Long Read: “Everything You Know About Crimea Is Wrong (-er)”

Harsh speeches will be made, stern letters will be published, and… if we’re lucky… the extent of “our” actions will be more sanctions. Crimea will, once again, be officially part of Russia. The War Nerd, at Pando, brings up some numbers and some history:

The two versions of Russia—McCain’s “gas station masquerading as a country” and [Eli] Lake’s fearsome conqueror—both start from the same bitter knowledge, even if Senator McCain and Mr. Lake will never admit that fact in public. It’s a simple one: Russia will take Crimea, won’t pay a big price for it, and there’s not a thing anyone can do about it…

The only media that seem willing to acknowledge this are the finance sites. They can’t afford to let jingoism affect their bets, so they’ve been surprisingly clear-headed, saying outright that there’s nothing the West can do…

It’s a sad day for America when you have to get your honest news from the pigs at Goldman Sachs, B of A, and Morgan Stanley… But the stats don’t lie: the EU gets a third of its energy from Russia, and no country on earth could survive a one-third cut in energy, especially an optional, self-inflicted one ordered by those up top on behalf of some people who, as far as anyone can tell, actually want to join Russia anyway…

Some of what McCain said is true. Russia under Putin is a corrupt kleptocracy, and Putin’s an authoritarian sleaze. In fact, one of the most bitter aspects of acknowledging Putin’s victory in Crimea is finding yourself on the same side as that cunning little rat and his merry band of murdering, extortionist chinovniki.

But the truth has rights, and the truth is that Putin has won in Crimea. Better to admit that than to shout insults at the victor, especially when your insults don’t even make sense. McCain says Russia makes its money off oil and gas; true, but so what? Is there a better product to be selling on the world market? What should Russia be making money from, mortgage foreclosures? Oil and gas seem like a relatively honest way to make money. At any rate, I never heard an American politician shout this kind of insult at our beloved ally, Saudi Arabia, even though everything McCain said about Russia goes double—triple, quintuple—for that place…

Russians do, in fact, value Crimea very highly. But try telling that to American pundits, like Peter Tchir does on this video, and you get the full frontal assault of that Anglo-American specialty, moralized jingoism.

Crimea, a peninsula almost detached from the wide grasslands of Ukraine proper, has been a very distinct—and distinctly Russian—region for more than a century.

Unlike many Eastern Ukrainians, who speak Russian and consider themselves culturally but not politically Russian, Crimeans identify strongly as Russians, politically and culturally. They were very unhappy when Yeltsin let Crimea go to Ukraine after the breakup of the USSR. Nobody’s mentioning it, but the fact is that there was already a referendum in Crimea on staying with Ukraine or rejoining Russia.

On January 20, 1991, Crimeans voted to restore their ties with Russia by almost the same percentage (93.2%) we saw in today’s election—where, according to the BBC, 93% of Crimean voters once again voted Russian.

That’s a remarkably consistent vote, considering what a lot of chaos and poverty have encompassed the region since 1991. Back then, of course, no one in the West took the results seriously, because everyone knew the USSR was evil and anyone defecting from it was good. But it might be worth remembering that election now–because with Russian economic and military power backing them, the Crimeans’ vote might actually count…

On Sunday, the Crimeans voted to join Russia in huge numbers—80% turnout, 95% for joining Russia according to reports. That result tracked with the BBC exit polls, which took into account the fact that most of the peninsula’s ethnic Tartars—about 14% of the population—boycotted the vote. That means a lot of ethnic Ukrainians (and maybe even a few ethnic Tartars) voted with the Russian bloc, and it’s not likely they did so because they’re rabid Russian nationalists. More likely, it reflects the fact that Ukraine is a very poor country, while Russia seems to be doing pretty well, for a “gas station masquerading as a country.” Ukraine is sort of the opposite: A country without the money to buy a tank of gas. The history of Ukraine in the 20th century is so horrific, such a non-stop nightmare, that it’s impossible to blame anyone who wants out.

When I meet Canadians whose last names end in ‘-enko,” I always think they should get down on their knees every night and say a prayer: “Thank you, God, for giving me great-grandparents smart enough to get out of Ukraine.” It’s useless assigning blame; the point is that it makes sense to vote for a country that can, at least in theory, protect you and give you a pittance, instead of one that has seen nothing but mass murder, artificial famine, pogrom and counter-pogrom, and endless ethnic hatred for as long as anyone can remember. The worst of it, for many quietly embittered Ukrainian intellectuals, is that no one even remembers the huge artificial famine Stalin used to annihilate the Ukrainian peasantry….

