A Timeline of Vladimir Putin’s Excuses and Evasions Regarding Russia’s Actions in Ukraine

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Sept. 5 2014 1:37 PM

Sorry, Did We Invade Your Country?

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Me? Agressive?

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

On Friday, a temporary cease-fire between Ukraine and the rebels went into effect. Minutes later, journalists received an email from the rebels referring to themselves as “Novorossiya” urging them to attend a press conference in Moscow explaining why Ukraine is breaking the cease-fire. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, issued a statement on why NATO is a threat to the peace process.

Putin is a master of the art of changing the conversation. It takes a lot of skill to turn Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad into a defense of international law. Or to justify the arrest of dissident rock musicians as a crackdown on anti-Semitism.

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But Russia’s escalating military involvement in Ukraine has provided an opportunity for Putin and his allies to elevate their excuses and obfuscations to a sort of art.

Some highlights:

Feb. 26: Putin orders military drills near the Ukrainian border under the pretext of protecting the rights of ethnic Russians in Crimea.

Feb. 28: Russia invades Crimea  … sort of. With masked gunmen seizing key military installations throughout the region, Moscow denies launching a military offensive in the region. Meanwhile, Russian parliament considers a law that would make it easier for Russia to add to its territory, just in case a foreign country happens to “not have effective sovereign state authority” for some reason.

March 1: The upper house of Russian parliament approves the use of military force in Ukraine. This is justified by a member of the parliament as a measure to “protect the Crimean population from lawlessness and violence.”

March 18: After a referendum in which 96.7 percent of Crimeans voted to become part of Russia—remaining part of Ukraine wasn’t an option on the ballot—Russia annexes the territory. "In our hearts, we know Crimea has always been an inalienable part of Russia," says Putin.

April 6: Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the Eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv. (They are taken back over by Ukrainian forces two days later.) Russia says its presence during military exercises on the border not far from the pro-Russian rallies was in keeping with international norms. The Ukrainian government says it believes Russia is funding the rebels, a claim Russia denies.

April 14: Putin and President Obama speak on the phone. The Russian leader, who continues to deny playing any role in supporting the rebels, urges his American counterpart to exert pressure on Ukraine to stop it from using force.

April 15: Putin tells German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war, and that this is a problem created by Kiev.

April 17: Putin finally admits that Russian troops were in Crimea, and adds that he hopes he does not need to use his Duma-given right to send Russian troops to eastern Ukraine (or, as he is now calling it, Novorossiya, or “New Russia”).

April 19: In April, “little green men”—masked fighters believed to be Russian special forces—begin appearing in Eastern Ukraine. Russia denies any connection.

April 23: Russia warns it will respond if its interests are attacked in Ukraine.

April 24: Putin warns that use of Ukrainian troops within Ukraine’s own territory will have consequences.

April 28: Russia condemns sanctions and assures the U.S. it will not invade Ukraine.

May 2: Russia blames Ukraine for the demise of the Geneva Peace Plan, an agreement that included “demobilizing militias, vacating seized government buildings, and establishing a political dialogue that could lead to more autonomy for Ukraine's regions.” But then, Russia never admitted any role in the separatists’ actions, and thus could take no responsibility for their adherence to the plan.

May 6: Russia rules out new Geneva talks and says that there's no point because Ukraine wasn't following the peace plan anyway.

May 7: Russia says its troops have been pulled back from the border. The White House says there’s no evidence of this.

May 19: Russia again says it is withdrawing its troops, this time because their spring training has come to an end.

May 31: Ramzan Kadyrov, president of the Russian republic of Chechnya, denies sending Chechen fighters to Ukraine but says some may have gone “voluntarily.”

June 19: Two weeks after Petro Poroshenko becomes president of Ukraine, NATO says Russian troops are back on the border. No they aren't, says Russia.

July 13: Russia says Ukraine killed a Russian civilian by throwing a shell over the border. Ukraine denies this. Russia threatens airstrikes against Ukraine as Ukraine says Russian military vehicles were attempting to cross its border.

July 17: Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over Eastern Ukraine. It is widely believed that pro-Russian rebels are responsible, and that they were supplied with Buk surface-to-air launchers by Russia. Russia says responsibility lies with the country whose airspace the plane was flying through, and that this wouldn’t have happened had Kiev not resumed "its military campaign" in Eastern Ukraine.  The Russian media also suggests a number of explanations for the incident, including that it was the Urkainian military attempting to shoot down Vladimir Putin’s plane; that it was shot down to hide the truth about HIV; that Israel was somehow involved; and that it was the Illuminati.

Aug. 6: Russia bans food imports from the European Union, the U.S., and other countries that pushed through sanctions against Moscow on account of its involvement in Ukraine. The food bans led to skyrocketing food prices for Russian consumers. “This retaliation wasn't easy for us,” explained Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. “We were forced into it.”

Aug. 11: Russian truck convoys enter Eastern Ukraine. Russia claims the trucks are carrying much needed aid to the region, though Kiev and Western governments view it as a deliberate provocation.

Aug. 22: NATO says Russian troops have entered Ukraine. Despite satellite and photographic evidence, Russia denies it.

Aug. 26: After Ukraine captures a group of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil, the Russian military says they were there “by accident.”

Aug. 28: A separatist rebel leader says Russian soldiers are fighting in Ukraine but are doing so on their vacation.

This might be amusing if it weren’t for the body count. According to the United Nations, at least 1,200 people were killed in the fighting in Ukraine between mid-July and mid-August. But then, Ukraine and the West are probably to blame for that.

Emily Tamkin is an M.Phil. candidate in Russian and East European studies at Oxford. Follow her on Twitter.  

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