Six years and $20 billion in Russian investment later, Crimeans are happy with Russian annexation

Gerard Toal, John O’Loughlin and Kristin M. Bakke – Washington Post March 18, 2020

Crimeans celebrate the referendum results in March 2014. An estimated 95% voted to rejoin the Russian Federation. Click to enlarge

Wednesday is the sixth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. After a hastily organized and deeply contentious referendum on March 16, 2014, following Russia’s military occupation of the peninsula, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty of accession with Crimean leaders in Moscow two days later.

An avalanche of international criticism followed. Analysts pointed out that this was the first annexation by one state of the territory of a neighboring state on the European continent since World War II. In the United Nations, 100 countries condemned the unauthorized referendum and affirmed their support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

In Crimea itself, the annexation was popular, especially among Crimea’s large population of older ethnic Russians. More than five years later, and billions of rubles of investment later, it remains popular. Here’s what we found from surveys in December 2014 and December 2019.

Crimeans favored rejoining Russia

One of the outcomes of Russia’s annexation was the Kersch Strait Bridge, linking Crimea with southern Russia. Click to enlarge

The conditions under which the March 2014 referendum in Crimea was conducted were far from ideal. Yet, most observers acknowledge that the majority, though certainly not all, of Crimeans supported the peninsula joining Russia (Russia’s government bans use of the word “annexation” to describe these events).

Numerous polls supported this conclusion. In December 2014, the Levada Center, Russia’s most reliable polling company, conducted a survey for us in Crimea that affirmed these findings. Our analysis of these survey results used the term “Crimea conundrum” to describe the disjuncture between the legitimacy of Crimea’s new status to most of its residents and its illegitimacy within the international community.

In 2020, after an estimated $20 billion in investment from Moscow and alignment with Russian infrastructure, have attitudes toward the annexation changed? The short answer is no. Crimea’s three largest ethnic groups are, by and in large, happy with the direction of events on the peninsula.

The December 2019 representative survey, also conducted by Levada, repeated many questions we asked five years earlier. Thus, we asked again about support for the annexation (we used “joining Russia” — a more neutral term) and how much people trusted specific political leaders.

Here’s what we found: Support for joining Russia remains very high (86 percent in 2014 and 82 percent in 2019) — and is especially high among ethnic Russians and Ukrainians. A key change since 2014 has been a significant increase in support by Tatars, a Turkic Muslim population that makes up about 12 percent of the Crimean population. In 2014, only 39 percent of this group viewed joining Russia as a positive move, but this figure rose to 58 percent in 2019.

While Tatars still tend to be more negative about the Russian annexation than other nationalities, this growth is noteworthy, and we can track the more positive outlook among Tatars in other questions about expectations for the future and views on how Crimea has changed since 2014.

Tatars have been the focus of U.S. and Western complaints about human rights abuses on the peninsula, both by local authorities and by Moscow. At the same time, a growing acceptance of the new political reality matched with rising expectations of a more prosperous future appears to underlie the changing numbers that we see for this important minority population.

Which leaders do Crimeans trust?

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump told George Stephanopoulos of ABC that “the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.” Trump’s critics charged him with using Vladimir Putin’s talking points. Yet Trump, in this instance, was broadly correct.

Crimeans, however, have little love for Trump — they show higher levels of trust in China’s leadership than they do in the U.S. president. As the figure below shows, only 3 percent said that they had a “lot of trust in President Trump” and only 12 percent went so far as “a little trust.” Three-quarters of the sample had “no trust at all” in Trump.

What about Putin? Crimea’s trust in Putin, as might be expected, swamps those of external political leaders. This figure is down almost 20 percent from the 2014 figure for the highest support — the “trust a lot” bar, but these levels correspond to Putin’s overall support in Russia.

We did not name the Chinese leader in the survey, since pilot surveys showed a very low level of name recognition for Xi Jinping. These results show a high level of unfamiliarity about his government, with nearly 20 percent giving a “don’t know” answer and 41 percent declaring “no trust at all” for the Chinese government.

