Kyiv, March 17, 2014. Yesterday a so-called “referendum” took place in Crimea. On Monday morning the results were announced: 96% of voters opted for Crimea to become a part of Russia, with voter turnout exceeding 83%, according to Kryminform, the commission responsible for holding the illegal referendum. At the same time the turnout in Sevastopol, a city with a special status, exceeded 100%. Earlier, the leader of the Crimean Tatars, who make up for 13% of Crimean population, announced that the Tatars would boycott the unconstitutional referendum for they “never participate in clown shows”.
Despite the reported unusually high voter turnout in Crimea, eyewitnesses stated that there were no lines and that many voting stations were nearly empty. This was just one of the irregularities reported during the “referendum”. Among others: Russian citizens who did not hold a Ukrainian passport were allowed to vote, and members of the so-called election commissions, accompanied by police, forced those who did not want to go to polling stations to vote in the street, according to censor.net.ua.
Voter turnout was “reinforced” by nearly 90,000 phantom voters in Sevastopol. In late 2013 there were 385,462 citizens in Sevastopol, according to the Sevastopol Statistics Service. This number included children under 18 and other people not eligible to vote. However, Mykhailo Malyshev, Chair of the Crimea Supreme Council Referendum Commission, stated that in Sevastopol alone 474,137 voters participated in the “referendum”, making Sevastopol’s voter turnout 123 percent.
Moreover, even those who decided against boycotting the “referendum”, did not have the option to vote for preserving the current status of Crimea: the ballots provided two unconnected options to vote for: either Crimea becoming a part of Russia, or the restoration of the 1992 Crimean Constitution with Crimea remaining a part of Ukraine.
The “referendum” itself was put together over the course of three weeks, a time of deep political crisis and public unrest in Ukraine. The presence of Russian military as well as an armed Cossack community and Berkut special police unit further de-legitimized the vote. (All-Ukrainian Berkut units were disbanded by Ukrainian parliament for excessing their authority and unlawful attacks on peaceful protesters. Cream Berkut unit turned up in Crimea shortly thereafter and was issued Russian passports.)
The “referendum” commission did not have access to an official database of voters and used outdated lists. In most cases if somebody came to the polling station but could not be found in any of the lists the person was provided with a ballot as long as they pledged “for Russia”.
The OSCE and other international observers were not allowed in Crimea, while the “referendum” was recognized as legitimate by a small group within the international community. One such observer is Spanish MP and far-right Catalan nationalist Enrique Ravello, who is known for saying that Spain was “not a white country anymore”. Another one – Srđa Trifković, a Serbian-American, is known for advocating for Slobodan Milosevic and calling the massacre of Bosnians at Srebrenica in July 1995 “alleged”.
In violation of a law that mandates a “day of silence” before any voting takes place, pro-Russian banners, information fliers, flags and other symbols were in plain view throughout Crimea.
The siege of the Crimean parliament by unidentified armed people (reportedly Russian military), forced voting for the new Prime Minister of Crimea – ex-convict Sergiy Aksionov and then yesterday’s “referendum”, which had originally been scheduled for March 30.
According to Ukraine’s Constitution, for a region to have the right to secede from the country a national, not local referendum must take place. This, along with the many other violations that took place, makes the Crimea “referendum” unlawful and unconstitutional.
Ukraine, as well as the Western World and a number of other countries did not recognize the “referendum”, while the Kremlin considers it legitimate. Even after the vote took place Russia continued to maintain its military presence in Crimea; over the weekend, Russian troops also made attempts to siege facilities in mainland Ukrainian regions that border on the Crimean peninsula.