Russian president Vladimir Putin hosted a handful of reporters early Tuesday for what he insisted was more of "a conversation, rather than an interview." Nonetheless, he hit his talking points on the ongoing situation in Ukraine, most of which happen to be demonstrably untrue.
Along with denying that Russian troops are currently readying their weapons in Crimea, Putin insisted the Ukrainian uprising against (pro-Russian) President Viktor Yanukovych was the work of right-wing thugs, or perhaps even led by the U.S. "They sit there across the pond as if in a lab running all kinds of experiments on the rats," said Putin. "Why would they do it? No one can explain it."
Secretary of State John Kerry, currently in Kiev, promptly responded, "Not a single piece of credible evidence supports any one of these claims. None." To fact-check Putin's every word would take longer than the invasion of a sovereign nation — Germany's Angela Merkel recently said he's "in another world" — but here are some highlights from Planet Putin, along with some brief dispatches from reality.
Putin says: "Our major concern is the orgy of nationalists, and extremists and anti-Semites on the streets of Kiev."
The real world says: The coalition that brought down the government is extremely diverse. Timothy Snyder, writing in the New York Review of Books over the weekend, explained:
As the New Year began the protests broadened. Muslims from southern Ukraine marched in large numbers. Representatives of the large Kiev Jewish community were prominently represented. Some of the most important organizers were Jews. [...] Although the constitutional transition is indeed debatable in the details, these charges of a right-wing coup are nonsense. [...]
Whatever course the Russian intervention may take, it is not an attempt to stop a fascist coup, since nothing of the kind has taken place. What has taken place is a popular revolution, with all of the messiness, confusion, and opposition that entails.
Putin says: The troops aren't his. "Look at former Soviet republics. You can go to a store and buy a uniform. Were these Russian soldiers? No, they're very well-trained self-defense forces."
The real world says: Nice try. The Washington Post reports, "as Russian troops and warships surrounded Ukrainian security installations throughout the autonomous Crimean Peninsula, it was clear that Ukrainian forces believed they faced an imminent threat."
Putin says: "Armed and masked militants are still roaming the streets of Kiev."
The real world says: Kerry countered, "The Russian government would also have you believe that the calm and friendly streets, one of which I walked down but many of which I just drove through, that somehow these streets of Kiev are actually dangerous — ignoring the reality that there has been no surge in crime, no surge in looting, no political retribution here."
"If you were legitimately worried about some of your citizens, then go to the government," he added. "Talk to them about it. Go to the U.N. Raise the issue in the Security Council."
Putin says: "[President Viktor Yanukovych] agreed to all the opposition's demands: He agreed to early parliamentary elections, to early presidential elections, and to return to the 2004 Constitution, as demanded by the opposition."
The real world says: Um, nope. According to Kerry, "The Russian government would have you believe it was the opposition who failed to implement the February 21 agreement that called for a peaceful transition, ignoring the reality that it was Yanukovych, when history came calling, when his country was in need, when this city was the place where the action was, where the leaders of the nation were gathered in order to decide the future — he broke his obligation to sign that agreement, and he fled into the night with his possessions, destroying papers behind him."
At The New Republic, Julia Ioffe said Merkel was right: "Today's Putin was nervous, angry, cornered, and paranoid, periodically illuminated by flashes of his own righteousness. Here was an authoritarian dancing uncomfortably in his new dictator shoes, squirming in his throne."
President Obama, in a brief statement, seemed to concur. "Mr. Putin can throw a lot of words out there. But the facts on the ground indicate that, right now, he's not abiding by that principle," he said. "What's happening there is not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russia seeking through force to exert influence on the neighboring country."