The Baltic analogy

Crimea’s annexation remains an outrage to most Euro-Atlantic states, though sentiments are clearly different on the political far right. But even Russia’s fiercest critics recognize, though they rarely express it publicly, that Crimea is not going to return to Ukraine any time soon.

The analogy these critics use is that of the Baltic States, whose occupation and incorporation into the Soviet Union was something the U.S. government never formally recognized. While this analogy resonates with the U.S.’s deep story of the Cold War as nations held captive by an evil empire, its vision of Crimea as “occupied territory” is out-of-sync with the material and attitudinal realities of contemporary Crimea.

Gerard Toal, professor of government and international affairs at Virginia Tech’s campus in Arlington, is the author of “Near Abroad: Putin, the West and the Contest for Ukraine and the Caucasus (Oxford University Press, 2019), which won the ENMISA Distinguished Book Award in 2019.

John O’Loughlin, college professor of distinction at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is a political geographer with research interests in the human outcomes of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa and in the geopolitical orientations of people in post-Soviet states.

Kristin M. Bakke is a professor of political science and international relations at University College London and associate research professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Her current research focuses on postwar state-building and wartime legacies, as well as geopolitical orientations in post-Soviet states.

The authors acknowledge funding for this work from a joint National Science Foundation/Research Council UK grant

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5 responses to “Six years and $20 billion in Russian investment later, Crimeans are happy with Russian annexation”

  1. A shock poll in the UK recently revealed that the most popular politician was Vladimir Putin
    not any British politician.
    An open letter made the point when it said ” Dear Mr Rothschild please can we have some new politicians here in the UK as the ones you have given us are not fit for purpose”
    This hides a deep truth.
    Conspiracy news told the story in depth of how barack Obama came to power.
    Sheldon Adelson won a one million dollar bet that he could get a man in the white house who was
    Not American Born
    A negro
    A Homosexual deviant he won his bet.
    The only fly in the ointment with Putin even though he saved the Syrian people
    is that he wont let the truth out about the jewish holocaust

  2. Oh, the Kersch Strait Bridge, the bridge that MI6 tried to nuke? Remember Buster Crabb in Portsmouth Harbour in 1956 when MI6 attempted to sink Nikita Khrushchev’s cruiser? Khrushchev won the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The totally madmen at MI6 get found out time and time again, which kinda brings Covid-19 into perspective. There is absolutely nothing that MI6 won’t try in order to get their way, like interfering in the 2016 US election, because MI6 wanted Killary as president… will corona stop Trump in 2020? The fake news suggests the UK may have corona peaked and Trump says corona crisis might be over by the end of April… did ‘they’ pre-expose the UK and US populations to this virus so the effects would be far lower? Evan Davis who presents BBC PM on Radio 4 has said several times that he is perplexed by the dry cough that he has had since Christmas… I concur with Davis, I have had the same symptoms, a dry morning cough and constantly having to clear my throat. Have most people been pre-exposed to corona?

  3. Levada Center is a Jewish PsyWar outlet. They simply couldn’t find anything to attack Putin.

    I was in Climea before 2014. Black Sea coast was always a tourist destination, during Ukrainian rule the penisula was hopelessly neglected. They needed investment just to maintain infrastructure.

    Plenty of people were missing Russia in Crimea or in Odessa. Neither Odessa nor Crimea have any connection with historical Ukraine.

  4. Correct Patrick, The Crimea was always Russian.

  5. As can be seen on Russia Today (RT), the coverage of the “virus” demonstrates that at the deepest level Putin is playing for the same Deep State team.

    RT sings from the same hymn book on the “holohoax”, “space exploration” etc. It deconstructs Western politics/economics quite well. I’m a regular watcher of Renegade Inc and Max Keiser. The thing is though, the West not only never really deconstructs the oligarchic nature of Russian politics, but allows RT to broadcast.

    Russia as “good guy” is a psyop.