Adapted in part from Chapter 1 “All Decided in the Back Room” of The Black Ledger: How Trump Brought Putin’s Disinformation War to America.
Unsurprisingly, there is a backstory behind Christian Tybring-Gjedde, the Member of the Norwegian parliament that just nominated Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. It, of course, involves Russian President Vladimir Putin
In early 2014, the Ukrainian people rose up against Viktor Yanukovych, the President of Ukraine and a client of Vladimir Putin. A protest campaign demanded Yanukovych do as he promised and sign an association deal with the European Union. During growing camping-out protests on Kyiv’s central square, the Maidan, Yanukovych faced a dilemma like the one currently faced by Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko. A large mass of protesters was flooding the streets, making governance difficult.
Like Lukashenko, Yanukovych turned to Putin. With help from Russian agents, the regime positioned police snipers on buildings and activated plans to engage in military-style clearing of the streets with armed police. On February 20, snipers shot 88 people from the rooftops, triggering a successful February 22 vote to impeach Yanukovych.
As Yanukovych fled for Russia that night. Putin huddled with his advisors. “We ended at about seven in the morning,” he later said. “When we were parting, I said to my colleagues: we must start working on returning Crimea to Russia.”
Five days later, on February 27, gunmen wearing uniforms without insignia seized the Crimean Parliament and government buildings. Deputies voted in a new government. When accused of sending the heavily armed soldiers without insignia to storm the Crimean Parliament, Putin provided an alternate explanation: the men were local defense forces who bought their uniforms at stores.
The West condemned these actions, including Norway, whose Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Børge Brende forcefully condemned the actions of Russia in taking over Crimea. But not all Western politicians were opposed to Putin.
Putin launched a worldwide disinformation campaign to try and justify his actions against Ukraine. It started in the United Nations. On March 3, the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had written a letter appealing “to the President of Russia Vladimir V. Putin to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation to re-establish the rule of law, peace, order, stability and to protect the people of Ukraine.” Photos showed Churkin holding up the letter to display it to the assembled members of the Security Council. In the spring of 2017, these photos became inconvenient, like the Yanukovych letter and Churkin himself.
Putin did not stop there. Using the Internet Research Agency, the same organization that would attack the 2016 U.S. election, the IRA flooded social media and web comment sections with anti-Maidan content in Russia and Ukraine.
At the same time Putin allies around the world spoke up for him, including Christian Tybring-Gjedde, the man who today nominated Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. Tybring-Gjedde told Norway’s Klassenkampen that the West was overreacting. “I belong to those who believe that the West and especially the United States should have thought more about before going out with immediate and violent condemnation” he told Klassenkampen. “I think this needs to be put into a bigger perspective. It is not obvious that the new government in Ukraine is more democratic than the previous one,” he added.
Putin had many international friends like Tybring-Gjedde. He worked by co-opting local elites like Tybring-Gjedde and Yanukovych by offering them less than savory deals while threatening them with the revelation of negative information, known as “kompromat.” It was a pattern that would repeat itself, first, across the former Soviet Republics and later, the world.
Days later, on the basis of the Yanukovych letter, Russian troops invaded Ukraine, streaming into Crimea on March 15th. On March 16th, Russia administered a hastily-drawn up referendum and claimed that the results showed a landslide for annexation into Russia.
An aide to German Chancellor Merkel summed up Putin’s actions: “It’s just so twentieth century—the tanks, the propaganda, the agents, provocateurs.” The Russian government was left internationally isolated and Putin struggled under a strong sanctions regime. Two years later, Putin would turn to a risky plan to interfere in the U.S. Presidential election to reverse the sanctions and the result of the Euromaidan revolution.
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