn’t some weird unique thing. Lots of places give special legal treatment to particular groups, up to and including giving them extra votes. You can argue whether it’s a good idea or not, but it’s not some wooooooo, totally bizarre thing that’s never been tried.

      Doug M.

  15. Unpeudesommeil says:

    And Slavs in Crimea should get financial compensation from the Tatars, the Turks, and Italy for the slave trade.

  16. The pro-Ukrainian side is claiming turnout to have been 30%-50% with Tatar turnout at .5% or so. Is that in any way realistic? It contradicts the official Crimean separatist claims but there is no reason to assume that these are any more credible than the Ukrainian ones:

    Here are historical turnout figures for Crimea:

    2004 runoff (Yushchenko defeats Yanukovych): 1.16 million.

    2007 national legislative election (Yanukovych’s Party of Regions wins a plurality, though only 34%, nationwide): <850k.

    2010 presidency (Yanukovych beats Tymoshenko): I can’t find raw number of votes, but turnout in Crimea is <50%, lowest in Ukraine.

    2012 legislative (Party of Regions wins majority of seats despite 30% of votes nationwide): 733k.

    Crimea's elections commission claims 1,274,096 people voted (and note, the population of Russians is lower than it had been in 2004). Is that realistic?

    • Yes, it is because it’s basically the Crimean independence referendum from the Ukraine and independence referendums often have (very) high turnouts. For instance, the Ukrainian independence referendum in 1991 had an even higher turnout (84.2 %).

      • There are some key differences here though. Ukraine in 1991 was about 73% Ukrainian, Crimea today about 59% Russian. 1991 was a time of dreaming abut getting wealthy, becoming like the West, ending Soviet oppression etc. etc. Despite Russian promises to raise pensions, I strongly suspect there is not as much idealism about leaving a country that provides 70% of tourists and a lot of gas, water, and electricity and which is one of the poorer regions in the country (unlike Ukraine which had been one of the wealthiest parts of the USSR).

  17. What was the level of oppression in Galicia from 1944 -5?. Were there a lot of imprisonments, deportations and executions?

  18. WRT the Crimean Tatars:

    1) It’s pretty clear that a solid majority of Tatars dislike Russia and Russian rule and want to stay part of Ukraine. Why not? Ukraine is weak and has no particular tradition of making trouble for the Tatars. Russian oppression of the Tatars, OTOH, goes back over 200 years. People tend to focus on Stalin’s deportations, but successive Russian governments had been marginalizing and persecuting the Tatars for 150 years at that point. (That’s why there are Tatar minorities sprinkled all around the Black Sea, in Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. They date back to the 19th century, not 1944.)

    So, Tatar fear of Russians has a pretty solid historical basis.

    2) Certainly you can find Tatars in the current government of Crimea. You could find Albanians in the Yugoslav government in 1995, and Serbs in Kosovo’s government today. But it sucked to be an Albanian in Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and it’s no great treat o be a Serb in Kosovo now.

    3) So a prominent Tatar human rights activist disappeared two weeks ago. And turned up dead on Monday with his body showing the marks of torture. You can spin all the scenarios you like — Russian media are already claiming that this must be some sort of provokatsiya — but if you were a Tatar, you’d be freaking out pretty hard right now.

    Doug M.

    • And now it appears that a priority of the new government will be “correcting” the “land problem” created by Crimean Tatar “squatters”. That was quick!

      Doug M.

      • I know it is just anecdotal, but when I studied Russian language 7 years ago, the teacher is from Crimea, who emigrated in the 90’s, and she told about Tatar squatters, who forced not only Russians but also Ukrainians out of their rightfully owned lands/houses/apartments. Back in 2007, no one dreamed Crimea would become part of Russia. And that was one of the reasons she and her family decided to leave, besides that after the USSR collapse they “ended up” being in Ukraine.

  19. Cool article. Just out of interest, do you have a source for this quote… “Furthermore, there is a clear and democratic way to vote AGAINST any changes – boycott the referendum (as official Kiev and the Mejlis have been urging Crimeans to do).”

    I’d love to have it if you could send it. Thanks for the info!

  20. It’s nice how people perform logical dissections and bring arguments and counter-arguments, trying to add nuances to the truth. It was an invasion. Not a military exercise, not deploying peace troops, not bringing the democracy, not fighting for human rights, not defending own territory. It’s Russia occupying Crimea. Maybe 95% of the Crimean wanted it, maybe some other historical foreign interventions weren’t correct as well, maybe you can have a solid case against Ukraine according to international low, but the truth stays: it was an invasion. We can argue on what’s to be done, what’s the impact and the future implications, why it happened, what was the Russian strategy, for how long was it prepared and so on. But we can’t paint an invasion in neutral colours, or worse, in pink.

    • Really was it an invasion? Where were the tanks? The airplanes bombing Crimea? Artillery? Dozens or hundred of thousands of Russian soldiers and marines disembarking? We just saw some soldiers, probably some of them from Russia, defending key points and receiving few Ukrainian servicemen who surrendered (while many of the military deployed in the peninsula just switched sides).I hardly see any similarity with Iraq in 2003, not even with Kosovo – the Western “humanitarian” campaigns caused way more damage to civilian infrastructure and killed much more people too.