65 replies
  1. 1
    billB says:

    what a load, can’t believe you posted that. Putin, like his boy Obummer work for the plutocrats. He did not do this, he was ordered to by his masters, Likewise, Obummer’s bosses will move the money supply around to punish Putin’s masters as they see fit.

    One Word PEEPS

  2. 2
    Big R says:

    Congratulations, AL, on attracting a particularly high quality troll with this one.

  3. 3
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    and… if we’re lucky… the extent of “our” actions will be more sanctions.

    What else do you think they will be? Do you think any kind of military attack on Russia is remotely likely as a result of this?

  4. 4
    🍀 Martin says:

    Well, it’s instinctive to call bullshit on any election that results in a 93% result for one side. It’s virtually impossible in a free and open election to get a result like that. Even elections with people running unopposed don’t win 93% of votes. In a scenario like this, even if there was deep opposition to Ukraine, you’d at least get some kind of split between independence and joining some other nation. And there’s no way there wouldn’t have been unrest all this time if 93% were seeking to secede.

    Consider me a skeptic.

  5. 5
    chopper says:

    @🍀 Martin:

    I heard it was even higher than that.

  6. 6
    🍀 Martin says:

    @chopper: As had I. Reminiscent of North Korean and old USSR elections.

  7. 7
    Ash Can says:

    The Crimean “referendum” was a sham. It’s about fucking time supposed journalists like this one stopped treating it as though it were legit.

  8. 8
    Mnemosyne says:

    @🍀 Martin:

    I think Gin & Tonic had a link earlier saying that one city (district?) had 121% turnout. So, yeah, bullshit.

  9. 9
    Hill Dweller says:

    @Ash Can:

    The Crimean “referendum” was a sham. It’s about fucking time supposed journalists like this one stopped treating it as though it were legit.

    They’re too busy fapping to pictures of a shirtless Putin.

  10. 10
    Ken says:

    Russia under Putin is a corrupt kleptocracy, and Putin’s an authoritarian sleaze.

    Is anyone else getting a real “we have always been at war with Eastasia” vibe off this? It wasn’t that long ago (January, I think) that Putin was this great guy who had turned Russia into a shining example of the power of unfettered capitalism.

  11. 11
    Ash Can says:

    @Ken: “He may be an authoritarian sleaze, but dammit, he’s white our authoritarian sleaze!”

  12. 12
    StringOnAStick says:

    93% or not, the Crimea now belongs to Russia, and no amount of sanctions is going to change that because Europe needs the gas and is a lot less willing to let its citizens freeze in the dark than Russia is. Europe will blink in this stand off; they can’t lose a third of their energy imports and expect their economies to survive.

    Sanctions are just diplomatic dick waving and attempts at face saving; they will change nothing and are being done for the same reason why you flip off the jerk who cuts you off in traffic. Because it makes you feel like you had an adequately macho response and suffered no permanent shrinkage, not because it changes the fact that the jerk cut you off. The west certainly has to do the sanctions kabuki because that is how international diplomacy is played; certainly no one in power expects any retreat by Russia.

  13. 13
    Mike in NC says:

    @Ken: Johnny Mac and the neo-cons are dreaming of missiles over Moscow. We are all Crimeans now…

  14. 14
    Bob In Portland says:

    @Ken: But, but Eastasia has always been our enemy. Hate hate hate.

  15. 15
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    Keep in mind, of course, that the 1991 referendum took place before the Tatars were allowed to return to their homes.

  16. 16
    Ian says:

    That only depends on who you listen too. If you’ve been paying attention you would have seen he has centralized power , imprisoned opponents , played politics with his own country and Europe’s finances, and played musical chairs to be king.

    But if you were watching the 2014 Olympics for the first time since crawling out of a bomb shelter from a false nuclear warning 40 years ago, you might have gotten the wrong impression.

  17. 17
    Ash Can says:

    @StringOnAStick: Turkey is telling Russia that if it fucks with the Crimean Tatars, it can forget about getting any of its ships out of the Black Sea (h/t LGF commenters). US/EU sanctions may be worth jackshit, but if another NATO ally were to get mouthy, things could get interesting.

  18. 18
    SectarianSofa says:

    Disappointingly crap article.

  19. 19
    Ruckus says:

    Idiot at work was complaining that President Obama is the worst president ever because he won’t do anything militarily. He is still young, 27 or 28 so I’m thinking of getting him an application for the Marines and putting it on his desk. I imagine that might just stir up some shit at work. Wonder if it’s worth it.

  20. 20
    Mark S. says:

    McCain says Russia makes its money off oil and gas; true, but so what? Is there a better product to be selling on the world market? What should Russia be making money from, mortgage foreclosures?


