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Russian Public Chamber’s observers: Crimea referendum conformed to international law

March 18, 2014, 4:25 UTC+3 MOSCOW
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MOSCOW, March 17, /ITAR-TASS/. Crimea’s referendum on whether to become part of Russia was in full conformity with the norms of the autonomous republic’s Constitution as well as norms and standards of international law, the Russian Public Chamber’s observers mission said in a statement distributed on Monday.

The Republic of Crimea, where most residents are Russians, on Sunday held a referendum on whether to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia or stay within Ukraine with broader autonomy. Some 97 percent of voters chose the option of joining the Russian Federation. Crimea’s parliament on Monday declared Crimea an independent sovereign state.

The Russian mission’s statement noted “the faultless technical organization of the plebiscite, significant activity of voters and an extremely high turnout.”

According to Public Chamber observers, “election commissions worked in compliance with all rules and procedures; all conditions for free will expression and independent voting process observation were provided.”

The statement also said that “the rules of campaigning both for Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation and against that option were observed during the referendum’s preparation.”

“The results of the will expression should be recognized by the bodies of Russia’s state power and representatives of the international community as legitimate,” it said. “The right to hold a referendum is guaranteed by one of fundamental principles of international law - the right to self-determination.”

Russia’s Public Chamber considers the referendum “within the framework of pan-European tendencies, such as the legal precedent of Kosovo’s secession [from Serbia], a broad public movement for autonomization in Scotland and Catalonia.”

“We proceed from the fact that the plebiscite was held in conditions of a vacuum of legitimacy in Ukraine when the incumbent president cannot fulfill his duties because there is a threat to his life, and power in Kiev was seized as a result of an armed anti-constitutional coup,” the statement said.

“In this context, only an appeal to the people’s opinion may serve as a source of any state power and is the only way out of any legal crisis,” it said.

According to the observers, some separate drawbacks they registered at the referendum were insignificant. For example, an exit poll was conducted at one of the polling stations closer to the exit than envisioned by the law.

The Russian Public Chamber observers mission monitored preparations for the Crimean plebiscite on March 11-17 in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, a city with a special status.

The mission comprised Public Chamber members, representatives of Russian public associations and civil society institutions. Monitoring was conducted at polling stations in the cities of Simferopol, Sevastopol, Bakhchisaray, Yalta, Alushta, the village of Orlinoye, the settlements of Foros, Vidnoye and Razdolnoye.

Mass anti-government protests, often turning violent, started in Ukraine in November 2013 when the country’s authorities refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

The Ukrainian protests resulted in a coup in the country in February 2014. President Viktor Yanukovich had to leave Ukraine citing security concerns. Yanukovich told reporters in south Russia on March 11 that he remained the legitimate Ukrainian president despite “an anti-constitutional seizure of power by armed radicals.”

Moscow considers Yanukovich to be the legitimate Ukrainian president and does not recognize the new self-proclaimed Ukrainian authorities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said early on Monday that Crimea’s decision to hold the referendum was in line with international law and the UN Charter, and was also in line with the precedent set by Kosovo.

The referendum was organized in such a way as to guarantee Crimea’s population the possibility to freely express their will and exercise their right to self-determination, Putin told his US counterpart Barack Obama by phone.

The self-proclaimed new Ukrainian leadership and the West have cried foul over the Crimean referendum claiming the vote was illegal.

In the Soviet Union, Crimea used to be part of Russia until 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev, the first secretary of the USSR’s Communist Party, transferred it to Ukraine's jurisdiction. In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Crimea became part of newly independent Ukraine.

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