“Crimea. A Way Home” is an important public diplomacy message from Russia on the Ukraine crisis
To mark the first anniversary of the referendum in Crimea that paved the way to reunification with Russia (or annexation by Russia, depending on your point of view) on 15 March, Russia’s state Channel One released a remarkable documentary film entitled “Crimea. A Way Home.” A version of this film on Youtube with English subtitles can be found here.
Although Russian presenters on the international channel RT feared that the film would be dismissed in the West as a propaganda piece, in fact there was keen interest among mainstream Western media in the week leading up to the film’s release thanks to a promotional trailer with a snippet, lasting several minutes, from the interview which host of the film Andrei Kondrashov took with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the complete film, Putin’s interview segments have been deftly interwoven with reconstructions of scenes from the Crimean Spring with interviews people from all walks of life in Crimea who comment on their experiences before, during and after reunification with Russia. The trailer focused on the decision Vladimir Putin took to intervene in Crimea. His words set off a feeding frenzy in Kiev and among pro-Ukrainian media around the world, who immediately said: “we told you so! The Crimean Spring was engineered from outside by the Russian government.”
In fact, as we see from the full film, the argument presented from Moscow is quite different: Putin explains the dramatic circumstances of the night of 22/23 February, in the hours immediately following the coup d’etat in Kiev, when President Yanukovich, fearing for his life, abandoned the capital and went by automobile cortege to Kharkiv, then to Donetsk where his security detachment made contact with the Kremlin and called in assistance to save his life. The professionally led hunt by Maidan forces for Yanukovich, the weapons they deployed to assure his physical elimination, were followed in real time by Putin and his closer advisers using radio geo-positioning equipment, and left no doubt in their minds that the putsch in Kiev had been orchestrated by a very capable state, namely by the USA. It was at this point that Vladimir Putin says he decided to intervene and save what could be saved in the situation, the population of the Crimean peninsula who were clearly in the path of destruction from the radical Ukrainian nationalists and their overseas backers, given that detachments of Pravy Sektor were already on the ground in the southeast.
Western reporting of the film has focused almost exclusively on the segments of interviews with Vladimir Putin, ignoring the historical reconstructions and testimony of lesser people. One nugget was picked up in yesterday morning’s issue of The Guardian and has been repeated today by other media with greater attention to the implication. This was Putin’s mention of his determination to put Russia’s nuclear arsenal on active alert depending on how the game in Crimea played out. This is a very clear public diplomacy message which we ignore at our peril: Russia is ready to go to nuclear war over Ukraine.
Another message of the public diplomacy was Putin’s explanation of where the ‘little green men’ (as Russian military in Crimea were dubbed at the time by Western media) came from, what skills were demanded of them and what orders they were given to carry out. The point is to how the bloodless takeover of all Ukrainian army and navy installations worked, involving as it did the peaceful surrender of more than 20,000 Ukrainian troops on the peninsula and the decision of 18,000 of them to go over and join the Russian side. This was the result of a very well developed plan that was executed to near perfection. The Russian plan was to cut off the Ukrainian garrisons from all communication with Kiev, thereby sparing them the painful test of loyalty to their higher authority as orders rained down from Maidan. The second operative tactic was psychological warfare, to prepare the troops to disarm rather than fire on their compatriots. Here we see exactly how formidable the new Russia can be when put to the test, when Russia’s red lines are crossed, as happened in Ukraine from the day of the coup d’etat in Kiev.
I tried to direct attention to one more key message of Putin’s public diplomacy in this film in the brief appearance I made yesterday evening on RT’s broadcast marking the Crimean referendum:
Here I brought up the segment on Feodosia, which is the sole military installation on the peninsula where Putin says they faced the threat of a shoot-out with the garrison. The reason for this exceptional problem was the presence on the Ukrainian side of troops speaking English and carrying NATO IDs. To my knowledge, this is the first mention of a possible direct armed clash with NATO forces in Crimea during the transition of power. And it is the most relevant to where we are today.
Now that UK and US trainers are being dispatched to Ukraine, now that joint military exercises with NATO are being prepared there are in place all the preconditions for yet another ‘false flag’ provocation such as have marked turning points in the Russia-West relationship over the past year. First there was the sniper fire on Maidan that ‘justified’ the coup d’etat. Next came the downing of the Malaysian airline, which was instantly placed at Russia’s door and justified severe sanctions. Should snipers successfully kill NATO soldiers on Ukrainian soil, we may easily expect the next lurch towards war with Russia which may be unstoppable.