Annexation of Crimea by Russia led to conflict in Ukraine: A look back at the Russia-Ukraine war

On March 7, 2014, a husky man in his late 30s with closely cropped hair addressed an uneven line of four dozen “volunteers”. Next to him were three men in body armour and green uniforms, with no insignia. The crowd of men, aged 20 to 50, were gathered outside a white Stalinist-era government building in Sevastopol, a port in Ukraine’s Crimea. They were uphill from the seashore, next to huge sequoias, blossoming cherry trees and elderly ladies holding hand-written posters that read, “In Russia through a referendum” and “I want to go home to Russia”. Eight days later, Moscow would hold a “referendum” on the Black Sea peninsula’s “return” to Russia, and the men were a nascent “self-defence unit” that would “prevent provocations,” the man said. I approached them with a notebook and a dictaphone – and was immediately seized by two “volunteers”. “Got a spy here!” they yelled, twisting my arms and ready to beat me to a pulp. But the instructor told them and me to wait. He kept on talking for half an hour, telling the crowd that they would train at a military base outside Sevastopol and should arrive in “comfy clothes” and sneakers. One of the volunteers asked him whether they should bring firearms. Many others nodded approvingly. (Al Jazeera) “When you take up arms, we become an armed criminal group. But if something happens, each unit will be backed by fire,” the instructor said. After the meeting, he checked my press ID and told me he was a retired intelligence officer who had served in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region and arrived in Crimea as a “volunteer”. “Our groups will have to respond to challenges, provocations because there is a shortage of policemen in town,” he told me. “There’s NATO propaganda at work. “Our aim is to prevent the first shot. If the first shot happens, you won’t stop the mess,” he said. He politely declined to say what his name was. ‘Little green men’ The first shot didn’t happen, but what took place in Crimea 10 years ago paved the way for today’s war between Ukraine and Russia. On February 20, 2014, Vladimir Konstantinov, speaker of Crimea’s regional parliament and a Russian politician, said he “didn’t rule out” the peninsula’s “return” to Russia. On the same day, thousands of gun-toting men in unmarked uniforms appeared throughout Ukraine’s Crimea. They responded to the victory of pro-Western protests in Kyiv that would within days remove pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Dubbed “little green men” or “polite people,” the servicemen didn’t interact with locals or reporters, while Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Moscow that “they are not there”. They appeared next to Ukrainian military, naval and air bases, and the interim government in Kyiv ordered Ukrainian servicemen in Crimea to leave without firing a single shot. Many servicemen – along with thousands…

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