Russian leader Vladimir Putin admitted for the first time that his war plans for the annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine was set into motion just two weeks before the formal annexation of the key peninsula by Russia on March 18, 2014. Despite international condemnation of the annexation by unidentified “little green men”, it was Russian troops who had removed identifying badges and insignia who rolled over Ukrainian military in Crimea with relatively little bloodshed. It would later lead to open warfare between Ukrainian military and separatists, aligned with and supplied by Russia, to control the eastern sector of the country. Putin subsequently admitted in 2014 to deploying troops on the peninsula to "stand behind Crimea's self-defense forces."
 
Speaking in a soon-to-be released Russian television program, Putin said he had ordered the planning on "returning Crimea" during an all-night meeting on February 22 of last year once former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted and took refuge in Russia. A trailer for the television documentary, entitled The Path to the Motherland, was released on March 8. In it, Putin says "I invited the leaders of our special services and the defense ministry to the Kremlin and set them the task of saving the life of the president of Ukraine, who would simply have been liquidated,"…."We finished about seven in the morning. When we were parting, I told all my colleagues, 'We are forced to begin the work to bring Crimea back into Russia'."
 
Seeking political cover, Putin said in 2014 that he made the decision to invade Crimea after secret opinion polls allegedly showed that 80% of Crimeans favored joining Russia. The peninsula was ceded to Ukraine by Russian premier Nikita Krushchev in the 1950s and had been considered an integral part of Ukraine ever since. In April 2014, Putin said on television that the results of the March 16 referendum underscored the polls.
 
What the Kremlin and White House were doing on February 22-23, 2014
 
February 22, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych flees Kiev after violent protests
 
White House: “The United States is closely monitoring developments in Ukraine.  We have consistently advocated a de-escalation of violence, constitutional change, a coalition government, and early elections, and today’s developments could move us closer to that goal.  The unshakeable principle guiding events must be that the people of Ukraine determine their own future.  We welcome constructive work in the Rada and continue to urge the prompt formation of a broad, technocratic government of national unity.”
“We continue to urge an end to violence by all sides and a focus on peaceful, democratic dialogue, working pursuant to Ukraine’s constitution and through its institutions of government.  Going forward, we will work with our allies, with Russia, and with appropriate European and international organizations to support a strong, prosperous, unified, and democratic Ukraine.”  
 
February 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to rescue Yanukovych and annex Crimea
 
State Department press briefing. 
 
Jen Psaki: “I would also remind everybody that exactly a year ago on Sunday, the people of Ukraine cast off an authoritarian regime and chose a future based on democracy, free trade, and rule of law. For these actions, Russia occupied and attempted to annex a sovereign country’s territory, and that since then, that’s left more than 5,000 people dead and displaced several hundred thousand times more. There are many times over the course of the last several months where Ukraine has even put in place ceasefires where they’ve abided by it, and the Russian side has not, the Russian-backed separatists have not. And they need to protect themselves. I think their preference certainly is to see both sides abiding by the ceasefire.”
 
“ They’re defending their own sovereign country. They have not shown an unwillingness to abide by the ceasefires in the past.”
 
White House press briefing:
 
Josh Earnest: “The President spoke to President Putin and once again urged him to support peace instead of allowing the provision of arms and materiel across the border and continuing support for militants and separatists who are further destabilizing the situation in Ukraine.  Though we believe a diplomatic solution is still possible, Russia will face additional costs if we do not see concrete actions to deescalate the situation.  We’ll have a more formal readout of the call later, but it was an opportunity –“
 
Question:    When did it take place? 
 
“just earlier this morning.  It was an opportunity for the President to reiterate some of the things that he has mentioned to President Putin in previous conversations that they had.  They had the opportunity to visit a little bit when they were in Normandy two or three weeks ago, and they’d had a number of phone conversations leading up to that trip to talk about trying to bring some stability to the situation in Ukraine.  And, again, the President reiterated that we would like to see Russia and President Putin personally use his influence to try to promote greater peace and stability in eastern Ukraine.” 
 
“Let me just close by saying that we are very supportive of President Poroshenko and his efforts to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis.  I’d note that he has offered to grant amnesty to separatists within Ukraine and to provide safe passage back to Russia, to Russian militants in eastern Ukraine.  It’s clear that President Poroshenko is willing to go the extra mile here to try to resolve the situation and to restore some peace and security to the entire country that he governs.  What we need is some cooperation with President Putin and the Russians to make that a reality.”
 
President Obama speaking at the National Governors Association meeting: 
 
“So if there’s one thing in common in the moments like these, it’s that our cooperation is vital to make sure that we’re doing right by the American people.  And what’s common also is the incredible resilience and the goodness and the strength of the American people that we’re so privileged to serve.  And that resilience has carried us from the depths of the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes to what I am convinced can be a breakthrough year for America and the American people.” 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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