From Thought of the month, March 2022...

Was Crimea stolen from Ukraine, or did the people of Crimea wish to leave? Here is a bit of history that throws some light on the situation:

Controversy around the last referendum occurred because of the situation at the time. Earlier in 2014 the "Maiden Revolution" in Ukraine's capital city resulted in the departure of Ukraine's president and arrangements for a new election for the parliament and president. The federal government of Ukraine was extremely unpopular in Crimea at that time, and those in favor of separation decided that this would be a perfect time to hold a separation referendum. A referendum was called, with the date of the referendum to be held less than 2 weeks from the official referendum call.

The government of Ukraine declared the referendum illegal, asserting that there was no local authority to hold such a referendum. However, they were not able to prevent the referendum from proceeding because Ukrainian police and military facilities were blockaded by militia and soldiers referred to locally as "little green men." Many of these were from a Russian naval base in Crimea that Russia continued to rent from Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

If we compare this referendum to other separation referendums held in Quebec, Canada, and in Scotland, we see that the latter allowed much more time for debate and for politicians to seek ways to reconcile the perceived problems. In those cases, separation was avoided.

In the Crimea referendum, by contrast, the campaign duration was short and took advantage of opinion polls showing a very high preference for splitting from Ukraine. Those who sponsored the referendum would not be tempted to tamper with ballot counting, because they knew they would get the result they were seeking.

Of course this is controversial, because it could certainly be argued that one ought not to decide the future for generations to come on such a "spur of the moment" situation. On the other hand, it is also true that the residents of Crimea had never agreed to be part of Ukraine, and this may have been their only chance to hold the referendum.

In international law, there are no rules governing the conditions in which a province or state within a federation may leave. Generally it is left to the national government of each nation to decide that. Because the Ukrainian government did not agree to the separation, most nations do not recognize Crimea as a state within the Russian federation. Many nations applied sanctions against Russia to protest Russia's involvement.

The lack of a mutually agreeable arrangement between Ukraine and Crimea had other consequences as well. Ukrainian banks closed in Crimea, and residents were unable to retrieve their deposits. Senior citizens lost their pensions. Travel between Crimea and Ukraine was restricted, and an important canal supplying fresh water to Crimea was cut off. Russia has compensated for those situations by supplying replacement pensions and making large investments in the region.

For more details of the referendum, see:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Crimean_status_referendum

And for the 1991 referendum, see:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Crimean_sovereignty_referendum

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