Staunton, March 24 – The majority of residents of Crimea almost certainly did not vote to join the Russian Federation, according to a detailed analysis of that vote by Andrey Illarionov, and Putin’s claimed victory was, as many have suspected, the result of the kind of massive falsification Putin has perpetrated in Russian elections in the past.
Illarionov’s detailed discussion of this issue is convincing, but it is especially important because it calls attention to a trend Putin and his supporters have done everything they can to suppress: support in Crimea for joining the Russian Federation had in fact been declining rather than increasing, a development that may have contributed to the timing of Moscow’s action.
In a blog post over the weekend, Illarionov begins by citing the statement of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko who said that only 34 percent of Crimean residents voted for joining the Russian Federation, not the 97 percent Vladimir Putin has claimed.
Speaking on “Shuster Live,” Tymoshenko said that “according to the data of the leaders of the Crimean Tatar people, only a little more than 34 percent of Crimeans voted for unity with Russia.” That figure, she suggested, is “very close to the truth”.
Such figures correspond with the results of polls taken in Crimea in early to mid-February, Illarionov point out. One by the Democratic Initiative found that 35.9 percent of Crimeans favored joining Russia, and a second by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found a figure of 41.0 percent.
And these in turn replicate the findings of still earlier samplings by the Research and Branding Group and the Gallup Institute and International Republican Institute, he says.
Such expressions of public opinion in Crimea not only call into question the results Moscow claimed but suggest that those who currently accept them as somehow valid or at least indicative of a majority in the peninsula need to look more closely at those who have examined Russian falsifications of the vote.
“At a minimum,” Illarionov says, “two-thirds of the residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea did not vote for joining [it] to present-day Putin’ Russia.” Consequently, the chief ideological prop of the Kremlin on this issue falls apart and means that Putin is relying on naked force alone, something that those concerned about Ukraine and the future should focus on.
More such analyses are likely to appear in the coming days, and one can only hope they will have an impact on thinking in the West as well as in Russia. But already they have called attention to something that Putin has preferred not to talk about and that may explain why he acted when he did even more than references to the Maidan.
Nine months ago, Tatyana Ivzhenko of Moscow’s Nezavsimaya Gazeta reported that “Russia is losing influence on Crimean residents,” a conclusion she said arose from the findings of new polls there. To the extent that is true, Putin may have felt he had to move when he did lest support for him and for Russia were to fall further.
Some commentators are likely to insist that the Maidan changed everything, that the Kyiv demonstrations intensified the national feelings of ethnic Russians in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. There is likely some truth in that, but more recent soundings show that most ethnic Russians even in those regions put Ukrainian citizenship above Russian ethnicity.
Had Putin not played up Russian nationalist sentiment and used it as the basis for an invasion and seizure of Ukrainian territory, Ukraine would likely have been able to integrate its ethnic Russians as full-fledged Ukrainian citizens and would have been a state interested in at least cooperative relations with Moscow.
But Putin’s actions have unified Ukrainians in ways few had thought possible even several weeks ago, and they are likely to remain unified against Moscow in much the same way the victims of Russian aggression on other occasions are. One can only hope that Russians in Ukraine will nonetheless reject Putin’s inversion of ethnicity and citizenship.