Crimea Voted, Now What?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Men hold Russian (R) and Soviet Union flags in Simferopol's Lenin Square on March 16, 2014. Polls opened yesterday for a referendum on the peninsula of Crimea. (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty)

The US is rejecting the overwhelming referendum by Crimeans to re-join Russia. Indira Lakshmanan, senior foreign policy correspondent for Bloomberg News, discusses what comes next inside the Ukraine and how the US and the EU will respond.


Indira Lakshmanan

Comments [29]

Mr. Bad from NYC

I think you're right about one thing i.e. Russia has already lost in Ukraine but what does that mean for Russia? They have obviously turned away from engagement with the EU and set themselves on an unsustainable course where the primary means for "growth" and prestige appears to be military aggression. That is not something to be ignored and while it appears to be a "fait accompli" at the moment the "facts" as it were will be changing rapidly in the Ukraine for a long time to come. Your Humanitarianism is misplaced. This is simply an unpunished act of war. History shows that unchecked aggression leads to more aggression and more war, not less. Our government has bungled the response to Putin's move and very likely our next government will pay the price for it when they are forced to confront an emboldened Putin in the Baltics or in Eastern Europe with everything on the line. At this point these arguments are becoming repetitive so let's just agree to disagree and I leave you with Santayana "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Mar. 20 2014 07:18 AM
Maxim from Forest Hills

@Mr. Bad from NYC
I do have principles, they just happen to differ from yours. The difference between us is that I take more golbal and long-term approach to humanity. Pale Blue Dot quote by Carl Sagan and Meditation XVII by John Donne would be a good examples of what I believe in:
Your focus is tribal and short term and your lack of understanding of the nature of the relationship b/n Ukraine and Russia is the only reason I can think of why you continue to advocate the use of violence. Do you know how Ukraine happen to join Russia (applied for protection is more appropriate term) in 1652 - hint it had something to do with Poland and Turkey. What a brave and principled thing to do, have another war in Europe and Civil War in Ukraine. I am a big believer in economics and institution building supplemented by the rule of law, the war you so staunchly call for is the bigger cowardice. It is easy to die for your country, it takes a lot of hard work and focus to build a prosperous one. Yatsenyuk and co. has as much legitimacy as the referendum in Crimea, yet both exist. I am assuming you are fairly young, probably under 30 with no children(forgive me if I am wrong). Your passion is admirable yet it is not tempered by reason or fear for the your children. Willingness to kill others for an idea is often called fanaticism. Be it religion, nationalism, fascism, communism - 20th century took a terrible toll on the humanity. Sovereignty and territorial integrity also happended to be ideas not set in stone, borders change more often than we like to believe, look at the maps of Africa, Asia and Eurpoe over the last 500 years to illustrate my point.
What you fail to understand is that Russia already lost in Ukraine. Soviet Union lost the minute it started building the Berlin Wall. Whether it was right or wrong to annex Crimea (and it is a fait accompli), Ukraine is lost for Russia, they will depend on Russia to a degree due to geography and economics and Russia will be able to cause some trouble, but the goodwill is gone. Russia can attempt to be self sufficient and isolated but in today's globalized world nobody wants to be North Korea.
I leave you with Donne:
No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Mar. 20 2014 01:05 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Maxim from Forest Hills

You just aren't being realistic despite your protestations to the contrary. Yes, Russia is afraid of NATO. Terrified in fact. Russia is constantly threatening nuclear war because they themselves acknowledge (by their "limited" nuclear strike doctrine) the inferiority of their conventional forces and inability to fight a protracted war. Russia's demographic problems are not exactly a secret and while the western world is certainly in decline Russian society is decrepit, a sclerotic kleptocracy propped up by arms sales and natural resources with zero dynamism and no future. The new Ukrainian government has our full support and this is a long way from a "fait accompli" as you say. This is just the beginning. If Yatsenyuk wants to fight (and apparently he does) Putin is in for a nasty surprise. Finally, If you think killing to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one's country is "bloodthirsty" you have no principles. Those are rather the ONLY things one should go to war for. I don't call you a coward personally but that is a cowardly viewpoint, obviously, and I don't think Ukrainians are cowards.

