On Sunday, the people of Crimea, a mostly autonomous, mostly Russian-speaking region within Ukraine, voted on whether to secede from Ukraine entirely and become part of Russia. As was widely expected, 93 percent of Crimean voters chose to go with Russia, according to exit polls. Western and Ukrainian leaders opposed the vote, but there is little they can do to stop it: On Saturday, Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have declared the referendum illegal. The United States and Europe are now threatening to penalize Russia, though the severity of the response will depend on how President Vladimir Putin and his allies behave now that the votes have been tallied.
Armed Russian soldiers watched over the polling places, where voters answered the questions, “Are you in favor of the reunification of Crimea with Russia as part of the Russian Federation?” and “Are you in favor of restoring the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?” Meanwhile, Russian troops remain in control of the Crimean peninsula, having occupied the area’s military bases and major airports. On Saturday, Russian forces moved to seize a gas plant on the Crimean border, and Ukrainian and Russian forces continued to gather along the countries’ shared border.
“The United States is not going to recognize the results of that referendum,” said senior White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer on Sunday’s Meet the Press. He added that the United States will be “supporting the new Ukrainian government in whatever way possible,” and called on Congress to “pass economic aid to Ukraine.” In a statement following the announcement of the exit poll numbers, Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “We reject the ‘referendum’ that took place today in the Crimean region of Ukraine.”
This post has been updated throughout.