  21. 21
    catclub says:

    @Ash Can: “he’s our authoritarian sleaze!”

    Actually the problem is that he isn’t ours. He won’t do what we tell him.

    The resulting vote of the referendum is not what makes it a joke. It is a joke because it is done while the region is held captive by ‘unlabeled’ army units.

  22. 22
    Ronnie Pudding says:

    Was Yanukovych being driven from power by street protests necessarily more legit than the Crimean elections? Street protests don’t always represent the majority.

  23. 23
    Michael Finn says:

    Wasn’t the referendum a sham because the two options were declaring their independence or joining Russia? You combine that with the Russian troops and it is very hard to see how this can be seen as anything approaching fair.

  24. 24
    catclub says:

    I have no doubt that Crimea is likely to stay stuck on Russia. What fraction of Ukraine’s debt will they take on?
    How will Ukraine military assets be transferred?

    Somebody has noted that in 2008 George Bush did not even impose sanctions on Russia for the invasion of South (?) Georgia.

  25. 25
    Origuy says:

    If Putin stops with Crimea, I’ll be very surprised. He wants to get the Soviet Union back together. Maybe not the Baltics, but the Caucauses and the Stans.

  26. 26
    Ronnie Pudding says:

    Were the elections in Crimea necessarily less legitimate than the street protests that gave Yanukovych the boot? Street protests aren’t always reflective of the popular will.

    Did the Crimeans sign on to Yanukovych’s ouster?

  27. 27
    Ken says:

    @Ian: I was thinking more of the Wall Street Journal editorial pages between 2005 and 2012. I thought the Olympic coverage, or at least the part devoted to the toilets and P. Riot*, covered “corrupt incompetence and heavy-handed authoritarianism” fairly well.

    (*) Because the full name apparently dumps the post into moderation.

  28. 28
    Mathguy says:

    @Ruckus: Yes, it is.

  29. 29
    PIGL says:

    @Hill Dweller: Uh, no, it’s the sabre rattling republicans, self-styled heirs to Kissinger and Zbreskini (sp?), who are faping to those photos.

    The main point of the article, that Crimea will belong to Russia, is not really in dispute, even if the election if fraudulent. I am inclined to think that a) yes, they jimmied the vote, and b) they didn’t really need to.

  30. 30
    Ash Can says:

    @catclub: I agree with you — I was referring to the geniuses on the right and in some parts of the libertarian camp who think, respectively, that Putin is dreamy and should get a pass because NSA/Iraq/waterboarding/etc.

  31. 31
    PIGL says:

    @Ian: word**2

  32. 32
    Suffern ACE says:

    @PIGL: they meant for the vote to be as illegitimate as possible. I think the goal is to goad Ukraine or the US into escalating.

  33. 33
    Ash Can says:

    @Ronnie Pudding: Yanukovych was booted because a majority of Ukrainians wanted closer ties with Europe, but Yanukovych said “fuck you” and jumped into bed with Putin. This is a good read on the subject.

  34. 34
    Ash Can says:


    b) they didn’t really need to

    I honestly don’t know for sure, but the amount of effort they put into jimmying the vote makes me wonder if that’s true. At the very least, they felt as though they needed to jimmy it.

  35. 35
    Ruckus says:

    I work in a good place with few employees. We go to lunch together, we help each other out, iow it is a good place to work. I’d like not to change that. The boss has asked me after the last incident(the other guy is now gone) if he needed to ban political discussions during business hours. I hope that I’m a bigger person than that and this is just a young dude running his mouth.
    But I’m going to keep the option open.

  36. 36
    Hill Dweller says:

    @PIGL: Have you recently watched a national newscast? Their framing of the conflict is no different from the Republicans’ version. Obama is weak, while Putin is a strong, decisive leader.

  37. 37
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @Ronnie Pudding: Yanukovych fled the country on his own. Parliament stuck around and even the rest of Yanukovych’s party said good riddance to him. They scheduled new elections for May. So, “Yanukovych was driven from power by street protests” is a pretty thorough misrepresentation of what happened. And if we’re talking about illegitimate seizures of power, keep in mind that the people that took over the government of the Crimea when the Russians invaded got a total of 4% of the vote in the last election.

  38. 38
    Chris T. says:

    This reminds me of how the LA police framed OJ: Putin’s crowd rigged the vote, even though it would have gone overwhelmingly in their favor anyway.


  39. 39
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Chris T.: If the iron fist hits, you must acquit?

