On January 31, the U.S. State Department tweeted:
“FACT: It was Russia that invaded Ukraine in 2014, occupies Crimea, controls armed forces in the Donbas region of Ukraine, and has now amassed more than 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine.”
The Russian Embassy in the U.S. tweeted in response:
“FACT: It is the #USA that encouraged radical nationalist coup in #Kiev as a result of which the population of Crimea was threatened with extermination and voted for reunion with Russia.”
That is false.
Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan revolution was neither “radical nationalist” nor a “coup.” Polygraph.info and others have fact-checked similar claims more than once.
But the new, more egregious claim is that the “population of Crimea” was “threatened with extermination,” and thus voted to “reunify with Russia.”
In fact, no one in Crimea faced the threat of extermination after former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country for Russia.
Crimea’s annexation began with Russian forces in unmarked uniforms seizing the Black Sea peninsula’s parliament building in Simferopol. After securing the building, the Russian forces brought in loyal members of the local parliament and blocked dissenters from entering.
Thus began the “referendum” process. The subsequent voting, speedily organized in roughly 10 days, was not held in accordance with the Ukrainian constitution, which requires referenda to include the whole country.
As for the claim that the “population of Crimea” voted overwhelmingly in favor of “reunifying” with Russia, the referendum was not monitored by any qualified independent organization like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The OSCE declined to send a monitoring mission after its military observers in the area reported that Russian troops had fired on them.
Russia claimed, with no independently verification, that 96 percent of the referendum’s voters supported annexation to Russia. But leaked information from the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council suggests only about 30 percent of Crimea’s population turned out to vote, and that slightly more than half voted to annex.
Of course, the ballot was rigged: Voters were offered a choice of joining Russia or remaining independent under Crimea’s 1992 constitution – not remaining part of Ukraine. On March 27, 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring the Crimean referendum invalid.
Russia’s annexation violated several international agreements Russia had signed, including bilateral treaties with Ukraine and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. In signing the latter, Russia, Britain, the United States and Ukraine agreed to respect Ukraine’s 1991 borders in exchange for Ukraine giving up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons.
In addition to U.N. and EU condemnation, the International Criminal Court has ruled that Russia’s presence in the Crimea is an occupation.