Mar. 19 2014 11:19 AM
Maxim from Forest Hills

@Mr. Bad from NYC
Way to take a typo and blow it out of proportion. I am glad the truth comes out, nothing like a Pole willing to sacrifice Ukraine to stick it to Russia. I am all for Washington Consensus but that is mainly economics and structural reforms I've been touting all along to counter your saber rattling, I am all for unity b/n Germany and US, nothing like NSA snooping to prove how good of the friends we are. I hope you not buying Russian fear of NATO, that's for domestic consumption. We live in the age of ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons and plenty of small arms, worst comes to worst we can use machetes to kill each other. Would that make you happy? You are the bloodthirsty one here, willing to sacrifice human life for lofty sovereignty and territorial integrity principals: here is the realist perspective it is done and there is nothing NATO can do. It is a fait accompli. The fact that I think it is a strategic mistake is besides the point. While I enjoy this discussion, let refrain from calling each others arguments callous or stupid. Deal with substance. I would rather debate merits of my vs. mine.

Mar. 18 2014 04:43 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Maxim from Forest Hills

Delighted to discover a worthy adversary on this board but it is "lose" not "loose" my comrade, mine worthy FSB troll.... Additionally you cannot soft sell territorial annexation to me pal, I'm 1/2 polish! Like elephants we have a long, long memory and the callousness and imperious stupidity of your arguments only illustrate the obvious i.e. how western governments have stepped in to curb genocide when possible as opposed to Putin's "Legal" determinism which substitutes legal fictions for the value of human lives.

It's pure Realpolitik and nothing less and I am deeply saddened by my own countries cowardice and circumspection and you should be to because you and I both know Russia hasn't got it in the pants for a long term opposition to NATO unless Putin can separate the US from Poland and Germany which it never will. The entire American media may have been subverted by Putin for his own domestic political ends but the "Washington Consensus" still exists outside of the political theater my comrade, don't forget it, and our own domestic elections are only the window dressing. Payback is coming. Did anyone ask your country of 40+ million how they feel? Well, LET'S FIND OUT!

Mar. 18 2014 03:52 PM
Maxim from Forest Hills

@Mr. Bad from NYC
Let's be realistic, Ukraine is not part of NATO or EU and neither have any commitments to Ukraine. Transnistria is the frozen conflict since the 90's, has no bearing on the situation in Crimea and should be judged on its own merits, just like Kosovo. You are legitimizing arbitrary decision by Communist dictator with little regard for RSFSR Constitution at the time or the will of the Crimean people, by illegally transferring Russian territory to Ukraine. Repeated statements of invasion of Eastern Ukraine by Russia is nothing more than hysteria, just as vain hopes of NATO or US intervention are unrealistic, counterproductive and only feed Russian paranoia. Any military confrontation with Russia by Ukraine will happen on Ukrainian soil and will trigger a civil war, are you willing to destroy the country in order to save its territorial integrity? Also there is a questions of self determination, would you deny that to the people of Crimea? Borders are not set in stone and change all the time the most recent: South Sudan & Kosovo. Should we change borders back to the time of Russian Empire, Austro-Hungary or Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth? As for annexations should we discuss Texas, they had to leave Mexico for less lofty reason than self determination - Mexico abolished slavery and Texans were not going to take it. Should we talk about how arbitrary drawn borders cause conflicts and wars in Africa? There is no such thing as permanent borders, they shift with human societies. Sovereignty and territorial integrity are routinely violated during time of upheaval. Say hello to Spencer and Hobbes. All this is unfortunate for non-proliferation and may well come back to bite Russia in the behind in a distant future in the Far East. Ukraine has to learn to live with Russia, best example is Finland (used to be part of Russian Empire), which also had to cede territory to Russia, but this created much more realistic and stable border and better relationship b/n them. After all this is 2014, for how quickly events get out of hands look no further than 1914 and add nuclear weapons to the mix, we will all loose.

