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Everything you need to know about Crimea’s referendum

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-16

After months of unrest, Crimea, an autonomous republic within Ukraine, will vote on Sunday on whether or not to secede from Ukraine and join President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Here are some fundamental things to know about Sunday’s vote.

Why it’s being held:

The Crimean parliament elected pro-Russian Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov on February 27, just five days after the ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich by protesters. The referendum is intended to validate the Crimean parliament’s shift towards Russia, which lawmakers have defended as necessary to protect Crimeans from “extremist” leaders in Kiev.

The new government in Kiev, for its part, counters that the referendum is a pretext to justify the presence of the Russian military in Crimea and the move be annexed by Russia.

What exactly is on the ballot?

Two questions will appear on the ballot:

1. Are you in favour of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea reuniting with Russia as a constituent part of the Russian Federation?

2. Are you in favour of restoring the Constitution of the Republic of Crimea of 1992 and of Crimea's status as part of Ukraine?

What do the options mean?

The first option is simply to be annexed by Russia.

Crimea History Factbox

Crimea, a large peninsula that extends into the Black Sea off southern Ukraine, was absorbed into the Russian empire along with most ethnic Ukrainian territory by Catherine the Great in the 18th century.

Russia's still-operational Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol was founded soon after. The key base gives Russia's military access to the Mediterranean.

More than half a million people were killed in the Crimean War of 1853-1856 between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, which was backed by Britain and France.

In 1921, the peninsula, then populated mainly by Muslim Tatars, became part of the Soviet Union. The Tatars were deported en masse by former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at the end of World War II for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis. The Tatars remain a minority group within Crimea.

Crimea was part of Soviet Russia until 1954, when Stalin's successor, the ethnic Ukrainian Nikita Khrushchev, gave the territory to Ukraine, which was also a Soviet republic at the time.

(Source: Reuters)
 

The second would declare Crimea independent, but still part of Ukraine. Crimean authorities would have a large degree of political autonomy, including determining its relations with Russia and other countries.

Maintaining Crimea’s current status, which entails a more limited autonomy from the central government in Kiev, is not an option – which has led many to view the choice as one of “joining Russia now or joining Russia later”.

What is Ukraine’s position?

Ukraine is calling for a boycott of the referendum, which it has deemed illegal and the result of intimidation by 20,000 Russian troops.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s interim president, Oleksandr Turchinov, has pledged to disband the republic’s parliament. And authorities in Kiev have warrants out for the arrest of Crimean parliament speaker Volodmyr Konstantynov and Crimea’s pro-Russian prime minister, Aksyonov, for attempting a coup d’état.

At the same time, FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor, Douglas Herbert, points out, “Kiev is willing to negotiate more rights for Crimea, to address Crimean concerns”.

What is the position of the rest of the world?

Western leaders, including US President Barack Obama, have called the vote illegal and unconstitutional, with heads of state representing G7 nations affirming they would not recognise the result.

Putin has insisted that the referendum is “based on international law”, and Russian parliament has said it will respect the outcome of the vote and is preparing legislation necessary to annex Crimea.

Who will vote?

The Crimean parliament has allowed all Ukrainians aged 18 or older, who are on record as residents of Crimea and have some form of official Ukrainian identification, to participate in the referendum.

The demographic makeup of the republic favours a pro-Russian result: ethnic Russians make up roughly 58% of the Crimean population, with Ukrainians at 24% and Tatars (a Turkik Muslim minority) at 12%.

“Most of the Russian speakers will vote to join Russia, especially the more radical ones,” Herbert notes. “A lot of minorities will boycott or won’t go because they are intimidated.”

Tatars, Herbert specified, will largely stay home, as they are in favour of maintaining the status quo (not an option on the referendum).

What types of campaigns have been carried out?

Campaigns concerning the referendum have been almost exclusively pro-Russian, with Ukrainian television channels blacked out from Crimean cable networks shortly after the referendum was announced. Some pro-Russian campaigns have used swastikas equating Kiev authorities with neo-Nazis.

What is the probable result?

With pro-Russian forces dominating Crimea’s political and military structures, there is little suspense as to what the outcome of the vote will be.

“The referendum doesn’t give a choice, just the illusion of a choice,” Herbert explains. “The referendum is just meant to validate Crimea’s parliament. After that it’s a formality. Crimea goes to Russia and asks to be annexed.”

The referendum commission is expected to announce the result within ten days after the vote.

What can we expect in the aftermath of the result?

“Putin says he will respect the outcome of the vote, but that he hasn’t decided his next move -- which is a diplomatic way of saying he is making this up as he goes along,” Herbert says.

The main question is whether Russia will accept Crimea’s request and annex them, or whether the republic will be like other regions – Chechnya and Dagestan for example – that retain autonomy and have not been annexed within the Russian federation.

From a governing standpoint, Herbert says the future post-referendum is “very uncertain”. If Crimea ends up being annexed, there will be concerns among many of the republic’s residents that they will be “isolated from the whole world, except for Russia”.

Date created : 2014-03-15

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