Back in February, soldiers in green camo, who weren't wearing any insignia, appeared in the Crimean peninsula—flanked by pro-Russian groups—and started taking over airports and government buildings. They successfully redrew the borders: Two months later, that chunk of Ukraine is now part of Russia.
At the time, people made excuses: Crimea used to be part of Russia, Khrushchev gave it away in a moment of drunkenness, there are a lot of Russian-speakers there, nobody wants to provoke WWIII over such a little peninsula, Russia will stop after it gets its naval base in Sevastopol and Black Sea beachfront.
Russia has not stopped. Now these "little green men" are marching further into Ukraine and the same pattern is being repeated: They show up, take over stuff in the name of Russian-speaking civilians, on some vague pretense that Russians are being abused (or might someday be abused) by some supposed fascists in Kiev, and Russian troops follow. (Or, horribly, masked men show up at synagogues, demanding Jews "register" with the government and pay a fine or suffer the consequences.)
This kind of warfare, in which professional-seeming soldiers claiming to be civilians run an advance guard for Russian troops, is an astute tactic for the social-media era—it makes invasion look like a popular mandate and all the Twitter pics in the world can't prove otherwise. Without a violent, inciting action, the international community is reduced to watching uncomfortably, wondering whether it should intervene.
Things here in Kyiv are pretty calm. The election is only a little over a month away, so campaigning is starting to kick off. It looks like Petro Poroshenko, who owns Roshen Chocolate (now banned in Russia) is the man to beat.
Russia does indeed seem to be embarking on a new type of war. The same tactics Moscow used in Crimea are now being seen in Donetsk as well. Those same "little green men" are now in the Donbas region, supporting separatists who have taken over police and administrative buildings. It's the same game of Russian meddling followed by denials from Moscow. (See the same bearded man showing up in Georgia 2008 and eastern Ukraine 2014.)
The shooting the other day has been a very strange ordeal. Pro-Russian separatists blamed it on far-right group Pravy Sektor, claiming they found the business card of the group's leader Dmytro Yarosh in a car near the site of the attack. Pravy Sektor has denied involvement and says it was a setup by the Kremlin. It seems highly suspicious and echoes previous provocations. (The card meanwhile has become an Internet meme among Ukrainians.)
If you're a stats nerd like me, you should check out this research poll that came out not long ago—it's lengthy, but the results give a pretty interesting picture of the country.
* Ethnic Russians by and large don't think they are under threat.
* Support for Euromaidan [the popular occupation of the square in Kiev] was high in the west, low in the east (not surprising).
* Far-right groups have relatively weak support (Svoboda gets only 6 percent, while Pravy Sektor gets 2 percent in a potential parliamentary vote).
Here is one more article that puts the conflict in historical perspective, starting with Eastern Europe's early history on into the current crisis. It gives a good outline of how Putin's current tactics in Ukraine operate in the post-Soviet world and what the implications are for modern Europe.
How are things in Seattle?
Oh, you know—no complaints.