Paul Greenberg

The curious need not wait till "The Grand Budapest Hotel" comes out as a DVD to watch a between-the-wars farce done in high mitteleuropäische style, complete with comic-opera uniforms, foreign intrigue, transparent guile and enough layers of nostalgia for an imagined past to reduce any plot to some unreal dimension where violence is only playacting and tragedy becomes broad comedy.

Wes Anderson, the movie's director/producer/auteur, has a talent for depicting the slightly strange, that is, reality. But even he could not outdo the homicidal drama now being produced in Ukraine, as it was in Georgia and Chechnya before that. This production comes to you courtesy of the latest incarnation of the old Russian Empire starring Vladimir Putin as the scheming tsar.

Even the New York Times, which has always been a sucker for the Kremlin's newest or even oldest line, can't ignore what's going on. "Photos Link Masked Men/in East Ukraine to Russia," said its Page 1 headline the other day.

My, what a surprise! How could those eagle-eyed editors at the Times have figured out the connection between what's happening in Ukraine these violent days and those oh-so-innocent Russians?

Could it have been the standard-issue Russian army fatigues worn by the clearly professional troops taking over one town after another in eastern Ukraine -- just as they took over Crimea a few weeks ago? Subtle this operation isn't, not with all the invaders dressed like Russian special-ops types minus only the identifying insignia. Which in this case are scarcely needed. The world knows very well who they are and where they come from. The "green men," the locals call them in honor of their telltale uniforms. And they're everywhere, just waiting to be backed up by Russian regulars once the usual provocation is staged and the usual pretext invented.

What could have given away this not-so-secret plot? Could it have been the presence of one Igor Ivanovich Strelkov? His is a familiar face to those who keep up with the leading players in the repertory company known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian general staff. One day they're Crimeans, the next Ukrainians, and who knows what next? Balts, Poles, Moldovans? This not so mysterious Strelkov, master of a hundred ill-fitting disguises, was last seen in Crimea a couple of months ago before he showed up in and around Slovyansk, an occupied city that by now is Ukrainian only technically, for the green men, backed by the usual local thugs, have taken over the place, as is their wont in much of Ukraine by now. In the same way Hitler's storm troopers recruited Sudeten Germans as fronts for their invasion of Czechoslovakia back in the 1930s.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.