  40. 40
    Keith G says:

    @Hill Dweller: Putin is strong and he is decisive. That’s what happens if you are a strongman leader who survives the first year in power. Unfortunately for Russia, Putinism is not only going to not solve many of Russia’s important problems, it’s adding a whole host of it’s own. (Note post-Chavez Venezuela).

    Obama has his faults, but recognizing the above is not one of them. In a short term isolated view of this crisis, Putin may well look like he put one over on the west (and in a very narrow sense he has). Alas for the Russians, the after glow of this ordeal won’t last for very long.

  41. 41
    Roger Moore says:

    @Suffern ACE:

    If the iron fist hits, you must acquit?

    Only because the velvet glove does not fit.


    I am inclined to think that a) yes, they jimmied the vote, and b) they didn’t really need to.

    They might not have needed to if the only goal was to get a bare majority, and if the election had been held freely. But secession seems like one of those things that probably ought to require a supermajority to pass, probably a large one, and that was unlikely to happen. There’s also the small matter of Russia needing to invade in order to force the election to take place in the first place, an action that has probably hurt their popularity with otherwise persuadable voters.

  42. 42
    Roger Moore says:

    @Keith G:

    Putin is strong and he is decisive.

    Yep. That’s the big advantage of authoritarian government; important decisions can be made quickly without waiting for tedious debate. Unfortunately, that bypasses the ability of tedious debate to point out mistakes before they’ve been committed.

  43. 43
    catclub says:

    @Ronnie Pudding: “Were the elections in Crimea necessarily less legitimate than the street protests that gave Yanukovych the boot? ”

    hmmm, let me think, Yanukovych has masked snipers shooting protesters, then turn tail and runs to Russia.
    I am not voting on his side as the more or even equally legitimate side, so no.

  44. 44
    Ronnie Pudding says:

    @Ash Can: @Ash Can:
    The BBC article you linked to shows Yanukovych had won a heavy majority of votes in E. Ukraine and Crimea. Based on that, I don’t think you can assume the majority of Crimeans supported his ouster a few years later.

    If he had lost an election, fair enough, they have to accept it. But it wasn’t an election. Again, I don’t think it’s obvious that most Crimeans would rather stay with post-Yanu Ukraine.

  45. 45
    PIGL says:

    @Hill Dweller: You have me there….I don’t watch network news period. I take you at your word, even though I am surprised. What could a Democratic politician imagine that the President should be doing about the annexation of / reunion with the Crimea? Summon the Light Brigade?

    Retreats, shaking his head, to pour another glass of wine.

  46. 46
    Tripod says:

    This is all you need to know:

    Chevron and Shell are currently in the process of exploring the massive shale fields in both the east and west of Ukraine. But Ukraine also needs oil field service providers, technical expertise and education programs to expand domestic supply.

    Crimea is a terrible trade for the eastern European gas market. Putin has seriously fucked up here.

  47. 47
    Mandalay says:

    @🍀 Martin:

    Even elections with people running unopposed don’t win 93% of votes. In a scenario like this, even if there was deep opposition to Ukraine, you’d at least get some kind of split between independence and joining some other nation.

    Well there certainly is a split, but if those opposed to independence refuse to participate in the vote then you can certainly get a vote of ~93% in favor of Crimea becoming part of Russia. And that seems to be what happened….

    Election officials said 82.7 percent of eligible voters in Crimea cast ballots. But many opponents of the referendum did not vote: Crimean Tatar leaders, for instance, urged their community to boycott the referendum, and many ethnic Ukrainians vowed to stay away.

    If most of those wishing to remain part of Ukraine did not even vote then it is quite possible that the voting results are accurate. Of course the legitimacy of the events that lead to the voting might be disputed, but that is another matter.

    Put another way, Putin didn’t need to fix the voting results. It was already a done deal, and with the genuine support of most in Crimea.

  48. 48
    Bob In Portland says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): Then you think he ran away because Parliament was going to vote a hundred percent to get rid of him? Your post is a mixture of presumptions.

    @Tripod:Putin didn’t have Ukraine so he couldn’t have lost it, and while he won’t want Ukraine to compete with Russia for the European petroleum market there is a certain compensation of not having to deal with Banderists inside Russia.

    @catclub: There’s a lot of questions as to whom the snipers were. And as you’ll note, the coup makers don’t seem to be in a hurry to bring these martyr makers to trial. Or even identify them.

  49. 49
    Mandalay says:


    Crimea is a terrible trade for the eastern European gas market. Putin has seriously fucked up here.

    Get a grip. From your own link:

    Ukraine produces approximately 35% of its natural gas supply, the rest coming largely from Russia. Last week, Gazprom again threatened to cut off the gas to further pressure Kiev and its European allies.

