Sometimes propaganda gets down right weird. This was one of those times.
During the invasion of Ukraine in 2014 an incredible thing happened. The country was invaded by “little green men.” At least so it appeared.
Beginning on February 24, 2014 approximately 10,000 Russian special forces, in green uniforms without any insignia, moved northward from their bases in the southern Crimea through the Crimean peninsula. They had the right to be in Crimea pursuant to a treaty that allowed them to have military bases, but the moment they left those bases their actions were illegal, since the treaties did not permit that.
Unfortunately, Kyiv military authorities were caught by surprise and in order to avoid further violence ordered Ukrainian soldiers not to resist and as a result by February 26 the “little green men,” as they came to be called, and who were actually Russian soldiers in disguise, had seized the regional parliament in Simferopol where they raised the Russian flag. On February 28 the Russian parliament approved the annexation of Ukrainian territory into Russia. On that day, for the first time President Obama made his first public statement about what was happening in Ukraine.
An amazing public spectacle was provided by a Russian biker gang (I kid you not—little green men and a Russian biker gang). I told you sometimes things get weird in the world of Russian propaganda. The gang was called the Night Wolves. They were actually “a paramilitary and propaganda arm of the Putin regime,” according to Timothy Snyder in his book The Road to Unfreedom. The bikers had organized rallies in Crimea for years sometimes accompanied by President Putin. Earlier one of the Night Wolves had described their ideology this way:
“You have to learn to see the holy war underneath the everyday. Democracy is a fallen state. To split ‘left’ and ‘right’ is to divide. In the kingdom of God there is only above and below. All is one. Which is why the Russian soul is holy. It can unite everything. Like in an icon, Stalin and God.”
As Timothy Snyder said,
“Here was Ilyin’s philosophy, Surkov’s geopolitics, and Putin’s civilization expressed in a few words.
The Night Wolves found concise ways to translate sexual anxiety into geopolitics and back again. As a male-only club devoted to black leather, the Night Wolves naturally had a strong position on homosexuality, which they defined as an attack by Europe and the United States. A year later, celebrating the Russian invasion, the supreme leader Alexander Zaldostanov remembered their proud parade around Crimea in this way: “For the first time we showed resistance to the global Satanism, the growing savagery of Western Europe, the rush to consumerism that denies all spirituality, the destruction of traditional values, all this homosexual talk, the American democracy.” According to Zaldostanov, the slogan of the Russian war against Ukraine should be “death to faggots.” The association of democracy with gay Satan was a way to make law and reform foreign and unthinkable.”
This is what Timothy Snyder meant by “Christian fascism.” The Christianity was surprisingly similar actually to American evangelicalism and that is no accident.
Just as they did later in their second invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Russian leaders claimed they were not invading Ukraine, because Russia and Ukraine were one. You can’t invade your own country. Thus Russia ignored 1,000 years of history and the referendum in Ukraine following the collapse of Soviet Russia in 1991 where they voted to be independent. Of course, as Snyder said, “this is the language of empire.” Not the language of truth. Putin explained that Ukraine’s problems were a consequence of having democratic elections which led to changes in power. He called democracy, “an alien American implant.”
Russian international lawyers, who for years had been arguing obsessively that territorial boundaries and state sovereignty had to be respected, they changed their views, as lawyers sometimes do, and began to spread further confusion when they said because the Ukrainian state had withered away, invasion and annexation were justified. Of course, that chaos was caused by the Russian invasion, but somehow that was not relevant to these lawyers.
As Russian propagandists have done so often, (Including the invasion of 2022) they limited Ukrainian access to all independent media so that their own media could spread the false “truth” that Ukrainians had a choice between Russia and Nazism. As I write they are doing the same thing in Russia. The Russians thus arranged for a “referendum” where Ukrainians had 2 “choices” both of which affirmed the Russian annexation of Crimea by Russia. The first option was to vote for the annexation of Crimea by Russia. The second option was to vote for the restoration of the “autonomy” of Crimean authorities who had been installed by Russia as puppets and who requested annexation by Russia. The turnout for the vote was 30% and about half voted for each option. Then Putin announced that he would accept the will of the Ukrainian people as expressed in that vote.
Thus the boundaries of the Russian federation were extended because of the “will” of the Ukrainian people. In the world of propaganda that makes sense.