The referendum in Crimea is unlikely to sort out the issue of separation, though the result was expected. The exit polls had suggested 93 per cent of the Crimeans favouring merger of their land in the Russian Federation. Kiev is unlikely to accept the verdict given its opposition to the referendum decided by the Crimean Parliament. Though the West, particularly the US, has rejected the referendum, it can do little to avert what it calls the annexation by Russia. It can only watch the historical process underway in Ukraine where the various ethnic communities have stayed together amicably for the last two and a half decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin, too, is not in a happy situation. It’s true that the referendum has gone in his favour but it also leaves him with heavy responsibilities. There are significant groups of people like the Tartars who preferred to boycott the referendum. Russia will now have to make provisions for the Crimeans who were dependent on Kiev for many of their needs like electricity. Crimeans getting pension want Moscow to pay them their dues. The Russian economy is in a bad shape and it will now have to face economic sanctions from the West. More important, Russian-speaking people in other pockets of Ukraine like Kharkov and Donetsk, too, want to join Russia. Putin can’t do much to meet their aspirations as his hands are tied.
On its part, the West can do little if Russia decides to keep Crimea. Putin is not wide of the mark when he likens the Crimean referendum to the famous Kosovan precedent when Kosovar Albanians broke away from Serbia with Western help and eventually declared Independence. It is difficult to believe that the West would bestir itself to prevent the “annexation” of Crimea. The experience of Georgia is too recent to be forgotten. Putin is not foolish enough to embark upon integrating all the areas where Russians are in significant number and re-engineer what was once the Soviet Union. Any such activity is bound to be seen as throwing the gauntlet at the West.