Crimeans have voted and, as expected, it wasn’t even close. After 50 percent of the ballots were counted, the head of the referendum committee said more than 95 percent had voted to join Russia, reports the Associated Press. Earlier, Russian state media had reported on exit polls that claimed around 93 percent of Crimean voters chose to break away from Ukraine and join Russia. Citing data from the Crimean Institute of Political and Sociological Research, RIA Novosti reports that only seven percent of voters chose to remain an autonomous republic within Ukraine.
Crowds of voters gathered in Simferopol to celebrate, reports the BBC. The final results are likely to take a day or two, notes Reuters. But that wasn’t stopping Crimea’s pro-Russian leader who said he would apply to join Russia tomorrow. “The Supreme Soviet of Crimea will make an official application for the republic to join the Russian Federation at a meeting on March 17,” he wrote on Twitter.
In Crimea, it was as if the pro-Russian crowds had already won even before a single vote was counted as Russian flags were flown throughout the region. Even though some had vowed to boycott, voters appeared to turn out in large numbers and the Crimean election commission reported a turnout of around 75 percent, which would be far above the 50 percent needed to make the referendum binding, reports the Associated Press. “This has never happened before in any other election” in Crimea, said a senior election official, Mikhail Malyshev, at a news conference.
At the ballot box, voters faced two options, either uniting with Russia or giving the region greater autonomy to choose its own path, which could eventually include closer relations with Moscow anyway. The vote came after “a hasty and one-sided campaign that featured intimidation and heavy-handed tactics blocked most voters from hearing a vision for any alternative other than unification with Russia,” reports the Washington Post.
The Ukrainian government in Kiev, as well as the West in general, has said the referendum is illegal. Sanctions against Russia now seem all but inevitable as concern grows the vote “could encourage rising pro-Russian sentiment in Ukraine’s east and lead to further divisions in this nation of 46 million,” notes AP. For now, Russia and Ukraine have apparently agreed to a truce in Crimea until March 21, reports the Guardian. “No measures will be taken against our military facilities in Crimea during that time,” Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyukh, said.