Simon Shuster reports: To many in Ukraine, a full-scale Russian military invasion would feel like a liberation. On Saturday, across the country’s eastern and southern provinces, hundreds of thousands of people gathered to welcome the Kremlin’s talk of protecting pro-Russian Ukrainians against the revolution that brought a new government to power last week. So far, that protection has come in the form of Russian military control of the southern region of Crimea, but on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin got parliamentary approval for a broad military intervention in Ukraine. As that news spread, locals in at least four major cities in the east of Ukraine climbed onto the roofs of government buildings and replaced the Ukrainian flag with the Russian tricolor.
For the most part, what drove so many people to renounce their allegiance to Ukraine was a mix of pride and fear, the latter fueled in part by misinformation from Moscow. The most apparent deception came on Saturday morning, when the Russian Foreign Ministry put out a statement accusing the new government in Kiev of staging a “treacherous provocation” on the Crimean peninsula. It claimed that “unidentified armed men” had been sent from Kiev to seize the headquarters of the Interior Ministry police in Crimea. But thanks to the “decisive actions of self-defense battalions,” the statement said, the attack had been averted with just a few casualties. This statement turned out to be without any basis in fact.
Igor Avrutsky, who was the acting Interior Minister of Crimea during the alleged assault, told TIME the following afternoon that it never happened. “Everything was calm,” he says. Throughout the night, pro-Russian militiamen armed with sticks and shields had been defending the Crimean Interior Ministry against the revolutionaries, and one of the militia leaders, Oleg Krivoruchenko, also says there was no assault on the building. “People were coming and going as normal,” he says.
But the claims coming from Moscow were still enough to spread panic in eastern and southern Ukraine. [Continue reading…]