SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — As Russian-occupied Crimea prepares for a secession referendum with an outcome its organizers boast is predetermined and with no hope of international recognition, a team of observers declared the vote a free, fair, and crushing blow to Western hegemony.
Speaking near-flawless Russian and repeating Russian talking points on the Ukrainian crisis word for word, a motley team of foreign election observers lined up to praise the referendum at a press conference Saturday evening. The observers, who included fringe European lawmakers and a former ally of an accused Serbian war criminal, insisted that Sunday's election was being held in accordance with all international standards and slammed Western governments for attempting to stop it.
"He's got another thing coming, the leader of the free world," Srda Trifkovic, a Serbian commentator and author of a "politically incorrect guide to Islam" that was banned from Canada for his association with Serbian warlord Radovan Karadzic, said of U.S. President Barack Obama. "What is sauce for Kosovo's goose is sauce for Crimea's gander," he added, referring to the tiny republic's 2008 secession from Serbia. Kosovo's independence infuriated Russia, which has repeatedly cited it as a precedent for the Crimean referendum.
Asked by BuzzFeed if they had been invited by Russia, the observers insisted their trip had been paid for by various European union structures and they had not received any money from Moscow. The spectacle nonetheless felt like a plunge into the collective id of Russia Today (RT), which revels in showcasing fringe Western views to underscore Moscow's talking points. The observers included a member of the far-right Hungarian party Jobbik, a member of the Greek Communist party, and a Finnish activist from Estonia who has said he wishes Vladimir Putin would rule Russia for 26 years.
Hearing the men, part of a 30-strong team of observers authorized by Crimea's usurpist government to oversee the poll, praise the tense atmosphere on the peninsula was, likewise, like delving into the parallel universe Russia has promoted around Ukraine. Not a word was said of the 18,000 Russian troops who effectively annexed Crimea two weeks ago.
Trifkovic, who is the foreign editor for the paleoconservative magazine Chronicles, laughed at Crimean Tatars' fears they would face persecution if Crimea joined Russia, saying Western media had tried to portray them as "some kind of endangered species."
The head of the "All-Chinese Industry Committee" spoke in glowing terms of the ethnic harmony he had witnessed when he saw a wedding on the street. "The people here are good," he said. He then unfurled a banner in traditional Chinese calligraphy as his gift to the Crimean people. "It says 'Friends Forever,'" he beamed.
Crimean prime minister Sergei Aksyonov, whose party got 4% of the vote in the last provincial election and whom lawmakers elected at gunpoint, has said that the referendum will return at least a 75% result in favor of the peninsula joining Russia. The only other option on the ballot calls for Crimea to declare effective independence from Ukraine.
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
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