The summer evening at a beachside nightclub in the Black Sea resort of Sochi was an electrifying experience. A mixed martial arts contest took place, with Russian fighters dominating against a “world” team. Scantily dressed women cheered them on with Russian flags, their excitement palpable. The crowd erupted in cheers as the home squad achieved victory after victory, reaching a peak when a 44-year-old American fighter was knocked out.
This event took place in August 2013, little did anyone know that six months later, Russia’s president would initiate the country’s path to war by seizing Crimea from Ukraine, leading to a full-scale invasion now entering its third year next week. Vladimir Putin himself was present at the event, sitting in a front-row seat wearing a white dress shirt and surrounded by security guards and political followers.