Crimea Prepares to Vote on Russian Secession, But Does It Matter?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Getty Images

“Do you support reuniting Crimea with Russia, as a subject of the Russian Federation? Or, do you support the restoration of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Crimea and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine?” So reads the ballot that Crimean civilians will be voting on this coming Sunday, but with the international community and Ukraine having made clear their stance on the matter — that such a vote would be illegitimate — the vote loses a degree of significance. In preparation for a decision to secede from Ukraine, Crimea’s legislative body passed a “declaration of independence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea” on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Vadim Karasyov, a political analyst in Kiev, told the Associated Press that the move was likely done as a signal to “the West that there is no talk about Russia incorporating Crimea,” and as a “tranquilizer for everybody — for the West and for many in Ukraine who are panicking.” In this way, he said, Crimea could remain a “quasi-legitimate” state while both Russia and the West discuss its future. The declaration stated that Crimea would become “a democratic, secular and multi-ethnic state,” hoping to smooth over concerns within the area that different ethnicities within could lead to division, according to Time.

The Crimean region has historically moved between Russian and Ukrainian membership, stretching back to Soviet Russia, and the population remains heavily comprised of those of Russian ethnicity. Many civilians are in favor of a reunion with their Soviet roots, though not all. Michail Malishev, head of the Crimean Electoral Commission, told CNN the commission has begun delivering referendum ballots.

Meanwhile, un-uniformed troops, believed to be Russian — though Russia still officially denies any involvement — are stationed in the region. The military force gained control amid Western and Ukrainian protests that the move constituted Russian invasion into the region. According to Time, Ukraine’s parliament votes Wednesday on whether or not to mobilize the Interior Ministry troops “to defend the country and citizens against any criminals, against external and internal aggression.”

Russia has made it clear that it will recognize the legitimacy of the vote. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “Russia will respect the results of Crimea’s referendum that will be monitored by” the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “From the Russian side, the necessity was underlined of taking into complete account the interests of all Ukrainian and all regions in the search for an exit from the crisis and also the respect of the right of the residents of Crimea to determine their fate on their own in accordance with the norms of international law,” the ministry said, according to the Associated Press.

Regardless of what regional preferences may come out in a vote, Ukraine’s interim government and Western allies have said the vote will be unlawful, and therefore will have “no legal effect” as it is a “direct violation” of the constitution of Ukraine. On top of that, the presence of Russian troops sheds doubt on the legitimacy of the vote. “Given the lack of adequate preparation and the intimidating presence of Russian troops, it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force,” said the Group of 7 nations — U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada — according to an EU statement. Leaders in Ukraine and internationally continue to demand that Russia remove any troops and use international mediators to help things move forward diplomatically.

International sanctions have already been brought against Russia, with the possibility of harsher sanctions from the U.S. ready at hand. The EU has agreed on sanctions against Russia that would include travel restrictions and asset freezes, though the details remain to be worked out. The G7 have asked Russia to end efforts toward a referendum, saying that the outcome will not be considered legitimate. “In addition to its impact on the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea could have grave implications for the legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states. Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take further actions, individually and collectively,” the G7 nations said.

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