Blogs Coffee House

Crimea, Russia and the power of ‘provokatsiya’

28 February 2014

What to make of the appearance at two airports in Crimea of armed men wearing uniforms without insignia? The airports are strategically placed – Belbek near Sevastopol, and the main airport outside Simferopol, the regional capital. Obviously, an airport is a vital piece of local infrastructure that provides an entry point for reinforcement and supply; their possible seizure by unidentified troops is a very serious business.

Authorities in Crimea insist that the armed personnel belong to the Russian Black Sea fleet, and that this is a ‘military invasion and occupation’. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Russian Black Sea fleet has issued this communiqué:

‘No subdivision of the Black Sea Fleet has been advanced into the Belbek area, let alone involved in blocking it. Given the unstable situation around the Black Sea Fleet bases in the Crimea, and the places where our service members live with their families, security has been stepped up by the Black Sea Fleet’s anti-terror units.’

Claim your gift

Irrespective of whether or not a ‘subdivision’ of the fleet has been deployed, the statement contains an obvious rationale to justify escalation: protection and self-defence. The fact that some of the armed men holding the airports call themselves ‘The People’s Militia of the Crimea’ is further cause for the Crimean authorities to be wary because Moscow has vowed to defend those it defines as its compatriots. Might the Black Sea fleet extend its protection to the ‘People’s Militia of the Crimea’?

The choreography around this strange episode looks suspiciously like ‘provokatsiya’ – and not necessarily by Russia because, theoretically, the new Ukrainian authorities benefit from international mistrust of Russia. Anne Applebaum has written about ‘provokatsiya’ in this week’s edition of the magazine. Here’s how she defines it:

‘Any educated guess about what the Russians might do next in Ukraine first requires an explanation of the concept of provokatisya. One of those non-Slavic words that nevertheless appears in every Slavic language (prowokacja in Polish, provokace in Czech), provokatsiya translates as ‘provocation’. But it has a narrower meaning as well: a political event or action which the authorities, through their secret services, create to serve their own purposes. A staged crisis; the publication of outrageous documents, authentic or fake; a rapidly organised political movement of the far-right or far-left; an anonymous bomb explosion; all of these are provokatsiya.’

Anne goes on to describe how these tactics, tried and tested by the KGB, may come to dampen hopes for real change in Ukraine. I recommend reading her piece in full.

Give the perfect gift this Christmas. Buy a subscription for a friend for just £75 and you’ll receive a free gift too. Buy now.

Show comments
  • Jez

    C14………. Are these Applebaum’s provokatsiya agents she’s on about?

    Ok. Not from from the media bubble;

    The initiative is not slipping, it’s crashing away from the side that the West has shook into life. Denis Berezovsky has allegedly defected to the Crimeans (this is massive), Ukrainian Warships have pulled from NATO led military exercises, hoisted the Russian flag of St Andrew and are returning to base. Neo-Nazis are now exerting their strength in the non-Russian dominated cities- evaporating any semblance of legitimacy in the eyes of morally hung prospective allies.

    If the Navy has gone to the Russians, then that leaves the other two arms that must be relied on by the Interim Ukrainian Govt; Air Force & Army.

    Let’s hope these are made up of 100% pro EU ethnic Ukrainians.

  • Mark McIntyre

    So, the Russkies want provocation ?…
    One hereby calls upon all those Eastern European countries with war memorials celebrating Soviet forces – to DEMOLISH all such relics.
    Word of advice – it will take more than a hammer and sickle !

  • William MacDougall

    Anne Applebaum is the wife of the Polish Foreign Minister, not a neutral observer. Would you publish a comment by Mrs Lavrov as unbiased comment?

  • eeore

    It’s odd how provoskatisya would in all other circumstances be called a conspiracy theory and therefore a lie. Yet when licensed journalists use a fancy foreign word people are expected to believe it is true.

  • Tony_E

    Listening to 5 Live, it sounds like the Russians are making their play – troops and tanks on the move.

  • Curnonsky

    Remember that Putin gained power thanks in part to a series of deadly apartment house bombings orchestrated by the FSB – he is no stranger to provocations. All it will take is a few violent incidents targeting Russian military families in Crimea and the tanks will roll in – purely to restore law and order, of course. They will remain on Ukrainian soil – in the name of peace, naturally – until the Ukrainians accept that whoever they elect to lead them, Ukraine ultimately will take its orders from Moscow.

    Judging by the suspicious avalanche of pro-Putin and anti-American comments on this site of late, the decision to move has already been made.

    • Baron

      Hopefully not, Curnonsky, we have no need for tanks, both sides should talk.

      • Curnonsky

        Talking is so much more productive at the business end of a T-90.

        • Baron

          Good point, Curnonsky, except for one thing, the productive more often than not involves a loss of life of the many.

    • Tom Tom

      Some people think 9/11 was a staged provocation to excuse killing Iraqis

      • Curnonsky

        Some people think the lizard beings are behind everything. So what?

  • Jez

    I have a pear presented to me on a table.

    You say it’s an apple. It is clearly an apple but you manipulate the similarities to mould perception of the apple so people see a pear.

    Both are similar but different.

    You have an agenda because you want to sell me your apple

    That’s what the above article is.

  • mightymark

    My my – the tankies are back with a vengeance and its the Speccie that (oddly) is playing host!