Mar. 18 2014 03:15 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Maxim from Forest Hills

1.) As to legitimacy I see no reason to grant the present Kiev govt. any more legal legitimacy than the outgoing Yanukovich regime but they are clearly more ready to work within the constitutional framework to attain that status than Yanukovich ever was. His attempt to buy time to suppress the opposition was transparent and his history of treating political enemies like Yulia Tymoshenko as criminals made any deal impossible. He had to go.

2.) You are the one who keeps deflecting attention away from my MAIN POINT which is that the territorial integrity of Ukraine is at stake. If the country has no legit govt.(we both agree) then that presents, as you say, an opportunity for Russia and NATO (Budapest Memo) to resolve the matter diplomatically not DISMEMBER THE COUNTRY and split it between themselves by means of military action.

3.) I understand your concerns about a civil war and nobody wants a war but you must meet force with force. NATO did not invade a part of Ukraine and set up a puppet govt. Putin did. I am personally anti-war and have opposed every war or military "intervention" initiated by the US and its allies for the last 10 years but every situation is different and in this case there is a key strategic pivot point at stake which threatens the security of western Europe and the future viability of NATO. This is a genuine "national defense" matter not a Halliburton inspired military adventure.

4.) You cannot "engage" with an irredentist, sorry. Putin will only be emboldened if he succeeds in annexing Crimea. The US/EU response has been so weak it invites further expansion by Putin... Moldova and very likely the entire coast of Ukraine (Russian speaking after all) are up next:

Mar. 18 2014 08:00 AM
Maxim from Forest Hills

@Mr. Bad from NYC
And last but not the least is legitimacy: like I said before we have no idea if what happened in Kiev represents majority view of Ukrainians, the focus should be on electing legitimate government and than dealing with Crimea and economic and structural problems (including endemic corruption, and don't tell me that Russia is corrupt as well, I agree) that in my view are much more important than piece of land by the sea. We live in complex societies, governing a country of 44 million can't be done in the square by a few thousands yeahs or nays or overthrowing politicians when we don't like what they are doing - it is called anarchy and I refer you to Ukrainian history of the Civil War era for the results. If however you consider Kiev's government fully legitimate than what is good for the goose is good for the gander and Crimean government and referendum is as legit as overthrowing presidents, since last I checked, neither are in Ukrainian constitution.

Mar. 18 2014 01:51 AM
Maxim from Forest Hills

@Mr. Bad from NYC
Very nice of you to ignore my main points which are:
1. Reaching for the guns could lead to war and even worse civil war.
2. Complexity of the situation in Ukraine both ethnically and regionally.
3. Lack of legitimacy by either Crimean or Kiev governments.

It is so tempting to respond to Russian propaganda about Nazis etc, but it was not present in my argument, there were for sure neo-nazi and hardcore nationalist elements in the protest movement, these fringes exist in Western Europe, US and Russia alike, and are usually vocal anywhere where there is violence on the streets, I don't think they represent what happened in Kiev and to keep drumming it as is as useless as calling Russian troops in Crimea local self defense forces.
And was it really one of the first things the new government had to deal with, everything else in the country was ok? That was the trigger for rumors and propaganda.
As for complexity here is a sample, my father is from the Don Cossac's family, he was born in Lugansk, he grew up in Crimea where his family was involved in mining near Balaclava, he studied in Dnepropetrovsk, where he met and married my Jewish mother, we lived in Kamchatka in the Russian Far East. I was born in Ukraine and spent my summers between Crimea and Dnepropetrovsk , Routinely I would start the school year in Ukraine and the language was taught by an ethnically Russian teacher(or not, she spoke Russian outside the class and I didn't care about nationality) I had no problem learning it and enjoy hearing it although it is not my native language. One summer I was visiting my grandparents in Nicopol, Ukraine and found myself abroad in the place I grew up, ironically I was near Faros in Crimea earlier that summer visiting the other set of grandparents, I will call it the greatest miracle of the 20th century that USSR was dissolved with relatively little bloodshed. Would you want to change that and go the Yougoslav way with neighbor killing neighbor? I don't know anybody among my Russian or Ukrainian friends willing to shoot at each other. So as a Russian citizen I find it a strategic mistake to start this in Ukraine, the EU and US didn't care and offered nothing to Ukraine prior to Putin making this mess, now we violated trust and jeopardized cultural ties that were built over centuries. As a US citizen I don't want the government to loose focus on domestic needs and start revamping defense spending( it's amazing how quick legislators bent on slushing domestic programs turn to hawks) and aid packages to Ukraine, I have a son going to kindergarten in NY, I would rather spend money on our schools and infrastructure, the need it. Nor do I think sanctions are likely to change Putins views, it is more of the badge of honor for him, it is naive to think he cares and will backpedal. Engagement is a better strategy in my view.

