“Little Green Men”

by Andrew Stuttaford

Matters appear to be escalating dangerously in Eastern Ukraine. For rumor, speculation and outright disinformation Twitter is usually the place to go, but, even after taking that into consideration, the cumulative nature of what I am seeing over there is increasingly alarming.

Meanwhile:

Kyiv Post:

Men in camouflage, armed with machine guns, have been seen at the entrance to the town of Slovyansk, Donetsk region, where armed men seized the building of the local police department early on April 12, the OstroV online newspaper has reported.

The headline reads:

Donetsk media: ‘Little green men’ seen near Slovyansk

Little green men? That’s a term that dates from the invasion of the Crimea. The BBC explained back in March:

The internet has no shortage of photographs and videos showing armed men in Crimea who look like members of the Russian military. Their guns are the same as those used by the Russian army, their lorries have Russian number plates and they speak in Russian accents.

Yet according to President Vladimir Putin, they are in fact members of “self-defence groups” organised by the locals who bought all their uniforms and hardware in a shop.

This poses a challenge to the media covering the crisis: what do you call people who are officially not there? Russian journalists less aligned with the Kremlin often use the phrase “polite men”. According to centrist daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “‘polite, armed men’ are in charge of Crimea now”. Describing them as Russian troops in the Russian media “is not the done thing, and even dangerous, too,” prominent photojournalist Denis Sinyakov comments on independent website Colta.

According to popular blogger Ilya Varlamov, the term “polite men” was invented by spin doctors who arrived in Crimea from Moscow. “They are creating an image of a Russian liberator-soldier wearing a nice new uniform and armed with beautiful weapons, who has come to defend peaceful towns and villages,” Mr Varlamov says.

Another phrase used by reporters in Russia and Ukraine alike is “little green men”, which refers both to the colour of their uniforms and their unconfirmed origin.

Reuters:

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s acting president called an emergency meeting of Kiev’s national security council on Saturday after pro-Russian separatists seized control of government buildings in the eastern city of Slaviansk.

“At 9 p.m. (1800 GMT) a meeting will take place of the Ukrainian council of security and defense because of the situation in the east of Ukraine,” a spokeswoman for Acting President Oleksander Turchinov said.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt tweets:

Change of plans. Will obviously remain in Odessa [Ukraine] overnight. Alarming developments in Eastern Ukraine. Green men.