    Actually the situation looks a bit like that before the outbreak of both world wars – Russia defending its “little Slav brothers” in serbia (so they have form here) and Germany its people in Sudetenland etc. “justifying” first the break up then the take over of Czeckoslovakia.

    I’m not saying I think another world war will result here but the precedents are rather worrying to say the least.

    • Baron

      Good point, migtymark, the ethnic distance between the Ukrainians and the Russians had been low before the EU began meddling in the peaceful demonstrations in Kiev. It’s a growing one now and for what purpose? The last thing we need is another Balkan like boil on the eastern EU borders.

      • Kennybhoy

        Been saying so for several days hereabouts…

    • eeore

      Not really. This Ukraine business started being propagandized last summer when the efforts in Syria to get rid of the Russian naval base back fired. While all the while in the background to both situations, efforts continue apace to stabilize Turkey sufficiently to reestablish the Ottoman Empire – metaphorically not literally – to secure the gas pipeline to Europe.

  • colliemum

    Yeah, lets speculate about bad bad Russians, doing ‘provokatsyia’ and all that.
    Or rather, lets ask: have these militia shot anybody? Beaten up anybody? Forced politicians to resign under threat of violence? Thrown any molotov cocktails? No?

    So why are they bad – but the collection of neo-nazis ruling the Maidan and the Rada are the good guys?

    Some people need to remove their EU-tinted glasses and question their own mindset which sees Putin under every bed …

    • HookesLaw

      Yes all those protesters shot… simply for having the nerve to wave a placard.

      • Jez

        It wasn’t ‘just’ like that, was it.

      • Baron

        You right protesters were shot, those who shot them should be brought to justice. Policemen were also shot. Will you back a similar call for those who shot them to be punished?

        • Kennybhoy

          Spot on.

          • Baron

            Kennybhoy, we’ve got to stop agreeing with each other, people may start talking.

      • Kennybhoy

        Hookey you are officially a fucking eejit! :-(

  • rtj1211

    What to make of America pumping billions over decades into the Western Ukrainian luminaries??

    What to make of an unelected ‘leader’ of Ukraine holding the moral high ground over people of different ethnicities, will and allegiances??

    What to make of the Spectator and all the Right Wing Press being so ridiculously biased about what is going on??

    What to make of the rabid attempts of the West to recreate the break-up of Yugoslavia, knowing full well that the far right thugs on the streets in Western Ukraine represent everything that the West purports to be horrified about?? Are we to assume that bloodbaths are merely ‘acceptable collateral damage’??

    I think it is time to balkanise the USA: let’s demand secession for Texas, California, Florida and Washington states and see how the WASPs of the NE feel about that eh??

    Russia and China will demand it, will pump billions into NGOs to promote it and the good ol’ boys of the KKK will be allowed full rein to enforce discipline to any namby pamby liberals who squeal with outrage that behaviour so beloved of the CIA, the State Department and the MIC could be allowed to occur on the hallowed turf of the SW half-triangle of the Land of the ‘Free’.

    How many hundreds of millions would silently cheer from the rooftops and say silently: ‘Well now you know what it feels like and we hope you don’t recover from it for decades, if not centuries’, eh??

    Interesting Gedankenexperiment, isn’t it??

    • HookesLaw

      Its illustrative to see the line the hysteric crackpots take on this. Thanks for the lesson.

      • Baron

        HookesLaw, rtj211 has a point. We’ve not only kept shtum, caution restraint when armed men were attacking the Parliament in Kiev, chasing the deputies who had to run for their lives, we were encouraging it on the basis the Yanukovych’s regime was corrupt to the core, which it unquestionably was. But since when the does the West back armed gangs storming the institutions of State to remove corrupt men from power? Will you remind us, please.

        Ballot box is the way to do it, the Ukrainians have done it before, would have done it again next year.

        • Kennybhoy

          rtj1211 is still an FSB shill though! :-)

          • Baron

            What do you reckon, Kennybhoy, his rank may be? we should be told.

        • Makroon

          You are wrong on the motivation, it wasn’t because Yanukovich is corrupt, it was because Yanukovich opted for Russia over the EU.
          Shady armed men in military uniform eh ? Sounds just like Kiev last week. What’s sauce for the goose …. and all that.
          How long has the west been doing it ? Well, as I pointed out the other day, at least since 1953 (in Iran), that turned out well, didn’t it ?

    • Kennybhoy


    • Tom Tom

      Soros Foundation, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and US cutouts

  • Jambo25

    Its a Russian invasion. Put your money into defence companies and fracking. I think they’re going to shoot up in value.

    • Kennybhoy

      Yup. A dangerous world. And you still want to tear Britain apart.

      • Jambo25

        its dangerous for the Ukrainians but I don’t think that the Russian Black Sea Fleet is headed in our direction yet.

        • Tom Tom

          What is the US Naval Base on Cuba ? It was taken by force in 1903 for a
          payment of $2000 annual rent……” The lease stipulates that the United
          States “shall exercise complete
          jurisdiction and control”, while recognizing “the continuance of the
          ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba”. Cuban vessels involved in
          trade will have free passage through the waters. The United States has
          the right to modify the waters as necessary.”

          Why doesn’t the USA bring Gitmo into conformity with modern treaties whereby they are negotiated not imposed by force ?

          • Jambo25

            What’s that got to do with my above posting. I live in Edinburgh.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here