Crimea is arguably the origin story for the US and Russia’s turn towards hostility, but it’s a story that’s largely misunderstood and misrepresented.
In fact, Crimea’s story is really a story of democracy. In 2014, President Viktor Yanukovych was removed from office by what amounted to a bloodless coup. Instead of following the impeachment process and rule of law outlined in the Constitution of Ukraine, which would have involved formally charging Yanukovych with a crime, a review of the charge by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, and a three-fourths majority vote in favor of impeachment — the Ukrainian parliament bypassed the constitution and implemented a new provisional government that was neither legitimate nor democratically elected. In doing so, more than 12 million people and more than 80% of Crimeans who voted for Yanukovych were essentially disenfranchised. By foregoing the rules of impeachment laid out in the Ukrainian constitution, the ouster of President Yanukovych gave legitimate grievance for those in Crimea who felt their right to self-determination was violated.
This led Crimeans to independently organize a referendum on Crimea's status, a referendum that we have sufficient evidence to conclude was free, fair, and representative of what Crimeans want.
First, multiple polls conducted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) between 2009 and 2011 show that a majority of Crimeans favored reunifying with Russia well before the 2014 referendum.
Second, Pew Research Center conducted a study shortly after the referendum that found that Crimeans regarded the referendum as fair and accurate. That study found that 91% of Crimeans felt the referendum was free and fair, and that 88% felt the referendum should be recognized.
Third, the polling data matches the outcome we would reasonably assume based on Crimea's demographics. Although Ukraine is ethnically around 78% Ukrainian - Crimea, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. In fact, around 67% of Crimeans are ethnically Russian and Russian is the primary language spoken at home for around 85% of Crimeans.
This demographic reality lends further credence to the Crimean Referendum and its legitimacy. The share of ethnic Russians and primary Russian-speakers among Crimeans parallels the prior polling data and allows us to reasonably assume that most Crimeans would prefer reunification with Russia given the choice.
For that reason, Ru-PAC advocates for the United States to base policy on reality and recognize the Crimean Referendum as a binding resolution to Crimea’s status as a subject of the Russian Federation.