In a previous blog post, I asked the question “Ukraine: A Federalist Future?” At the time, there had been proposals to link a referendum on the structure of the Ukrainian state with the planned 25 May election for President and Parliament. Even 25 May would have been a short time to discuss the structures of the state in a country with sharp tensions and in which different factions were not speaking to each other.
Unfortunately (in my view), factions in Eastern Ukraine decided to hold a referendum on Sunday 11 May in a hastily organized way, with little if any public debate on the consequences of the referendum and strong pressure to vote “yes” on the only option presented. The central government, the European Union and the US have all indicated that they considered the referendum and its results invalid − in fact, illegal.
President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation had suggested on the eve of the referendum that it be postponed or cancelled. However, after the referendum, the Russian government indicated that the referendum showed the “will of the people” and that Russia would abide by the results.
Thus, we can ask: what was the subject of the referendum? What are its immediate implications? What role should outside institutions play--Russia, the European Union (EU), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the US?