Mar. 18 2014 01:46 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ John from Brooklyn

So you are a troll? LOL, just not a very good one. Yes "Nationalism" is so very "cool"... Russia is violating international law and threatening the security of NATO countries we are obligated to protect. There is no comparison in recent history to an outright annexation of territory. You obviously have a 5th grade education and zero knowledge of European history. The exact same pretext Putin used to annex Crimea is precisely applicable to the Baltic states who all have sizable and restive ethnic Russian populations. Your ignorance is vast and pathetic and you clearly are a Russian apologist.

@ Maxim from Forest Hills

Please. What a joke. The "repeal" of the language law simply means that "Russian" could no longer be an "official" language. There is no bar to speaking it or penalty for doing so. Russian cultural hegemony and the suppression of Ukrainian culture and language predates such a meek countermeasure by almost a hundred years. The only thing the repeal was intended to do was ask the ethnic Russians to do what ethnic Ukrainians have had to do for the last century i.e. learn another language.

Sure, it was reactionary, but it hardly justifies a Russian invasion. Just a stupid, ignorant and morally repellent POV to compare it "Naziism" or even fascism for that matter.

Mar. 17 2014 06:40 PM
Maxim from Forest Hills

I am disturbed to hear calls to sell arms to Ukraine by one of the callers, this has to be someone who has no idea about complexity of Ukraine.
First of all, Ukraine has plenty of arms as it is, so that would not be the problem. The army, navy and air force were decimated because of poor economy and not some evil plot, but there is enough weaponry to go around.
Second of all due to the high level of intermarriage b/n ethnic Russian and Ukrainians in Ukraine and Russia, shared history and culture between two countries, it is inconceivable to me that any Russian would want to shoot at Ukrainians and vice versa. Look at the history of the Civil War in Ukraine and staggering losses from the fighting to starvation as a result of the fighting. No matter what happens, extremist on both sides should be reined in, not given arms to cause mayhem and suffering.
The trigger in Crimea came from the repeal of the language law by the acting parliament and rumors amplified by news channels and propaganda on both sides. Ukraine is the country of 45 million, few thousand people in a square in Kiev can't possibly speak for all of them or even claim the support of the majority for their actions. Elections can. Solution has to be negotiated, the problem is lack of legitimacy in Kiev no matter how you look at it. Saber rattling is not going to solve anything, US should be focusing on elections and work with Russia as much as it does not like it to make sure US, EU and Russia recognize legitimacy of the elections and once the government is in place in Kiev, they can negotiate on Crimea and more importantly on the economic package for bankrupt economy, sanction are not going to solve anything and will only strengthen Putin at home.

Mar. 17 2014 12:04 PM
John from Brooklyn

Mr Bad,

First I'd like to that I'm no supporter of Putin or Russia and not on their payroll etc.
my argument is that we should expect Russia to do everything they are doing
because it's in their national interest. Am I wrong about that?

Mr Bad you strike as a paid intelligence blogger or a Ukrainian nationalist.
It's cool if you are the latter, I completely understand why Ukrainians would want to ally
themselves with Europe. I also understand why ethnic Russians would want to secede
from the Ukraine. Not cool "Mr Bad" if you are the former.

Mar. 17 2014 11:57 AM

Could not help noticing high level of censorship by WNYC staff.

Keep up good work!!!

Mar. 17 2014 11:49 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ John from Brooklyn

What are you talking about? Shilling for Putin? Russian leases for basing of the Black Sea fleet have always been respected even when they became controversial and the current lease extends to 2042! Hardly an emergency. And even if Ukraine eventually did refuse to renew the lease they still have Novorossiysk which is frankly just as suitable for the Black Sea Fleet. You're either a fool or a troll or both and yes, the western nations are unbearable hypocrites but this is a GENUINE national security threat, not fabricated to suit our geopolitical machinations, should we then not intervene out of guilt? What a stupid suggestion.

Mar. 17 2014 11:33 AM
Richard Simons from Garfield, NJ

So far I have heard no reference to history-nobody has mentioned the Harvest of Despair. Russians at their finest. Of course what would we do if Putin just says the Ukrainians have weapons of mass destruction?

Mar. 17 2014 11:29 AM
D from Hoboken, NJ

Putin is relying heavily on the double standards of the West argument. Kosovo and such which West supports independence of selectively. The West needs to win the ideological war and not a border war.

Mar. 17 2014 11:28 AM

We are on a slippery slope in a bus driven by amatures.

My advice - stay away from Russia.

Mar. 17 2014 11:21 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Thank you Anastasia, a caller.

Mar. 17 2014 11:19 AM
John from Brooklyn

This whole conversation is ridiculous and fails to recognize the history and strategic
importance of Crimea to Russia. For Russia to act any other way would be to write off
their naval influence in the Black sea and the Mediterranean.

I''m no apologist for Russia but this is by no means
any way comparable to Germany in WW2. The US and the West are being hypocritical when
compared to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the string of political destabilization policies in the Mid-

I think this conflict is really about Syria and the Russian naval base there and Russian opposition
to removing Assad. Assad stands in the way of regime change in Tehran. But will we hear an honest debate about it, no.
The argument is all wrapped in democracy but only when that democracy supports the West.

Mar. 17 2014 11:18 AM
george from Astoria

By the way, Vice has some great coverage of whats going on in Crimea.

Theres currently 8 parts.
check it out.

Mar. 17 2014 11:15 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I have to laugh every time I hear how concerned the Russian gov't. is about anti-Semitism in Crimea.

Mar. 17 2014 11:13 AM
George from Astoria

Ive been watching RT (Russia Today) lately to see what they have to say and they've been talking about a rightwing anti-Russian group that is threatening to blow up pipelines if Crimea leaves the Ukraine.

Also it seems like alot of the RT reporters have changed lately and been replaced by Russian reporters that speak English very well.

Mar. 17 2014 11:12 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Some ballots were already filled out? Is that what it meant when the report on Morning Edition said that there was no option to vote No on the ballots? I was picturing a ballot w/just 1 check box on it, labeled Yes.

Mar. 17 2014 11:07 AM
Natasha from in town

I think that, notwithstanding Putin's chest thumping -- and ludicrous chest baring -- the rigging of yesterday's Crimea vote is a sign of Putin's weakness. He felt he needed a huge win, over and above just getting a majority. Putin's Achilles heel is his ego.

Mar. 17 2014 11:06 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Karen from NYC

How was Crimea "yanked" to Ukraine with violence? You obviously have no idea what you're talking about.

Mar. 17 2014 11:05 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ hjs11211

Brian, you're rarely outright stupid, so please explain exactly Crimea was "semi-autonomous"? Is DC "semi-autonomous" too?

Mar. 17 2014 11:03 AM
pliny from soho

looks like there is a river that runs north - south
that divides the eastern third of Ukraine
and also would contain Crimea
could be that will be the new border.
still leaves a huge country for the Euro minded.

Mar. 17 2014 11:00 AM
Karen from NYC

Please explain:

Morsi, the elected President of Egypt, is deposed by what appears to be a popularly-supported military coup. We do . . . . nothing.

The Ukrainians throw out their elected president. We . . . cheer.

The Crimeans, who arguably were yanked together w/ the Ukraine by violence, vote overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia. Yes, Russia has tanks all over the Crimea, but most observers agree that the Crimeans do indeed want to rejoin Russia. We . . . raise hell and threaten sanctions.

Is this about democracy, or realpoliticks?

Mar. 17 2014 10:59 AM

Why would smart people want to join Russia?
Russia seems to be in the longest death spiral since the fall of the Roman Empire.
There is such despair in Russia the people drink themselves to an early grave
So why vote yes?

Mar. 17 2014 10:51 AM

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