In his wide-ranging comments at the annual Valdai Discussion Club meeting in Sochi – Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Russians are “going to heaven as martyrs” in the event of a nuclear holocaust and claims that Wednesday’s Kerch college shooting was the “result of globalization.” But those remarkable assertions are not what we are fact checking here.
Putin also returned to a perennially contentious topic: the status of Crimea. “Crimea is ours,” Putin said. ”And why ours? Not because we came and grabbed something.” He stated that people in Crimea voted for a referendum that resulted in the peninsula becoming a part of the Russian Federation - - the “will of the people,” he said.
Putin further said Russia didn’t need to take anything as “we have an enormous territory, and we don’t need anything from anyone.” He added: “Of course, we value our sovereignty, our independence. It’s always been that way, for the entire history of our state. That’s in the blood of our people, as I’ve repeatedly said.”
In an article on Putin’s comments on Crimea, Russia’s TASS state news agency cited the results of the March 16, 2014 “referendum,” in which 96.77% of Crimeans and 95.6% of Sevastopol voters chose to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.”
But Putin’s claims that Crimea was not “snatched,” and that Russia does doesn’t need to take territory from anyone have repeatedly been proven false.
As Polygraph.info previously reported, the Russian takeover of Crimea in February 2014 began when Russian special forces, operating without national insignia, seized the Crimea parliament building and raised the Russian flag. The bloodless invasion by “little green men” resulted in unmarked Russian soldiers taking control of the Republic.
Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, a leading “self-defense” commander in Crimea and later commander of separatist forces in eastern Ukrainian, admitted in a 2015 interview that members of the Crimean parliament were herded into a chamber at gunpoint and forced to support the annexation.
The referendum, hastily carried out under military occupation, did not allow for public debate or for political leaders from greater Ukraine to visit the Crimean peninsula. And, in accordance with Ukraine’s constitution, all Ukraine’s citizens should have been given a vote on Crimea’s succession, not only residents of the peninsula.
Further undermining the referendum’s validity were the two options on the ballot, each of which made it impossible for Crimea to maintain the status quo. As reported by Reuters at the time, those options were:
- “Are you in favor of the reunification of Crimea with Russia as a part of the Russian Federation?”
- “Are you in favor of restoring the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?”
The second option, while on the surface different, entailed “giving Crimea all the qualities of an independent entity within Ukraine – but with the broad right to determine its own path and choose relations with whom it wants – including Russia.”
But even with parliamentarians voting at gunpoint and the public being presented with a referendum shortly after being invaded, the putative results -- with 96.77% voting “yes” in Crimea and 95.6% voting “yes” in Sevastopol -- have been called into question.
TSN.ua, a Ukrainian news site, reported in May 2014 that Putin’s own Human Rights Council accidently posted (reportedly before taking down) the actual referendum results, which allegedly showed that only 30 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the referendum. Only half of those – 15 percent of eligible voters – voted for annexation.
That report cannot be independently verified.
But, as Paul Gregory reported in Forbes, a Human Rights Council report that is still accessible online, entitled “Problems of Crimean Residents,” stated: “In Crimea, according to various indicators, 50-60% voted for unification with Russia with a voter turnout (yavka) of 30-50%.” As Gregory noted: “This leads to a range of between 15 percent (50% x 30%) and 30 percent (60% x 50%) voting for annexation. The turnout in the Crimean district of Sevastopol, according to the Council, was higher: 50-80%.”
So even the overinflated turnout figures have been contradicted by one of Putin’s own consultative bodies.
In any case, On March 27, 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 68/262, stating that the referendum, “having no validity, cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or of the city of Sevastopol.” The resolution urged all countries “not to recognize any alteration of the status” of Crimea.
As for Putin’s claim that Russia was an enormous country that didn’t need to take territory from others? Following the de facto secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the wake of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, the German broadcaster ARD asked Putin if Crimea was the next “target” for Russian aggression.
“The Crimea is not a disputed territory. There is no ethnic conflict there in contrast to the conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia,” Putin replied angrily, demonstrating at the time his own recognition of internationally accepted borders.
“Russia recognized the current borders of today’s Ukraine a long time ago … The question of ‘targets’ for Russia only serve as provocation,” he added.
Then, as now, Putin’s statements have proven to be false.