With one exit poll showing that 93 percent of Crimeans voted to join Russia, and street celebrations under way, the peninsula’s pro-Kremlin prime minister and a Russian nationalist politician pledged quick integration. The bravado and declarations of speedy Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory came after a deeply flawed vote held under the intimidating presence of at least 21,000 Russian soldiers, who invaded in late February. Crimean officials, including Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, and parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov, showed up at the stage on the main square in Simferopol near the Vladimir Lenin monument. They stood listening to the Russian national anthem and then enjoyed a fireworks show amid shouts of jubilation among hundreds of people. “We have an absolutely legitimate referendum. I have never seen more legitimate event,” Konstantinov told local Crimean 24 TV station.
Ukraine’s central government and the West pledged to ignore the results, calling the referendum illegal and demanding that Russia remove its troops and respect Ukraine’s territory and national sovereignty.
Unless Russian President Vladimir Putin backs down, the stage has been set for a protacted conflict over the fate of Ukraine between the Kremlin and the West.
If respected international election observers had been allowed to watch the vote on whether Crimea should to join Russia or merely gain greater autonomy from Ukraine, they would have found plenty to criticize. Violations could be spotted everywhere.