    Europe is never going to tell Putin they are so outraged by his behavior in the Crimea that they won’t buy his oil and gas. (For all our blustering, we still happily buy oil from evil Venezuela.)

    There will certainly be long term consequences for Putin that cannot be predicted right now, but in the short term he has won. He is massively popular at home, he has restored Crimea to Russia, he has stood up to the rest of the world and told everyone to get fucked, and everyone will still buy his oil and gas.

  50. 50
    Origuy says:


    If most of those wishing to remain part of Ukraine did not even vote then it is quite possible that the voting results are accurate.

    Since that wasn’t an option on the ballot, those wishing to stay with Ukraine voted by their absence.

  51. 51
    PJ says:

    @Mandalay: How genuine is it when, in the previous referendum, Crimeans had not voted to become separate from Ukraine, tens of thousands of Russian (excuse me, unidentified militia) soldiers are controlling the streets, the ballots are not secret, and Tatars houses are being marked by crosses in the days before the election?

  52. 52
    PJ says:

    @Bob In Portland: I hope the check you get from the FSB is worth it.

  53. 53
    Mandalay says:


    Since that wasn’t an option on the ballot…

    Oh poppycock. Where is your evidence for that nonsense?

  54. 54
    Mandalay says:

    @PJ: What part of “the legitimacy of the events that lead to the voting might be disputed” did you not understand? Jesus.

  55. 55
    PJ says:

    @Mandalay: You stated, unconditionally, that the voting results had the “genuine support of most in Crimea.” I am questioning whether we can know if that can be in any sense true under the circumstances.

    You have a distinct tendency to make unsupported blanket statements in favor of Russian policy and then back away from them when people call you on them.

  56. 56
    Mandalay says:

    @PJ: I posted a link to this:

    Malyshev, who spoke briefly Monday morning on Crimean televsion, said a total of 1,274,096 people voted, for an 83.1 percent turnout. Of those who cast a ballot, 1,023,002 voted to shift to Russia, 31,997 voted to stay with Ukraine, and 9,097 were in invalid, Malyshev said…

    A vote in favor of seceding from Ukraine was widely expected; ethnic Russians make up 60 percent of Crimea’s population, and the region has deep historical ties to Russia.

    Now if you want to post solid information that the majority of the population of Crimea does not genuinely want to become part of Russia then post it, with links. Put up or shut the fuck up.

  57. 57
    PJ says:

    @Mandalay: There was no choice on the ballot to “stay with Ukraine”; it was either join up with Russia now, or secede now and join up later. You still haven’t cited any valid evidence that a majority of Crimean residents support secession; you only cite the election itself, which was a farce, made at gunpoint. One district reported that 123 percent of residents voted in favor of union with Russia: http://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/n.....7/7019270/

  58. 58
    Doug says:


    Just Georgia. South Georgia is a British overseas possession in the southern Atlantic Ocean. If people are likely to think you mean the Georgia with Atlanta as its capital, “post-Soviet Georgia” is probably the best short-hand, as “Caucasian Georgia” will probably cause more confusion.

  59. 59
    Caravelle says:

    That’s a bizarre last paragraph. The author seems to be making the point it’s reasonable for Ukrainians to want to rejoin Russia because Ukraine is a hellhole with a frightful history… The worst aspects of that history having happened when Ukraine was under Russia’s political control.

    If modern Russia was a prosperous, democratic nation with nothing in common with Stalin’s USSR it might be one thing, but the common citizenry under Putin isn’t exactly living it large either.

  60. 60
    Alex S. says:

    Russia wins Krimea but loses Ukraine.

  61. 61
    Spike says:

    I think it would have been possible to negotiate for a legitimate, internationally monitored referendum on the status of Crimea, but the West seemed less interested in supporting that than the Russians. Apparently the sanctity of borders outweighs the importance of self-determination.

  62. 62
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Ruckus: I am so old I recall professional conduct means not talking about religion, politics or sex at work.

  63. 63
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Caravelle: If I understand the situation in Crimea correctly the major employer in the region is the Russian military. It’s been a major Russian military base for centuries now. Why the surprise and skepticism? Beyond as Americans we aren’t used to people voting for their economic interests,…

  64. 64
    Ruckus says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:
    That’s why I try to avoid it at all costs. But when you are sitting around at break and the dude starts in with his rant after reading one report on his phone…..

  65. 65
    Jennifer says:

    Hey, remember when GW Bush looked into Putin’s eyes, “into his soul”, and proclaimed him to be a good guy?

    Good times, good times…

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