On February 27th, four days after the end of the Sochi Olympics, Russia in effect occupied Crimea, part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine, under the pretence of protecting its Russian-speaking population. Russian forces based at various installations on the peninsula seized airports, government buildings and broadcasters within hours, and blockaded Ukrainian military bases. In Sebastopol, home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, local people celebrated their liberation in the central square, waving Russian flags to the accompaniment of Cossack songs, a Soviet-era pop group, and the fleet’s choir.Share
There was only one thing missing: the enemy. Everyone in Crimea. and now across eastern Ukraine, is talking about Ukrainian fascists, but nobody has actually seen one. “We have not seen them here yet, but we have seen them on television,” said Stanislav Nagorny, an aide to the leader of a local “self-defence” force in Sebastopol. The confusion was understandable: Russian television had unleashed a propaganda campaign impressive in both its intensity and cynicism, stoking ethnic hatred and exacerbating historical divides, mixing half truths with outright lies. Right-wing extremists and nationalists did take part in the revolution, but they do not control the government.
Russia struck when Ukraine was at its weakest—mourning the deaths of those who died on the Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square, during an abortive crackdown by Mr Yanukovych, and struggling to form a new government. The Kremlin was greatly assisted in its task by Ukraine’s parliament which, despite the obvious tension between the Russian-speaking east of the country and the Ukrainian-speaking west, irresponsibly passed a bill (later dropped) that repealed the status of Russian as an official language on a par with Ukrainian. Parliament also failed to bring politicians from eastern Ukraine into the government. (Read more.)