Crimean Referendum: What Happens If Crimea Joins Russia

Voting began Sunday in the autonomous region of Crimea, where residents decide whether to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.
Posted at 8:47 AM, Mar 16, 2014

The West is condemning it as illegal.

And a UN Security Council vote would have nullified the results if it weren't for Russia's veto Saturday.

But that didn't stop the start of voting Sunday on a referendum that would decide whether the autonomous region of Crimea would rejoin Russia or stay a part of Ukraine. (Via Press TV)

Most reporting suggests the results are a sure bet for Russia. 

"They're absolutely certain it's going to be a landslide." (Via BBC)

"Consider that 60 percent of the population there is Russian." (Via CNN)

That appears to be conventional wisdom, though PBS softens it, and characterizes Crimea as a "community split over its future."

The Crimean peninsula, of course, used to be part of the Russian empire, before Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. (Via Wikimedia Commons / German Federal Archives)

That's a widely known and reported fact, though it's not often discussed why. 

You may have seen it characterized as a gift, or a gesture of goodwill from the former Soviet leader, whose wife was Ukrainian. (Via NPR)

But Khrushchev's son Sergei told Voice of America that wasn't it at all. 

"It was not a political move, it was not an ideological move - it was just business."

Business, he says, because a hydro-electric dam needed to be built to irrigate southern Ukraine, and the economics made sense to transfer Crimea — and the financial responsibility to care for it — to Ukraine. And under that backdrop, this from Al Jazeera is an interesting point about the question of what ultimately happens to Crimea:

"They get most of their water and power from mainland Ukraine. ... Russia would have to pick up that bill. ... Economically, grabbing that peninsula is going to be a costly bill for Moscow."

Joining Russia means some two million additional people — at an estimated cost to Moscow of some $3 billion a year according to The Washington Post.

Then again, how could Putin put a price on this? A member of the Russian parliament says: "[Crimea] will be remembered as the place where Russia stood up to Washington and ended American dreams of creating a 'unipolar world.'"

Ukrainian officials say some 22,000 Russian troops are now stationed in Crimea. (Via euronews)

And Saturday, Russian forces reportedly entered a nearby region to protect oil assets there — a move Ukraine's foreign ministry called a "military invasion." Referendum results are expected to be announced Monday.