Russian President Vladimir Putin announced today that Crimea and its main port, Sevastopol, will become part of the Russian Federation, a move that is likely to bring more and heavier sanctions. He did this, he said, because the Russian people want it and especially because the Crimean people want it.
There it is once again: the fiction—amazingly repeated again and again all over the world as if it were true—that 96.6 per cent of the people in Crimea voted in a hastily organized referendum for “reunification” with Mother Russia. “We are going home,” declared Crimean Parliament Speaker Vladimir Konstantinov in the capital Simferopol on Sunday night. And that’s the way Putin made it sound, of course.
But from top to bottom, these claims are pure rubbish. A week before the vote just 41 percent of Crimeans wanted their land to be a part of Russia, yet the returns came back showing 96.6 pecent approval. The electoral commission, such as it is, released numbers indicating 474,137 people voted in the port city of Sevastopol, which would be 123 percent of the registered population there.
Just look at the fundamental question on the ballot: “Are you for reunification of Crimea with Russia with the rights of a Russian Federation subject?” What “reunification”? Crimea was never a part of the Russian nation as such, it was a conquered part of the Russian Empire that was wrested from the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th century after changing hands many, many times among many powers. (This video animation of Europe’s shifting borders over the last 1,000 years gives a good idea how fluid the frontiers have been.)
From 1917 to 1954 the Crimean peninsula was part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in the Soviet Union, then transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, where it remained until 1991 when the USSR ceased to exist. Since then, it has been part of Ukraine, but as an autonomous republic. So the legal premise of “reunification” with the Russian nation is pretty dubious, Moscow’s tools are determined to ram it down the throats of the people there, in Ukraine and the world.
That’s why the cheery speaker, Konstantinov, is high on the White House hit list for American sanctions. “Konstantinov is being designated for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine,” says the statement issued in Washington, “and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes”.
What that means specifically one can see on the walls of Crimean buildings where graffiti reads “Tatars, get out of Crimea!” often written alongside a swastika. Muslim Tatars have been in Crimea far longer than Russians, but are now a minority of about 10 percent because the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin forced hundreds of thousands to relocate to farflung corners of the USSR during World War II claiming that some had collaborated with Hitler. Many starved to death in their new “homes.” Those who returned to Crimea to live after it became part of an independent Ukraine now face ferocious prejudice—or worse:
Reshat Ametov, a young Tatar, went missing on March 3 after telling his family he was going to enlist in the Ukrainian military to fight against Russian aggression. On March 16 his corpse was found near the Crimean village of Zemlyanichnoye. His body showed signs of torture.
But it seems that the new Crimean regime is not going to limit itself to kidnappings and murders. The Ukraine foreign ministry claims that Russian soldiers are handing out AK-47s to their supporters outside the new “republic.” Why are they doing it? Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev said the aim is to help “free” the neighboring Russian-speaking regions of Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa from the authorities in Ukraine. But the deputy minister was careful to avoid saying Crimea is protected by Russian forces. He continued to claim that the military units are Crimean “self-defense” forces, and the tanks and other heavy weapons were taken from the Ukrainian military—another fiction.