It is both tragic and funny that the new referendum in Ukraine can make the Crimea Referendum almost seem legit. Of course, both sets of referendum were shams, just that one was orchestrated and one was improvised.
So, which one is more legitimate then? Um, neither. Both referenda had gamed questions, with these weekend's question about self-determination providing no clue about independent, autonomy or union with Russia. Both referenda were held in the presence of armed folks, where opponents feared turning out and feared voting against the separatists. During both "campaigns" reporters were harassed and kidnapped.
The improv nature of this weekend's referenda indicates that Russia might not have been complicit. Make that "as complicit." Obviously, none of this would be happening this weekend if not for Russia's efforts in both Crimea and eastern Ukraine. It is not clear why Putin created a smidge of distance, but so far no real pullback of Russian forces and no real increased legitimacy of this more "indigenous" separatist movement.
What is clear is that Russia is getting wee bit cocky. Now Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin is threatening Moldova if it signs an EU Association Agreement. Oy. To do anything there would require sending troops through Ukraine to Transnistria. I have long been skeptical of claims that Russia would annex Transnistria. Why? Because Russia has done fine with frozen conflicts and ambiguous states. Annexing this hunk would be especially costly in the long run, and I am not sure there is much demand in Russia for this. [Um, not looking good here, Steve]
Still, Putin has already engaged in much effort that is costly, kissing goodbye to whatever benefits he wanted from the $50billion Sochi games, the capital flight, and the forthcoming recession. The question, of course, is whether these costs will hurt anyone who matters.
All I know for sure is that few outside of Russia buy these referenda as being anything other that performance art. They are not a measure of public support for irredentism or for Russia.
The other thing I know for sure is that with the various sides accusing each other of being fascists, that term is becoming devoid of all meaning.