The infowar on Ukraine. How Putin took over Crimea without firing a single shot

Vladimir Putin sent troops to Crimea; no, he didn’t. Fascists now ruling the country threaten ethnic Russians in southern and eastern Ukraine; no, they don’t. The new government in Kiev is illegitimate and Viktor Yanukovich is the only president; no, he is most wanted for crimes against humanity. Euroamaidan was nothing but a coup led by russophobic extremists; no, it was a people’s revolution against a kleptocratic autoracy.

 

There already was a war on Crimea in the past days, but it has been fought without tanks.

 

What is happening in Ukraine in these days proves at least two things: that who excluded Putin would invade Crimea was right, and that Putin already invaded Crimea. Let’s see how was this possible.

Russian media – both in Russia and the Russian language ones in Ukraine – covered the news from the barricades in Kyiv in a slightly different way, if compared to western media. This is not a news. But what makes it a novelty is that they did it in two different ways since the Euromaidan revolution started until former Ukrainian president Yanukovich fled the country, and after the new government was appointed. During all the three months of rallies in the Ukrainian capital city, Russian television channels and newspapers indubitably underestimated what was getting more and more the shape of a revolution. News were reported mostly on the background, and usually referred of episodes of violence led by hooligans targeting police and institutions. But all in a sudden – in the days when the Verhovna Rada voted for the destitution of Viktor Yanukovich and elected the new acting president Turchinov – the news from Kyiv started grabbing the headlines in Russia too. The Kremlin’s news war machine started to stake out the ground for Putin’s silent blitzkrieg on Ukraine.

 

The planned threat

"Russian mobilization is in response to an imaginary threat", United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said yesterday during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. How imaginary is the threat for people being warned of it every day on TV, is hard to say. Reports of people living in terror in a lawless Kyiv and neo-Nazis mobs flooding to Crimea started to fill the news. Ethnic Russian in eastern and southern Ukraine were told that their lives were in danger and that in the rest of the country bloody extremists took the power. Even though people from Crimea I talked to told me they never felt in danger, the mysterious self-defense army soldiers that popped up around airports and other facilities have been saluted like saviors by many. Using soldiers without insignia, saying that they were volunteers of a so-called people’s army, was a cunning trick that reached two goals: give people a sense of confidence making them feeling unsafe at the same time, and deploying troops all around the region before the world could even realize it. Yes, because there is little doubt that those men wearing Russian navy uniforms, behaving like well-trained professional soldiers and equipped with heavy gun machines are nothing but Russian troopers. Just as it happened in any other post-soviet revolution.

 

The next move

While the international diplomacy is stuck in speeches and declarations, Putin has already his hands on Crimea and can send more troops: Ukrainian army is under siege, mainland mass media are blocked even on the Internet, pro-Ukrainian accounts on VKontakte (the Russian Facebook) shut down and mobile communications cut off. After the infowar, the further step is the cyberwar. Trying to predict the next step is a bet, but given the previous moves, a civil war is unlikely to happen. Crimeans are called to a referendum to join Russia at the end of the month, and this would be a smooth way to grab that land. Results wouldn’t be a surprise and Russian troops will be there to monitor. US, NATO, UN and EU can do very little to push Putin back on his steps and can only negotiated on this basis: what is done is done. But the head of the Kremlin could still slip on a banana skin if his appetite will not be satisfied and will look for a takeover of a bigger slice of Ukraine. In that case, the infowar could be not enough.

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