Russian President Vladimir Putin stunned the world on Monday when he unilaterally recognized two Kremlin-backed separatist regions in Ukraine, Luhansk and Donetsk, as independent states and ordered Russian troops to conduct so-called “peacekeeping operations” there. The move has sparked widespread condemnation from global leaders who have accused Putin of violating international law and expressed concerns that the latest escalation may soon morph into a full-scale Russian invasion of its neighbor.
In Ukraine, Putin’s decision has only exacerbated the pain and anguish caused by years of bloody conflict, fueled and funded by the Kremlin. Parents across the country have been doing whatever they can to prepare their families for a potential Russian onslaught. “If you want to know how Ukrainians react to Putin’s speech, here’s a glimpse: moms on Facebook discuss putting stickers on their children's clothes, when they go to school, indicating their blood type,” journalist Olga Tokariuk tweeted on Monday. “Make no mistake: this speech was perceived as a declaration of war on Ukraine.”
For some, the new developments have only deepened their resolve to fight back. “With his speech alone Putin consolidated Ukrainians like no-one else here could. My friends are talking about joining the territorial defense,” Ukrainian reporter Iryna Matviyishyn wrote. “And currently the Kremlin’s madman is the most hated person in Ukraine.”
In contrast, there was joy and laughter on Russia’s state television.
On Monday, RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan appeared on The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev ready for a major celebration. “First of all, I don’t understand why there isn’t champagne in the studio,” she said. Beaming ear-to-ear, Simonyan described feeling “an overwhelming sense of euphoria” and added: “I've been waiting for 8 years for this… It finally happened. This is true happiness." Claiming to speak on behalf of the “Donbas’ people,” Simonyan exclaimed: “Thank you, Mother Russia!”
She predicted that the rest of the world will be “overcome by anger to the point of spitting” and that “hard times and more sanctions are coming” for Russia.
A day earlier, Simonyan appeared on state TV channel TVC’s program The Right to Know and reiterated that she’s always been a vocal proponent of Russia “taking Donbas home.” The editor-in-chief acknowledged that such a solution was achievable only by military means. In truly Orwellian fashion, Russian state media was prepping the public for the prospect of war with Ukraine, but attempting to place the blame exclusively on the United States and NATO.
On Sunday’s Vesti Nedeli, host Dmitry Kiselyov claimed that the United States and NATO want war with Russia. The host praised Russia’s nuclear capabilities, for which he thanked Joseph Stalin, Lavrentiy Beria, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, among others. This attempt to whitewash odious figures of the past corresponded with Putin’s obvious desire to turn back time. In his speech to the nation, he rejected the idea of former Soviet republics being allowed to “simply leave” the oppressive union. Kiselyov argued that Russia is “forcibly making the world happy by offering a new global system of equal security... Thanks again to Russian weapons.”
On Soloviev’s Monday show, prominent pundit Karen Shakhnazarov asserted that Putin’s ultimatum to NATO was written for the sole purpose of absolving the Kremlin of its responsibility to peacefully “solve” the issue of Donbas. After Russia sent its proposal to NATO, elite talking heads and military experts on Russia's state television openly stated that it was a mere formality meant to legitimize Russia's forthcoming military actions. In January, RT’s Simonyan tweeted that the Kremlin’s proposals to “NATO enemies” were never meant to be accepted.
Still seething about German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s refusal to accept the Kremlin’s allegations of “genocide” being committed by the Ukrainian government in Donbas, political scientist and professor of communications Dmitry Evstafiev argued that “decent chancellors of Germany” would have shot themselves if they were in his place. He added: “This is a verdict for Germany and its bid for European leadership.”
During Soloviev’s Monday show, RT’s Simonyan seemed particularly excited about one point in Putin’s speech, in which he mentioned knowing the names of those Russia wants to “punish.” Simonyan interpreted the word “punish” to mean dealing with such people “extrajudicially.” These dark proclamations correspond with intelligence warnings about Russia’s “kill lists” that would come into play in the event of a military occupation of Ukraine. Appearing on 60 Minutes last Friday, state TV pundits and experts predicted that in the case of an escalation, many “heads would roll,” including that of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Lawmaker Oleg Morozov asserted: “If the war starts, I wouldn’t bet one penny on Mr. Zelensky’s life and safety.”
In another of Soloviev’s shows on Sunday, Margarita Simonyan made an ominous prediction. Describing Ukraine as “ungrateful” for all of the “gifts” and benefits it allegedly received from the Soviet Union and Russia, RT’s editor-in-chief said: “They became traitors towards us. They’re looking to join NATO, our enemy.” She concluded: “And what does Russia do to traitors? The answer is obvious."