The Actual Decision
Putin has sketchily described the decision-making process on a few occasions, the first during an open-line event on 17 April 2014 (en.kremlin.ru/ events/president/news/20796). It was then that he admitted that Russian troops had been present, claiming that their dispatch was decided - without specifying when - because Crimean residents felt “threatened” and “oppressed” and therefore interested in self-determination. This might suggest, the trigger for a Russian decision was the demonstrations calling for unification on 23 February, or more formally the 27 February Crimean parliament vote to conduct a referendum on self-determination or the 1 March request by prime minister Aksenov for Russian assistance.
In a documentary film trailered in March 2015, Putin suggested very different timing (Kondrashov 2014). He related how he had said at the end of an all-night meeting on 22-23 February 2014: “We are forced to begin work to bring Crimea back into Russia.”3 It is not clear from his words that this conclusion was reached following discussion of such a possibility at the meeting. Nevertheless, by this point, before both the demonstrations of the 23rd and the formal requests just mentioned, a decision had been made to annex, even if only in Putin’s own mind. He added that actual steps would be taken only when it became clear that the Crimean people supported Russian action. We will return to the expression of the people’s will, and whether there was another “actual” decision at that point.