Ukraine crisis: Decision time for Crimea in referendum which could change the complexion of Europe

As the Ukrainian territory prepares for a referendum that will decide whether it will return to Moscow’s control, the Russian Foreign Minister declares that it matters more than the Falklands do to Britain

The Crimean peninsula is far more important to the Russians than the Falkland Islands are to Britain, Moscow’s foreign minister declared as talks in London aimed at defusing the Ukraine crisis ended without a breakthrough.

The talks failed to find common ground as Crimea gears up for a referendum on whether to secede from the Ukraine and return to Russian control.

Sergei Lavrov insisted that his government would respect the result of tomorrow’s referendum. He was speaking after a five-hour meeting with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, which Mr Lavrov admitted had failed to agree on a way out of the crisis.

Western powers have dismissed the ballot as unconstitutional and part of an attempt by Moscow to gain spurious legal cover for the annexation of Crimea. They have indicated that any attempt to legitimise its result would lead to stronger sanctions against Russia and its leadership. But Mr Lavrov cited Britain’s attachment to the Falklands, which the UK won back from Argentinian occupiers following a brief war in 1982, as evidence of Moscow’s long-standing commitment to Crimea.

He said the situation on the peninsula “cannot be examined without historical contexts”, and added: “Everybody understands that Crimea for Russia is something really important .... It means immeasurably more for Russia than the Falklands means for the United Kingdom.”

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Lavrov argued that tomorrow’s referendum was an instance of the United Nations principle of self-determination in action.

In a separate press conference, Mr Kerry said it would amount to a “back-door annexation” of Crimea if the Russian parliament ratified the result of the “illegitimate” referendum.

Mr Kerry accused his Russian counterpart of rejecting a series of “constructive ideas” put on the table, about how to ease tensions.

Protesters against Ukraine’s referendum gather in Simferopol yesterday Protesters against Ukraine’s referendum gather in Simferopol yesterday (Getty Images)
Rarely has a day-after scenario mattered as much; it could change the complexion of Europe, if not of the wider world. The day itself – Sunday, when voters in Crimea are due to take part in a referendum about the future of the peninsula – has acquired a momentum of its own, “a steamroller racing downhill”, as it has been described by one Russian commentator.

The overwhelming odds are that a majority, perhaps an overwhelming majority, of the electorate will vote for reunification with Russia. Crimea was administratively part of Russia for two centuries and has been part of Ukraine for only 60 years. Some 60 per cent of the population are Russian-speakers, with Ukrainian-speakers and Tatars making up the rest. Even before the intense propaganda of the past two weeks, there was strong pro-Russian sentiment in Crimea, where a large number of Russian service personnel settled after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The questions on the ballot paper are: “Are you in favour of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea reuniting with Russia as a constituent part of the Russian Federation?” And: “Are you in favour of restoring the Constitution of the Republic of Crimea of 1992 and of Crimea’s status as part of Ukraine?” The middle way of greater autonomy within Ukraine is not an option.

Is there a possibility that the voters could spring a surprise? A slender one. If, for instance, Ukrainian speakers and Tatars turn out in large numbers; if the fiercely anti-Russian Tatars turn out to be more numerous than the estimated 12 per cent of the population – which is possible, given their comparatively high birth rate and the numbers still returning from exile; if Crimea’s Russian-speakers turn out to have developed a greater sense of allegiance to independent Ukraine than is generally believed, and if the clumsiness of the propaganda raising the spectre of fascism rebounds, then there is a very slight chance that Crimea will reject reunification with Russia and the immediate crisis be averted.

Whether Russia would accept the result is a different matter. Many Western experts on the region would say not: the prevailing view is that Moscow’s whole stance since the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych as Ukrainian president three weeks ago has been designed to speed the “recovery” of Crimea.

News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence