Putin said after the event that the final decision to annex Crimea was taken only after the mood of the people became clear through secret polling, which revealed that 80 % of the residents of Crimea wanted accession to the Russian Federation. He gave no clue as to when the polling might have been done (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/ 20753). In April 2014, hackers released thousands of e-mails between officials of the Domestic Politics Division of the Presidential Administration, and various PR consultants and polittekhnologi (specialists in what in Russian is known as “political technology,” the application to the relationship between rulers and ruled of sophisticated methods of propaganda and monitoring) (Surnacheva 2014). They included experienced professionals without clear institutional affiliation, a well-connected Moscow PR agency, and an academic researcher at the Tauride University in Crimea. Polls seemingly carried out in early March and with results similar to those mentioned by Putin were described. It was presumably these results that Putin claimed to rely on.
Sociologists, to say nothing of experts in international law, might question the validity of such polls. But we should not be surprised that they were conducted and their results considered important. This is a regime which is strongly committed to political technology, for which activities it has significant capacity, centered in and contracted out by the Domestic Politics Division of the Presidential Administration. There is no suggestion that the Security Council or any organizations other than those contracted by the Presidential Administration were involved.
Despite the apparently small number of people engaged in the secret polling, they seem to have got it right. Although there is understandable skepticism among many as to the very high levels of support claimed for unification, there was no significant expressed opposition except from the Crimean Tatars.