Thousands marched on Yerevan's Baghramyan Avenue—a main artery fronting the presidential palace—insisting they weren't seeking to overthrow the regime but rather to get the government to reverse its price increase. This was not a new Maidan supporting the European Union and opposing corruption. Instead, the 20,000 citizens protesting at its peak took to the streets to express their distrust with traditional political authority.
The Kremlin has presented one false objective after the other for this aggression. On February 27, 2014, "little green men"—that is, Russian special forces in Russian uniforms but without insignia—occupied the Crimean regional parliament. The next day, they took over the peninsula's two international airports. Within two weeks, these troops had skillfully occupied all of Crimea.
While the tank was impressive—when it worked—it pales in comparison to Russia's other main weapon: its own history. Throughout the Ukraine conflict, Russia has weaponized its own history to suit its purposes. These range from absurd announcements, such as the recent proclamation by the Russian prosecutor general's office that it began investigating the legality of the 1991 independence of the three Baltic republics to its reliance on historically dubious ideologies like Novorossiya to justify the Donbas insurgency.
There is much talk of reform, but the reality is less impressive. No one doubts that the country's institutions desperately need restructuring. Even before Russian forces annexed Crimea and invaded the Donbas, the country stood on the brink of bankruptcy. After a painful currency devaluation, it is now the poorest in Europe. It is also the most corrupt. The parliament is controlled by oligarchs, and the police are as crooked as the mafia.
Guten Morgen. It's a pleasure to be here and see so many familiar faces in the audience. Today's conference in many respects represents the essence of the democratic process. Today we want to discuss a problem that we have been struggling to resolve ever since the "little green men" showed up in February 2014 to invade Crimea: countering Kremlin disinformation. I will offer a few thoughts that I hope will stimulate discussion and lead to some specific ideas about how we can expand our network and work together to keep the information space free; and to ensure that our public has the facts and not propaganda.
All of us are here today because we are champions of free speech – one of the core values of the transatlantic relationship. We are here because the Russian government, and the media that it controls, are trying to prevent the publication of information that doesn't conform to Russia's aims, and are manipulating the presentation of information to cloak Russia's actions. The Kremlin's disinformation campaign goes far beyond controlling its own media. It is aimed at nothing less than presenting a parallel version of reality and disseminating it as if it were news. The Kremlin's goal is to make people question the value of media at all; to reject the idea of an absolute truth; and to persuade the public that "reality" is relative.
"We brought down some Lenins in people's heads," says organizer Yuriy DidulaDays after Ukrainian forces retook the city of Kramatorsk on July 5, 2014, Yuriy Didula and two colleagues from western Ukraine piled into a car and drove building materials into the city.
"People in the east felt abandoned by the state," Didula said in a June 25 interview. The 25-year-old manages the Lviv Education Foundation's eastern Ukraine portfolio.
As a student at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Didula and his colleagues developed an exchange program that brought young people from eastern to western Ukraine for Christmas and Easter. Later, as part of Lviv Education Foundation, they organized a summer leadership camp for Kramatorsk youth. Having established long-lasting friendships with students in eastern Ukraine, Kramatorsk was a natural place to pitch in.
A few months ago, few would have predicted that Europe would renew its hard-hitting sectoral sanctions this week. None of this means that Ukraine is out of danger. On the economic side, most reformers are waiting to see if the government implements the legislation that Ukraine's parliament passed in March at the insistence of the IMF as part of the process of securing a $17 billion loan. Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko is in a pitched battle with Franklin Templeton on the issue of restructuring Ukraine's debt, with a moratorium on payments a likely result if the creditors continue to insist that they should be exempt from any penalty for lending to the corrupt government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.