Voting fraud secured pro-Russian majority in Crimean parliament

It was just overnight that Crimea requested to be part of Russia, and the Ukrainian peninsula got an unpopular pro-Russian prime minister. How did it happen?

Russians still guard the Ukrainaian military base Perevalnoe. From inside the wall the besieged Ukrainian soldiers looks out. All photos: Jan T. Espedal

  • Jan T. Espedal (photo)
  • Per Kristian Aale


Member of the Crimean parliament Nicolay Sumulidi voted for the proposal to hold a referendum on joining Russia. At least this is what the official voting records say. The problem is, however, that he was never present.

It was 04:30 in the morning on Thursday last week that several dozens of masked soldiers, armed with Kalashnikov-rifles, stormed into the regional assembly in Simferopol. At dawn, the Russian tricolor was flying over the parliament building.

Crimean MP Nicolay Sumulidi is registered with a pro-Russian vote in the records. But he was not present.

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin says he has no plans to annex the Crimea, but maintains that the citizens must be allowed to decide for themselves. Aftenposten’s correspondent interviewed a dozen members of the regional assembly, and talked to a number of central players and eyewitnesses. The conclusion is that the people’s will is far from deciding events in the Crimea. It was just after 9 in the morning when Sumulidi received a telephone call. He was told to come to the parliament as soon as possible. If he didn’t, it would have bad consequences for himself and his family. Sumulidi put the receiver down.

— I had no intention to go. During the last months we have seen more and more clearly what direction events are taking, he said.

Traveling women

Week after week Russian television has asserted that antisemites and neonazis are on the advance in the Ukraine, attacking ethnic Russians. The new leadership in Kiev are fascists. Several TV-companies showed footage from a number of Ukrainian cities, where two women were crying in front of the cameras, and told that they had been beaten because they were speaking Russian.

The following days saw the start of large pro-Russian demonstrations. Later, it turned out that the two crying women had been travelling from town to town, and several media disclosed that many demonstrators had been brought in from Russia by buses.

After the demonstrations had continued for several weeks, the masked soldiers entered the Crimean parliament building. The elected representatives who showed up were stripped and had their cell phones confiscated. No journalists were allowed in. Behind closed doors – while armed soliders were watching – they sacked the government, announced a referendum on independence from Ukraine and elected Sergey Aksyonov to be prime minister. In the elections in 2010, Aksyonov’s party, Russian Unity, won only 4 per cent of the votes and 3 of the 100 seats in the assembly.

Too few present

Rules require that at least 51 representatives be present in order to hold a qualified vote. The new goverment says 61 members of parliament voted for a referendum on independence from Ukraine. Aftenposten’s research shows, however, that only 36 were present.

— The system which registers who voted, and what we voted for or against, shows I did cast a vote. But I was not there. Neither were a large majority of my colleagues, says Sumulidi. Representative Irina Klyuyeva also participated in the vote, according to the official records, but she was not present either.

Jan T. Espedal/Aftenposten

— I didn’t want to go, because I knew what was going to happen. Only pro-Russia representatives were present, and they numbered far below 50. In other words, a legal vote was not possible, she tells Aftenposten. But Dmitry Polonsky, vice chairman of the party, says «it was the people who decided that we needed a new government and a referendum. This is our will, nobody is forcing us».

Asked for Russia to intervene

Only 36 hours after Aksyonov became prime minister, he declared that he himself is the leader of both the police and security services. He also urged Russia to intervene in order to protect the Crimea. Two hours later Putin requested, and immediately received, permission to invade the Ukraine.

Thousands of masked soldiers pushed into the Crimea. They took control over airports, railway stations and other strategic installations, and surrounded Ukrainian military bases. Russian naval ships blockaded Ukrainian military vessels in the harbour.

President Putin maintained the soldiers were «local selfdefence groups» – not Russian – but numerous masked men confirmed to Aftenposten’s correspondent that they came from Russia.

The soldiers were supported by thousands of self-appointed vigilantes, and Russian cossacs entered Simferopol to guard the parliament and government building.

- This is a well organized coup. I refused to take part in the vote because it is illegal, says parliament-member Refat Chubarov, who is also a leader of the Crimean Tatars.

Settled long ago

The parliament in Simferopol resolved on Thursday last week to separate from Ukraine, and expedite a referendum on whether to join Russia on March 16. The next day, Moscow rolled out the red carpet to receive Aksyonov. Leaders of the Russian national assembly told him the Crimea is welcome to become a part of Russia, if the citizens want to. This is the strongest signal yet, that Russia is going to annex the pensinsula.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) tried to send a group of observers into the Crimea, but they were rejected several times by armed soldiers. Representatives from the UN and other international organisations have been literally chased off the grounds.

— The result of the referendum has been decided long ago, so its obviously not convenient to have international observers looking into what is actually happening, says Sumulidi. He thinks it will be impossible to stage a referendum in just a week, there will hardly even be time to print the ballots.

- How can you have free and just elections when thousands of heavily armed soldiers are occupying the Crimea?

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