Contrary to what we heard from Moscow, support among Crimeans for joining Russia was less than overwhelming.
According to a report in Forbes magazine, the president of Russia’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights briefly posted a report on the referendum in Crimea which stated that turnout was only 30 percent and of that 30 percent, only half voted to join Russia. That means only 15 percent of people living in Crimea voted to join Russia, and even these numbers may be inflated since voters were casting ballots under the barrel of a gun.
Following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region, Russia orchestrated a bogus referendum in Crimea in which supposedly 97 percent voted to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia, with turnout an astonishing 83 percent. The illegality of the referendum and the invention of its results were never in doubt. But now there is proof. That a greater percentage of Americans who believe the sun revolves around the Earth than Crimeans who voted to join Russia underscores that the referendum was merely a tool used by Russia to justify the illegal annexation of the territory of a neighboring sovereign state.
The report on the actual results was taken down quickly, but not before a rare leak had emerged to undermine the carefully orchestrated narrative created by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his leadership circle. The leaked report closely aligns with the results of a May 2013 Gallup poll in which only 23 percent of Crimeans stated the region should be a part of Russia. With the situation in eastern Ukraine continuing to deteriorate, the United States and our allies in Europe need to increase pressure on Russia to deter aggression against Ukraine.
Thus far, the response from the United States and Europe has been tepid. What is needed is a complete rethinking of America’s strategy towards Russia premised on the understanding that the Obama administration’s “Russian reset” policy has crashed and burned, as admitted by the author of that policy, Michael McFaul, in a recent radio interview.
The United States still has plenty of tools in its arsenal. These range from forcefully increasing sanctions against Russia, repeatedly and strongly reiterating the U.S. commitment to NATO’s Article V, moving military assets permanently to the territory of eastern NATO allies, fully implementing missile defense in Europe, eliminating restrictions on the export of American LNG and oil and immediate withdrawal from the flawed New START.
As the illegal and bogus Crimean referendum attests, Russia will stop at nothing to press its advantage via-a-vis the West, and strong leadership on both sides of the Atlantic is necessary to stop the aggression.