It seems the good people of Sevastopol really want to be Russian. All 123 per cent of them turned out to vote in this week's referendum to say so.
They're a fickle bunch, though. If they're anything like their fellow Crimeans, only about a third of them felt this way in 2011, and only a quarter still did last year. This week it's in the vicinity of 97 per cent. That's some turnaround, even if you allow for the fact that there was a mass boycott from anti-Russian residents, or that people armed with only a Russian passport were allowed to vote.
So Crimea is now part of Russia - at least if you ask Vladimir Putin, who cheerfully annexed the peninsula in response. The West, of course, is apoplectic, branding all this illegal and imposing sanctions on Russia. And indeed, on one reading this is uniquely egregious.
Not since World War II has anyone in Europe simply taken territory from a sovereign country. Russia has its pretexts - chief among them that the ethnic Russian population in Ukraine is facing persecution - but none led legitimately to swallowing another nation's land. Especially not after a dodgy referendum that gave a choice only between joining Russia and effective autonomy. If you wanted to remain part of Ukraine, you simply had no box to tick.
The hypocrisy here is profound. When Kosovo held a referendum in 2008 to declare its independence from Serbia, the apoplexy was all Russia's. It didn't matter that this followed nine years of negotiations, during which time Kosovo was under international supervision. It didn't matter that the Kosovar people had endured dozens of massacres at Serbian hands as part of a dedicated ethnic cleansing campaign - a level of persecution that renders any comparison with the experience of Russian speakers in Ukraine simply ridiculous. Russia screamed this violated Serbia's territorial integrity, and that the United Nations was therefore obliged to declare the referendum void and impose "severe administrative measures" against Kosovar institutions.
It's the same story Russia always tells, no matter how wretched the circumstances (see Syria). In the Russian view, a nation should be free to persecute as many of its own people as it pleases without having to deal with foreign interference. Sovereignty trumps all.
Listen closely to Putin's words back in 2008: "The precedent of Kosovo is a terrible precedent, which will de facto blow apart the whole system of international relations, developed not over decades, but over centuries." Heavy stuff.
Now it seems it's a precedent he's only too happy to follow, with interest. Putin's rhetoric must thus return to condemn him: he is not merely undermining Ukraine, or Western interests; he's undermining the entire international system. Any way you cut it, Putin is adopting a decidedly imperial pose.
All of which would be scandalous if it weren't so common. The most tin-eared, self-unaware comment of this episode must still surely be US Secretary of State John Kerry's insistence that "you just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext". Of course, this is perhaps the most eloquent description of America's 21st century invasion of Iraq that anyone has yet offered.
Certainly, Iraq and Crimea are not identical. The biggest difference (aside from the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths) is that America was never going to annex Iraq. That is no longer America's style. But it would be naive to stop there - to accept at face value the suggestion that America therefore has no imperial impulses and operates as a modest nation-state, concerned merely with the administration of its own territory. The age of empire may formally have passed but that just means today's empires take a different form.
Now they expand interests and project power through non-military means. They prop up compliant, unpopular, frequently dictatorial allies through copious aid. Elsewhere they fund civil society groups that non-allied governments regard as hostile. They build military and economic alliances with countries they feel a strategic need to have on their side.
Ukraine is precisely such a country. Indeed, so are several of the former Soviet states that sit between Russia and Europe. This is why America has been so keen to bring them into NATO, thereby forging a military pact with them - the kind that was mobilised to pound Serbia in 1999. Russia fears the same thing could happen to it if NATO incorporates too many countries that sit on its borders. Russia openly regards this as an existential threat.
So far NATO has coaxed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In time it hoped to add Georgia and Ukraine, thereby surrounding Russia. There's nothing random about America's designs here. And there's nothing random about Russia's determination to stop it, and expand its own alliances in Eurasia. This is an imperial game.
"I prefer Russia," says Sean Connery's character in The Russia House. "It's as corrupt as America, but there's less bullshit." That's about the size of it. When circumstances demand it, neither power cares much for the niceties of international law, and neither is meaningfully bound by it. Both aim to project their power as far as possible. But America's form of empire building is generally sophisticated enough to retain the veneer of normal international relations. Russia just goes ahead and annexes stuff.
Waleed Aly presents Drive on Radio National and is a Fairfax columnist.