Twenty-five people died in Kiev last night.
Before it started, when the day was still bright and my main thoughts were about dealing with my feverish four-year-old twins over half-term, I sent a message to a friend who also writes about Russia (I’d put the twins in front of a cartoon).
‘Just had an odd thought,’ was the gist of what I wrote (it was in a social media shorthand). ‘But what if all the stuff the Kremlin has been doing the last few months – destroying the relatively free RIA Novosti, taking TV Rain off the airwaves, pressuring radio Ekho Moskvy, ramping up the anti-Americanism and traitor-hysteria – is not just a case of a general “turning the screws”, not a reaction to social change, but actually active preparation for a huge operation in Ukraine. They want their informational bases covered. They’re planning something.’
‘Ummm. Maybe,’ my friend wrote.
‘I’m not one for conspiracies,’ I thought later, as I sat in the doctor’s waiting-room (one of the twins might have scarlet fever). Since the latest crisis in Ukraine began there have been myriads: it’s all part of a US plot to destabilise a Moscow-Berlin-Paris axis; it’s Masons based at the Lviv Catholic University; it’s Putin demanding a blood oath from Yanukovich to kill protesters; it’s Polish-Swedish revenge for their defeat by Peter the Great. ‘Do people believe in conspiracy theories out of a sense of helplessness?’ I wondered. ‘Like astrology? I hope my friend doesn’t think I’m one of them.’
And then the attack on Maidan began, and the killing.
‘What does Yanukovich think he’s doing?’ I thought. Before this he had a way out, was negotiating down, could probably have toddled off into the distance a very rich man. Instead he was cutting off all his escape routes. The operation looked planned to make sure there were deaths. Deaths could only mean the crisis was reignited. Of course Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk were responding: rebels seizing the government buildings. Not one European leader could get through on Yanukovich’s phone. The rumour was they hadn’t been able to all day. He must have known this was going to happen. Or was he even in charge? This all looked like the methods of Viktor Medvedchuk, the Kremlin man in the Presidential Administration. And didn’t Putin pledge Yanukovich another 2 billion just the other day?
And then more dots were joining up. In Kharkiv the mayor (said to be a former gangster who makes Yanukovich look small-time) and governor had announced the formation of a ‘Ukrainian front’: ‘Seventy years after [the Second World War] the Ukrainian front has appeared in Ukraine again and it will clear the Ukrainian earth of fascist evil spirits,’ the governor said, chiming with Russian state TV. Meanwhile Surkov had been spotted in Crimea. Was he readying the locals for an independence push? The Night Wolves are back in Sevastopol, ready to ‘defend’ the city.
All this is just what Putin wants. A national stand-off in Ukraine which redraws the lines between ‘Holy Russia’ and ‘Fascist-Homosexual West’. Putin’s press secretary has already called the violence an ‘attempted coup’. Gennady Zyuganov, the head of the Russian Communists, has called on the south and east to form resistance groups. It could be that it’s not so much Ukraine joining the Eurasian Union that counts, it’s the journey towards it, keeping the Putin story moving onwards (it doesn’t really matter where to, it just has to keep on moving).
So was all this being prepared over the last months?
‘What do you do when one of the conspiracies might be right?’ I thought. It was late at night, the twins were up again with temperatures.
This morning the conspiracies are everywhere again. It’s Ukrainian oligarchs trying to pull Russia into a war in Ukraine! It’s Victoria Nuland! It’s Aries! Saturn! The Moon!
But now I’m joining in with them.
There are 25 dead. I’m on the phone with relatives and friends in Kiev.
Astrology, conspiracy theories: can they also be a form of lamentation, a way to deal with grief and start to mourn the dead?