Will Crimea's Declaration of Independence Trigger an International Showdown?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Men hold Russian (R) and Soviet Union flags in Simferopol's Lenin Square on March 16, 2014. Polls opened yesterday for a referendum on the peninsula of Crimea. (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty)

On Sunday, an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The referendum is over, and now its up to the international community and the people of Ukraine to decide what to do next.

The United States and the European Union have dismissed the Crimean vote and view it as a violation of international law.

"We reject the 'referendum' that took place today in the Crimean region of Ukraine," a statement from the White House says. "This referendum is contrary to Ukraine's Constitution, and the international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law."

Though President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the West would "never" accept Crimea's vote, the Kremlin is holding the line. In a telephone call Sunday, Putin told Obama that the referendum was fully legal and "in line with the norms of international law and the U.N. charter."

Was the Crimean vote an attempt to roll back history? In 1954, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev made the land called Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, a detail that made both Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula part of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Crimea and its Russian majority population stayed with Ukraine.

Is the map changing, and can this referendum, along with the presence of Russian troops, reverse a half century of history?

Nina Khrushcheva, the great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev and a professor of international affairs at the New School in New York, looks at Russia's fixation on the past. Ukrainian politician Oleh Rybachuk, a former deputy Prime Minister in Kiev, weighs in on the way forward for Ukraine.


Nina Khrushcheva and Oleh Rybachuk

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman


T.J. Raphael

Comments [7]

EmailZola from Palo Alto, CA

Personally, I wonder how far back into history post-cold war pluralism will drive the geopolitical "reset point" - as far as the Crimea is concerned, at what juncture will Ottoman sentiments enter into the discourse, if not the fray. [Note the recent reduction in tensions between Greeks and Turks living on Cyprus.]

Off-putting about the vote proper as depicted on media were (a) the lack of a 'status quo ante' option on the ballot sheet, and (b) the transparent (poly-carbonate?) cases into which ballots were dropped -- to western eyes, these affronts to the sacred 'secret ballot' seemed so gross as to be orchestrated.

A few decades back, Mr. Kissinger was predicting a post-Soviet Imperium, and perhaps that is what one might expect of any party controlling the European supply chain.

Mar. 17 2014 03:46 PM
Robert Thomas from Santa Clara

The Soviet Union collapsed not because of military or economic threats but because the Russian people became disgusted with its persistence. If the Russian people don't object to the forcible re-acquisition of some or all of the former republics, little will prevent Mr. Putin from proceeding.

Mar. 17 2014 03:32 PM
eva from Needham,ma

In 1956 Nikita Khrushchev crushed the Hungarian Revolution, so He was a dictator.he told his solders they are going to Berlin.

Mar. 17 2014 02:50 PM

wonder why Crimean vote to join Russia is any more illegal than the coup that unseated Yanukovich from Ukraine? We may not like Putin but the reports from Crimea seem to indicate that the people there chose Russia because of the chaos caused by the overthrow of the government in Ukraine.

Mar. 17 2014 12:33 PM
Angel from Miami FL

Long books and short memories. That sums up the Russian people. Whatever they went through under the Soviets they've apparently forgot. Vladimir Putin is a dictator, no question about it. But he's using China's post-Mao playbook of ensconcing oppression under a cloak of capitalism. Because that's what WE, the free nations, want to see. WE want them to invest in and buy our expensive stuff and WE want to invest in and buy their cheap stuff. We're willing to overlook the suffering that is involved in all that until it's too late and they're trying to steal entire nations. Even then we're frozen by the choice of fighting for what's right or selling out. The Ukrainians look like they want to fight. Too bad they picked us to back them up.

Mar. 17 2014 10:11 AM
Paul Hickey from Augusta, GA

Is the vote in Crimea today much different from the vote in South Carolina in 1860 to secede from the Union (United States)? As much as we don't like the circumstances of the Crimea vote, we have always believed that "we the people" should determine our own destiny. Right or wrong, the people have voted.

Mar. 17 2014 09:46 AM
Janet W. from New York, NY

Prof. Khrushcheva is rather too protective of her family's history, i.e., her great-grandfather Nikita Khrushchev, distinguishing him from dictator Josef Stalin by calling her ancestor "an autocrat" but not a dictator! Below are some standard definitions which indicate that Prof. Khrushcheva's distinction is merely one to salve her ancestor's mixed reputation. I for one see that the evidence goes against her. Possibly the only successor to Khrushchev who broke the mold of dictator/autocrat was Gorbachev. Putin, however, seems to be quite interested in reviving his KGB heritage in a new recombinatuion of Russia's Tsarist/Stalinist traditions. The despised "West" won't rest happy with those prospects.


1.an absolute ruler, especially a monarch who holds and exercises the powers of government as by inherent right, not subject to restrictions.
2 a person invested with or claiming to 
exercise absolute authority.
3. a person who behaves in an authoritarian manner; a domineering person.


1. a ruler with total power over a country, typically one who has obtained power by force.
synonyms: autocrat, absolute ruler, despot, tyrant, oppressor, autarch

Mar. 17 2014 09:45 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.