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The justifying myths of Russian intervention

By Peter Shmigel - posted Tuesday, 4 March 2014

When the West looks at Vladimir Putin, it sees him through a conventional lens of "political leader". When Putin, looks at the West and at his own interests, he looks through the lens of a former KGB colonel who was sworn to protect the empire of the Soviet Union, which at its core was the expansionist nationalism of mother Russia.

Therefore, it's not at all surprising to hear the myths being spread by the Putin regime and its fellow travellers in a squalid attempt to justify what is clearly a military invasion by one state into the territory of another sovereign state. They merit examination:

"Most people in eastern Ukraine and Crimea are non-Ukrainian."

In fact, the last census conducted in Ukraine (2001) shows that all of its provinces have an ethnic Ukrainian majority.


In terms of Crimea, which is an autonomous region but part of Ukraine's territory as recognised under international law, the demographics are approximately 60% ethnic Russian or Russian speaking and 40% other nationalities.

This needs to be viewed through an historical lens. In 1944, Josef Stalin deported the entirety (not some, not a few thousand, but all) of the indigenous ethnic community, the Crimean Tatars. Their exile saw the systematic Russification of Crimea. Many Tatars have returned to Crimea since Ukraine's independence in the early 90s. Indeed, if there is a historical pretext for Putin's Crimean invasion, it is that he is seeking to complete Stalin's dirty work.

In some respects, ethnicity is a moot point. The experience of the last 20 plus years of Ukraine's independence (since the break-up of the USSR) is that Ukraine's citizens of any number of different ethnic and religious backgrounds have lived with each other peaceably, as recognised by international human rights organisations. What's different now is that revanchist President Putin needs to manufacture an excuse – straight from his old KGB employee handbook – to restore the old Soviet Union he served as a KGB colonel.

"Russians in Ukraine need to be protected."

The question is 'protected from whom?'

As stated earlier, there was inter-cultural harmony in Ukraine during the independence period, including during a brief period of administration that was characterised by some as "pro-nationalist".

Moreover, during the populist uprising which saw the ouster of the corrupt dictatorial regime of Viktor Yanukovych, the democratic movement consisted of people of all backgrounds.


The interim Government, installed by a free vote in Ukraine's parliament following the defection of some Yanukovych's party colleagues, is both multicultural and multifaith in its make-up.

Ethnic Russian citizens of Ukraine and its Russian speakers have held rallies in recent days in eastern Ukraine calling for the protection of its independence from outside aggressors.

There is strong evidence to suggest that many "pro-Russia" spokespeople are in fact on the payroll of the Putin regime.

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About the Author

Pete Shmigel is a consultant with Crosby|Textor, an international research and strategic communications firm. He was formerly Chief of Staff to three serving NSW Cabinet Ministers, including the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, as well as CEO of industry associations in the sustainability sector.

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