I wrote earlier on Monday about the overwhelming vote by Crimeans to leave Ukraine and join Russia. The latest reputable polls in Crimea showed that just 40 percent of Crimeans wanted Ukraine to integrate with Russia, yet 97 percent of Crimeans on Sunday voted to reunite with Russia. I offered several possible explanations for the discrepancy, including the ballot question wording, the presence of thousands of Russian troops in Crimea and the possibility that some voters wanted only Crimea, and not the rest of Ukraine, to join Russia.
In the comments of my post, several readers offered an additional explanation I didn’t include: The last polls preceded the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russia government and its replacement by a government friendlier to the European Union than to the Kremlin. The Kiev International Institute of Sociology poll – which found about 40 percent of Crimeans backed unification — was conducted from Feb. 8-18. President Viktor Yanukovych, who favored closer ties with Moscow and received 78 percent of the Crimean vote in 2010, fled the country three days after the poll ended and was voted out of office by Ukraine’s parliament on Feb. 22.
I asked Volodymyr Paniotto, general director of KIIS, about this explanation. Paniotto acknowledged the possibility that Yanukovych’s ouster affected the vote, and expanded the explanation to include the Ukrainian parliament’s “foolish steps” — such as canceling and later reinstating a law granting equal status to minority languages in Ukraine. He still thinks the context of the referendum, including the Russian troops and Russian propaganda present in Crimea, were the dominant factors in the vote.