In July 2016, Donald Trump, as a US presidential candidate was quoted by ABC News as saying:

The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.

Politifact confirmed the quote and looked into reports at the time about whether this demonstrated ignorance of the "geopolitical developments" in Crimea.

"Okay, well, he's there in a certain way, but I'm not there yet," Trump responded. "You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you're talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the meantime, he's going where — he takes, takes Crimea, he's sort of — I mean. …The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were."

Many news outlets interpreted this as Trump’s ignorance. But it’s not entirely clear if the ridicule is completely warranted.


So we’re not putting Trump’s statements on the Truth-O-Meter, but we did want to examine Russia’s presence in Ukraine more in-depth. Let’s brush up on some modern Eastern European history.

This old story was revived today by a quote-tweet by Rick Wilson, retweeted by David Leavitt, who is currently a Twitter verified user, the accuracy of the claim called into doubt by many tweeters (for example).

The impression I have is that the Soviet Union "ethnically cleansed" Crimean Tatars living there, leaving the place with a high proportion of ethnic Russians, many of whom nowadays prefer to be with Russia than Ukraine.

In 2016, did the Crimean people want to be aligned with Russia or Ukraine?

Note: This isn't about whether the Crimean referendum is legal, or whether Russia's annexation of Crimea is legal.


2 Answers 2


It's not terribly clear to me what you're asking, but the 2017 survey by the German ZOiS (found via an RT story) has these highlights (not all of them reproduced by RT):

The vast majority of the Crimean population would vote for the status quo in a future repeat referendum on Crimea’s status and express trust in Russian state institutions.

The Crimean Tartars remain much more sceptical of the current regime.

So there's indeed a divergence of opinion between Crimean Tartars and the majority of Crimeans. Also, there's an interesting question about identity in the survey:

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84% of non-Tartar Crimeans would preferentially describe themselves as Russians citizens, whereas only about half of the Tartars do that.

Also, a couple of questions later (fig 17), 67.8% (of the total) described themselves as "ethnic Russian", followed by "Ethnic Crimean-Tartar" 11.7% and 8% "mixed Russian-Ukrainian" and 7.5% "ethnic Ukrainian". And (fig 20) 83% of all respondents declared they only speak Russian at home. Finally (fig 38) 83.4% of non-Tartars would vote the same same as in the 2014 referendum, whereas only 49.2% of the Tartars would do that. The combined percentage of Crimeans who would vote the same was 78.8%.

This probably answers all your potential questions. I was a bit surprised such a detailed survey was conducted.

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    @AndrewGrimm: The methodology part of survey says: " The survey was conducted through individual face-to-face interviews. It is based on a representative sample of 1,800 urban and rural Crimean residents aged 18 and older. A booster sample of 200 Crimean Tatars was added to ensure that a sufficient number of Crimean Tatars were included in the sample. " Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 6:56
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    @LorenPechtel: oh, you'll have to go much further than 5 years to get a different result. From a book on the topic: "The Russia Bloc, which favoured an independent Crimea or the region’s reunification with Russia, received 67 per cent of the votes in the 1994 parliamentary election. Yury Meshkov, its candidate, won 73 per cent of the votes in the second round of the 1994 presidential election in Crimea." Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 4:15
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    @LorenPechtel: That would be before Stalin did his ethnic cleansing, in the 1940. Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 4:48
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    From LSE: "In spite of substantial Russian colonisation efforts throughout the 19th century, around 1900 the Tatars still formed the largest ethnic group on the peninsula. The demographic pre-eminence of ethnic Russians in Crimea was only firmly solidified following the mass deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population, as well as the smaller populations of ethnic Armenians, Bulgars, and Greeks, at Joseph Stalin’s behest in 1944." Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 4:49
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    (continued) "This de facto ethnic cleansing of the peninsula’s native inhabitants led to the death of between 20 and 50 percent of the Crimean Tatar community; the remainder were only able to return to Crimea in the 1990s." Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 4:49

In addition to the ZOiS (German government) poll mentioned by Fizz, there were polls funded by the US and Canadian governments. One Year After Russia Annexed Crimea, Locals Prefer Moscow To Kiev (Forbes):

A Gallup poll with the Broadcasting Board of Governors asked Crimeans if the results in the March 16, 2014 referendum to secede reflected the views of the people. A total of 82.8% of Crimeans said yes.
In February 2015, a poll by German polling firm GfK revealed that attitudes have not changed. When asked 'Do you endorse Russia’s annexation of Crimea?', a total of 82% of the respondents answered 'yes, definitely,'

The GfK poll (P. 7) finds that only 4% of Crimeans do not support the accession of Crimea to Russia.

(Forbes' link to the GfK poll is broken but there is a copy here and a "Free Crimea project" video presentation.)

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