15:11 Jul. 5, 2016
It's been two years since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine
These days, the Kremlin needs a hero like Sergey Karjakin. The 26-year-old, chess grand master was born in Crimea and is a fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Soon Karjakin will have the chance to face-off against Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen, a duel that approaches the legendary contest between Spasski and Fischer, which took place at a time when East and West were adversaries in the Cold War. Back then, the face-off was also a symbolic battle about the superiority of a political system.
Now it's once again East versus West, this time under the peculiar auspices of the Crimean crisis. Karjakin had decided to play for the Russian national team as early as 2009. When Putin annexed Crimea just over two years ago, he cheered the Russian conquest and still appears in public in T-shirts bearing Putin's likeness.
At a referendum on March 16, 2014, 95 percent of Crimean citizens allegedly voted to join Russia. Neither the EU nor the US believed the vote was fair and free; in their eyes, the annexation did and does violate international law, and the territory still belongs to Ukraine.
The Russian press these days portrays the situation in Crimea as heavenly -- as a peninsula filled with happy people who are grateful to have been "freed" from Ukraine's yoke. The media in the US and Europe, by contrast, paint a radically different image: of a frustrated population longing for the old times in which Kiev had control over the peninsula.
What is the truth? Why is Crimea, a relatively small region with a population of 2 million, so important to such a large number of Russians? So important that, despite the downsides of the annexation, they praise their president for his military Blitzkrieg and give Putin high popularity ratings? And what do the people in Crimea think?