Or, how Vladimir Putin has put democracy to the test.
When on March 17, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognized Crimea as an independent and sovereign state, he did so with the full legitimate backing of a transparent, free and fair democratic referendum vote, with widespread international support from nations around the world.
Or did he?
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Let’s consider the facts:
On March 16, 2014, the Ukranian citizens of the Crimean peninsula voted in a referendum that was put forth by a pro-Russian, unelected government in Crimea, and whose security was guaranteed by the force majeur of Russian armed forces unofficially occupying Crimea.
The Crimean election committee was headed by pro-Russian activists.
The responsible election committee reported that some 86% of the population of Crimea voted, despite widespread declarations by pro-Ukranian supporters that they would abstain from the election.
The election committee in charge claimed that the election results were that some 96% of the voters voted to declare Crimea as an independent state, seceding from Ukraine.
The pro-Russian campaign was virtually unchallenged, despite widespread opposition from the pro-Ukranian people of Crimea.
The pro-Russian campaign controlled 100% of the state television facilities in Crimea, blocking Kiev’s broadcasts and airing strictly pro-Russian propaganda in the run-up to the referendum.
The pro-Russian campaign slandered opposition officials and their supporters, calling anyone who voted to remain in Ukraine under the rule of the unelected post-Yanukovich-coup government, as Nazis and neo-fascists.
Supporters of the Ukranian campaign were beaten, in some cases to death, by pro-russian suppoters, even as the local police in Crimea stood by and did nothing to stop the bloodshed.
When US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a last minute attempt by Secretary Kerry to stall or stop the referendum, Mr. Lavrov was polite and did nothing to accomodate or negotiate any aspect of the Russian-railroaded vote.
Of course, America and Russia don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to the rules of international diplomacy and the use of force beyond their borders.
So what about Germany? Of all the Western nations and nations of the G8, Germany has the closest ties with Russia, with billions of Euros in trade and tens of thousands of German jobs depending on exports to Russia.
Well, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to negotiate with President Putin in multiple phone calls over the past three weeks, her suggestions were rebuffed and rejected by the Kremlin. Lest ye forget, Merkel was supposedly the one with the closest ties to Putin, both politically and personally. So much for influencing her old friend.
And what about the rest of the EU? Surely as a bloc of nations they could sway Mr Putin to ease up a little on the forceful nature of his big bear dance in Crimea, right?
Again, the way it went down was … bad for Europe. The British PM, as well as other European Prime ministers, foreign ministers and members of the EU all voiced their opposition, albeit not in a unified manner, to the Russian absorption of Crimea.
And despite all of this international condemnation, Russia kept on pushing ahead with the referendum.
In fact, even when the United States and the EU nations announced separately their intention to place travel bans, other restrictions on specific Russian and Ukranian officials, and economic sanctions against Russia, unseen the the Cold War, all that could be heard coming out of the government in Moscow was more laughter from the Russian head of state.
At the United Nations, Russia vetoed the Security Council vote on the proposed resolution intended to delegitimize the entire Russian military takeover of Crimea and the subsequent referendum and other related events.
If you’ve been keeping score, then you can obviously see that Russia has been playing a vital role in ensuring a genuine democratic process in the path to annexing Crimea, except for one small trifle of a detail, and that is that the genuine process on the path to annexation is the exact opposite of democratic. It is rife with the delusions of grandeur by Vladimir Putin, who entertains his own personal wet dreams of recreating a new Russian empire, extending well beyond its own borders.
Of course, there is little that anyone can do to stop Mr. Putin’s soft offensive against the Ukraine. Europe certainly has no muscle to stop him. America is spread too thin and is not in any position to take up arms against the Russians on their own turf, or even on Ukranian soil.
So what might be a possible positive outcome to this situation?
To date, there is very little optimism in the corridors of power. Washington, London, Paris and Berlin are too afraid of taking measures that might stop Moscow from encroaching further on Ukraine.
So the men and women who hold public office in elected democratic nations are now Putin’s laughing stock. For all their pretentions and arrogance, they are too weak to stop his shrewdly played game of chess. All that they can do is levy various economic sanctions against a nation that is already in a financial shambles, operating largely on black market moneys, and which does not care much about its own currency. Need I remind you how well these sanctions work against nations like Cuba, Iran and North Korea? The answer is that they hurt everyone except the people that they are intended to hurt.
Even worse, in order for Russia to annex Crimea, the Motherland would have to absorb tens of billions of dollars of debt, pensions, and other costs which are currently the responsibility of Ukraine. Russia certainly does not have that kind of money laying around. So the result of any annexation would simply be that Crimeans will become citizens of a nearly bankrupt nation. Russia will not be able to maintain the meager economic and social securities which Ukraine had thus far managed to eek out. Ukraine would likely receive massive international financial aid going forward, so if Crimea were to leave Ukraine in favor of joining Russia, they would be leaving that financial security behind.
So while on its surface, the Russian annexation of Crimea may seem like a no-brainer strategic move for Vladimir Putin in his quest to build a new Russian empire, there is more than meets the eye in this protracted drama playing over rubles and rubble in the ruins of what was once the unquestioned Ukranian territory known as the Crimean peninsula.
In the meantime, we can all celebrate democracy in Crimea … ok maybe not today, but whenever that form of government does return to that land.
Full disclosure: In addition to stripping comic characters and writing with wit, Yasha Harari has worked for a number of media and political organizations in the U.S., Europe and Israel.