On March 16, 2014, a referendum was held in Crimea on the issue of changing the status of the Autonomous Republic. And it passed with a record 80% turnout and a record 96% vote for Russia.
Aside of the fact that local referendums are against Ukrainian constitution we will try to analyze whether people even had a chance to actually choose between Russia and Ukraine.
Short answer is NO. But let’s take a closer look.
First of all the options in the bulletins were:
1) Do you support merge of Crimea with Russia as a subordinate entity of the Russian Federation?
2) Do you support the reenactment of the Republic of Crimea Constitution as of 1992 and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?
And though the second option seem to be “for Ukraine” in fact the Republic of Crimea Constitution as of 1992 declares Crimea an independent state which may or may not delegate some power to Ukrainian government if and when it wishes . So it actually just tricked those, who didn’t know. And in fact the options voters had were:
Quite a choice, hah?
No wonder that those, who wanted to stay in Ukraine, boycotted this “referendum”, right? They just didn’t get an option.
So from where did they get that 80% appearance and the exit polls, you’d ask? Easy.
First, at the referendum they used a “simplified” voting procedure of including people into the additional lists directly at the voting station on the voting day. And didn’t rule out the possibility that after the vote in one voting station the same people by the same procedure could vote in another voting station. And they allowed voting using Resident Cards, which could be made within 3 hours to 1 day upon arrival to Crimea.
So non-citizens of Ukraine could come into Crimea, make themselves a Resident Card, and then go and vote as many times as they wish and physically can. [4, 5]
And Russians (and only Russians) were provided all means to do so. 5 days before the referendum Crimean government with help of Russian troops seized and closed Crimean airport for all flights except for the ones from Russia . And on the day of referendum they provided buses for those, who needed help to get to any voting station.
This way even in Bahchisaray Region with Tatar majority who totally boycotted the referendum, high turnout was reported.
But what about Crimeans? We all saw how glad some of them were after the referendum. How they celebrated and seemed to be happy and relieved by its results. Why did at least part of Crimeans vote for Russia?
These according to Russian propaganda were the options they had to choose from. And only Russian propaganda was present everywhere in Crimea. Ukrainian TV was blocked and replaced by Russian channels shortly after the referendum was called. Ukrainian activists, who tried to raise a voice for Ukraine, were threatened, beaten, some were kidnapped and tortured. What made a message about the only allowed point of view in Crimea crystal clear. People had only one happy option – to vote for Russia. All the rest was banned and muted as “fascist”.
And even for the case when people tried to protest against the unfair choice by crossing out both options:
Russia printed extra amount of bulletins with a checkmark already placed in a right box:
In addition to that Russia didn’t let any international observer in – for obvious reasons.
So as you can see, any way people could try to go – they’d end up with Russia.
Free and fair choice, they say.
 Link to the Constitution of Crimea as of 1992: http://sevkrimrus.narod.ru/ZAKON/1992konst.htm (it’s in Russian, you may want to use google translate to read)
 Estimate of the Committee of voters of Ukraine: http://crimea.comments.ua/news/2014/03/17/093520.html (it’s in Russian, you may want to use google translate to read)
 http://www.unian.net/politics/898915-osvobojdennyih-v-kryimu-zalojnikov-pyitali-derjali-bez-pischi-i-moralno-izdevalis.html (it’s in Russian, you may want to use google translate to read)