The World

The Cost of Crimea

A boy with Russian flag ribbon walks in front of a monument displaying a T-34 tank in Simferopol on March 2, 2014.

Photo by Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

Obviously, losing a significant portion of your country’s territory to foreign invasion is a significant setback for any government. But from the perspective of pure electoral math, it might not actually be the worst thing for Ukraine’s new leaders if Russia’s control of Crimea becomes permanent.  

American University professor Keith Darden writes in Foreign Affairs that “for two decades, Crimean voters have provided crucial electoral support for pro-Russian parties and presidential candidates. Without Crimea, Yanukovych could never have won office in the first place.”

That may be a bit of an exaggeration. Crimea’s population is relatively small, and voter turnout there tends to be on the low side. Plus, Yanukovych ran in 2010 against a divided and extremely unpopular pro-Western coalition.

But it is true that Ukrainian elections are close—Yanukovych beat Yulia Tymoshenko in the 2010 runoff by a little more than 3 percentage points—and will likely continue to be. Efforts by pro-Russian political forces to regain power can’t be helped by the loss of a region that they won with 78 percent of the vote. (In Sevastopol it was 84 percent.)

As Steve Saideman writes, when international borders shift, “you are not just changing a line, and not just changing who governs person x or group y, but also who wins and loses elections (or other ways to allot power) in the new and old states.” Russia’s move into Crimea may make life a lot more difficult going forward for Vladimir Putin’s political allies in Ukraine.

On the other hand, I’m guessing that at this point, Putin has pretty minimal faith in—or even interest in—the outcomes of the Ukrainian electoral process.