After persistent denials, Russian President Vladimir Putin seemingly admitted to a Russian military presence in Eastern Ukraine (before he didn’t). In any “normal country”, coming clean about a clandestine military operation on live television would have huge political implications. But in Russia, it didn’t even make the evening news.
It all started on December 17 during Putin’s annual marathon Q&A session, a PR exercise in which he vacillates between his roles as global statesman and provincial Santa Claus.
Putin faced many queries, some serious, some prosaic. Due to Russia’s economic woes, his usual air of confidence was punctuated by more bluster than usual. This was especially true when questioned over recent corruption allegations leveled at the family of Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika.
But from Chaika’s alleged mob ties to a quasi-admission that Katerina Tikhonova was in fact his daughter (because only in Russia is the identity of one’s children a matter of state security), it was his answer to a question about Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov, two alleged officers of the Russian military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) captured during fighting in East Ukraine, that gave pause to many watching the proceedings.
“We never said there were not people [in Eastern Ukraine] who performed certain tasks, including in the military sphere,” he said. “But that does not mean there are Russian (regular) troops there, feel the difference.”
Putin, of course, has vehemently denied that very thing before…