      • One single foreign soldier on duty on your territory without your permission is an aggression. When the aggression alters the way your state institutions work that’s an attack to your sovereignty. Unless the attack to your sovereignty comes as a decision of the international community that finds your internal practices potentially threatening to other countries or to human rights, you may suspect that this attack to your sovereignty is an act of invasion. If it comes from a single country and it’s not internationally legitimated, then you can be sure: it’s an invasion. I might add, if it comes overnight, with ridiculous reasoning and the invaders pose in saviors, then it’s a Russian invasion.

        • I think annexing the Crimea is a huge mistake but I don’t see how “humanitarian” wars can be justified because x amount of countries support it usually under questionable or false pretext.

          • Unfortunately, in this stage of human civilization’s development, the economically/militarily weaker countries’ only help is the international community. Ones might get into relatively protective alliances, in exchange for what the strong ally might need – natural resources, geopolitical advantage and so on. It’s not perfect and some of the so called humanitarian wars, approved by the international community, were and will start under false pretexts indeed. However, is this better or worse than 100 years ago? Invading a country was much easier then, not to mention how easy it was 200 years ago or 500 years ago. The international law and the UN got weight in the worldwide political dynamics. However, there are few countries, some of them powerful and some of them not so powerful, that wouldn’t compromise for a global good – the essence of a community. I think that might measure best the level of civilization. Russia could have annexed Crimea with no waves if there was indeed a pro-Russian majority. There are methods to achieve that. Forgive my less academic example, it’s like the difference between convincing and raping. 500 years ago raping might even have been a right of the powerful and Russia seems to be still there. You’re totally right saying “I don’t see how “humanitarian” wars can be justified because x amount of countries support it”, but for the moment that’s the best we, as human society, could do. We could struggle for better and I believe that we will eventually make steps forward, but I also think that we can’t do much progress as long as we have to make a priority from protecting our asses.

            • If Russia is at a stage in which it is aggressively invading and violating the sovereignty of other countries, then the West (US/NATO) is much much worse. The Iraq invasion, the Yugoslavia/Serbia bombings, just to cite the most dramatic examples, didn’t have any international support out of those who pushed for these interventions (i.e., US and NATO allies) and weren’t approved by the UN either. Even though I don’t agree with AP, I have to concede that he doesn’t suffer from the typical Western double standard. If Russia’s actions in Crimea are not justified by international law, then Kosovo independence isn’t either.

  21. Here are full results for the February 2014 poll showing 41% of Crimeans wanting Ukraine and Russia to unite:

    AR Crimea 41.0
    Donetsk 33.2
    Lugansk 24.1
    Оdessa 24.0
    Dnipropetrovsk 13.8
    Kharkiv 15.1
    Zaporizhzhya 16.7
    Vinnytsya 2.7
    Kyiv (city) 5.3
    Poltava 4.3
    Kyiv (region) 6.4
    Lviv 0.0

    I agree for the reasons Anatoly has described, that these poll results shouldn’t be taken as likely numbers in a local referendum. However they are probably an accurate relative measure, for comparative purposes, of regional affinity to joining Russia. So, Donetsk as about 80% as pro-Russian as Crimea. Luhansk and Odessa are about 60% as pro-Russian as Crimea. Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk are only about a third as pro-Russian as Crimea.

    So, one can have some fun speculating about the results of referenda in thee regions, using Crimea as a baseline. Of course, the official Crimean results are probably fake. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that there are legitimate and that about 80% of Crimea’s registered voters supported union with Russia. Using Crimea’s 80% as a baseline and the ratio of other regions to Crimea as predictor, we can guess that if referenda were held in other Ukrainian regions the results would be:

    Donetsk: 65% in favor of joining Russia
    Lugansk: 47%
    Odessa: 47%
    Dnipropetrovsk: 27%
    Kharkiv: 29%
    Zaporizhia: 33%
    Vynnytsia: 5%
    Kyiv (city): 10%
    Poltava: 8.4%
    Lviv: 0%

    As can be seen, the dividing line of joining Russia does not correspond exactly to the dividing line Orange vs. Blue voting patterns. While Crimea and Donetsk seem to prefer Russia, there is a tier of Blue Ukraine that is ambivalent (divided 50/50) and another tier in which pro-union-with-Russia sentiment is substantial (about 1/3 of the population) but certainly is a minority viewpoint. If Ukraine’s situation deteriorates, places such as Odessa or Luhansk may tip pro-Russia. The industrial powerhouses of Dnipropetrovsk and even Kharkiv, however, seem to be securely Ukrainian however. It will be much harder for Russia to flip regions where it has only 1/3 support than it would to do so with those which are divided roughly 50/50.

    Kharkiv is an interesting case – there is a large discrepancy between it and the Donbas next door. Maybe this might have to do with Kharkiv once having been Ukraine’s capital, or its highly educated younger workforce (it is a major IT center and had lots of engineers; these might be less nostalgic for the Soviet past than are Donbas coalminers), or its higher percentage of ethnic Ukrainians – 70.7% in Kharkiv oblast vs. 57% in Donetsk oblast.