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Annexation of Crimea: A masterclass in political manipulation

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The annexation of Crimea was a triumph of political manipulation over national interests and common sense. This is why old-school geopolitics alone cannot explain what really happened between Russia and Ukraine in March 2014.

What usually debilitates the analysis of this episode, at least in the West, is the tale of an inherently violent alien Russian race intent on conquering the world. An identical twin of Kremlin's myth about the West plotting to destroy Russia, it is peddled by hawks who live in symbiosis with their Russian counterparts and grow in strength by pushing polarising agendas. Of course, the image they are trying to sell can't be more different from the complicated reality of the relatively modernised post-Soviet mafia state with its mild authoritarianism, deep integration into the Western cultural and financial realm, and - critically for the Crimean story - extreme psychological dependence on feedback in the form of opinion polls and approval ratings. The latter serves as a substitute for electoral democracy, which has been squashed by Putin's majoritarianism in Russia.

To make sure the all-important feedback remains positive, Kremlin's highly professional and media savvy spin doctors play on people's emotions - their dignity, their sense of injustice, their fear of strife and war - while controlling the flows of information delivered via what remains the most important medium, television. In the spring of 2014, stars aligned in such a way that Crimea became an ideal object for such manipulations.

The political cycle that led to Russia's invasion of Crimea began in the fall of 2011, when Vladimir Putin announced his decision to run in presidential elections instead of allowing his ally, Dmitry Medvedev, to stay in the role for another term.

Their swap, followed by a rigged Duma election, sparked the Bolotnaya protests in Moscow, which........

© Al Jazeera