It’s been over two weeks since Putin’s forces moved into Crimea in a noble attempt to protect it from fascists, leprechauns, and other mythical creatures. So carried away did Putin get with this protection that he accidentally over-protected himself into completely taking over all of Crimea. Oops, awkward!
Now Crimea stands to “vote” in an upcoming referendum on whether to join Russia or to only sort of maybe join Russia. I’ve already covered the situation in this post and this post. In this third chapter of what I hope is just a trilogy, I explore the many reasons this “referendum” is an absolute circus. Buckle up, folk, let’s go for a ride into surreal madness.
4. Crimea is essentially under total Russian military control
At this point, there should not be an iota of doubt that Russian military has de facto control of Crimea. We can choose to believe that they are simply a bunch of local “self-defense forces” who raided a “Toys R Us” store and armed themselves with water pistols and, inexplicably, Russian military equipment.
Or we can choose to live in the real world, where as many as 11,000 Russian troops have seized control of key military and government installations, set up guarded roadblocks, and continue to exert psychological pressure on Ukrainian soldiers to try and make them defect. Without even questioning the legality of these happenings, does it strike you as an environment conducive to a democratic referendum? If you said “yes,” then thanks for taking the time to visit my blog, Kim Jong-un, you can go back to oppressing your citizens now.
No truly democratic vote can take place under Martial law conditions, especially when these conditions are imposed by a foreign invader. To believe otherwise is to be Putin or to be a lunatic—so, yeah, to be Putin.
3. Crimea is under equally total political and media control
Let’s take a quick look at Sergei Aksyonov, the current “fairly” “elected” “prime minister” of Crimea. He is a known separatist, who dreamed of Crimea joining Russia for many years. That’s fair enough, but he has always been one of the few. His party gathered a whopping 4 percent of the votes in the last Crimean parliamentary election in 2010. He was a virtual nobody in Crimea’s political landscape.
So how in the gentle fuck of Zeus did this man suddenly become the leader of Crimea in late February?! I’m glad you ask, my hypothetical conversation partner. The answer is: shameless fraud. That linked article goes into detail, but here are just a few juicy bits:
1. The “election” took place behind closed doors, without journalists, and with armed soldiers guarding the entrance to the parliament building.
2. Parliamentary elections can only be valid if at least 51 representatives are present. Only 36 were present, according to independent research, but Aksyonov’s new government insists the number was 61.
3. A number of individuals who were definitely not present saw their names appear on a list of members who voted to elect Aksyonov and hold a referendum. Maybe they were sleep-voting? Eh, that could happen.
In short: If this man is a democratically elected leader of Crimea, then I’m the king of Australia. Somebody should tell Tony Abbot to pack up and cut out his “prime minister” bullshit.
“But Daniel, Aksyonov is just one man. He can’t exactly dictate to the people how they should vote,” you may say. And you’re right, perhaps he can’t outright force anyone. (Although judging by his own rise to power, that’s debatable.) However, he can do absolutely everything in his power to make sure that people receive maximum pressure and disinformation ahead of this planned referendum.
And he does. By now he has shut down Ukrainian TV channels in Crimea and replaced them with their Russian counterparts. He justified it by claiming he was protecting Crimean people from “escalation of violence, lies, and the flow of untrue information that has been flowing from the screens.” That statement instantly wins the prize for the most ironic string of words ever put together by a functioning human being. To discover just how incredibly, blatantly, inconceivably biased and state-controlled the Russian press is at the moment, one only need to read this article. It’s George Orwell’s 1984, just 30 years too late. And that’s doubleplusungood.
Or maybe you want to take a gander at one of the not-at-all-crazy, objective referendum posters currently on display in Crimea—illustrating the choices people can vote on? As you wish:
Therefore, I think I can be excused for calling the current atmosphere in Crimea a tiny bit not-at-all-goddamn-impartial and weeping-hell-how-is-this-even-happening-in-2014?!
But, hey, at least smart people can still filter out the propaganda and make up their own minds, right? Well…
2. Crimea’s voters have no real choice
Allow me to briefly discuss the referendum ballots and the choices given to voters. The ballots will ask:
1. Are you in favor of the reunification of Crimea with Russia as a part of the Russian Federation?
2. Are you in favor of restoring the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?
If you look really carefully at these questions, you may notice a tiny, insignificant thing missing: the ability to vote for maintaining the status quo. Nobody has the choice to say “Actually I like the way things are in Crimea, let’s just keep doing that.” An option to abstain or “vote against all” is also suspiciously missing.
More than that, there isn’t even clarity about the exact meaning of the second choice. There is some discussion of what the “1992 Constitution” actually entails, but it all boils down to this summary by a Chatham House writer, Keir Giles:
“The restoration of this (1992) constitution would be a step towards notional independence under Russian control…Those citizens who were content with Crimea remaining part of Ukraine on the same basis as it has been for the last 20 years do not have a voice in this referendum. There is no third option available.”
I’m not saying that these choices are bullshit. I’m saying that these “choices” are shake-your-head-in-utter-disbelief level of bullshit.
1. There is zero transparency and neutrality
All of the above wouldn’t be nearly as bad if there was at least a shadow of transparency; if independent journalists and observers were able to monitor the vote and ensure due process.
The reality? OSCE observers have, on multiple occasions, tried to enter Crimea. Every time they were turned away by increasingly aggressive Russian troops. The last time, apparently, shots were fired to make the observers leave. I won’t be surprised if Putin soon appears on TV to tell us it was just a hilarious misunderstanding (“Because, you see, in Russia, firing guns at people is how we confess our love and invite them in for a cup of tea”).
To be sure, a while ago Russia did make a spectacle out of “inviting” OSCE observers into Crimea. The problem is that these words, so far, aren’t backed by action. If I invite you into my home and then repeatedly slam the door in your face as you try to enter, you’ll be forgiven for doubting my intentions.
As it stands today, independent journalists, observers, and any parties attempting to evaluate the true state of affairs in Crimea are prevented from doing so with any degree of reliability. Some are even allegedly abducted.
Taking into account the above reasons, to call the upcoming charade a “referendum” is the pinnacle of dishonesty. Anyone doing so with a straight face is either lying to himself or to the rest of us. I’m looking at you, Putin.
Here’s the sad bit: Barring some miracle or a next-to-impossible change of heart from Putin, this referendum will take place. The people of Crimea will “vote” to join Russia.
The big question is: What happens next? It’s a question I’m afraid to answer. It’s a question I’m not qualified to answer. But it’s a question that is already on many people’s minds, and will be on everyone’s mind come March 16. No matter what happens, my hope is that nobody sheds blood over these political maneuvers. Despite what Hollywood movies may tell us, real war isn’t all about entertaining kick-ass explosions and awesome giant robots.
I would really appreciate if those who have learned something from this post share it with others. Information is the best weapon we have in the war against oppression.