Well, of course they are. And I’m sure these “requests” are just as legitimate as the requests made by Sudeten Germans asking Hitler to “protect” them in 1938.

Vladimir Putin has missed his calling. Rather than working as an autocrat, he should have gone into the theater. Actor, director, stage manager — there isn’t anything he couldn’t do.

Putin has designed a production in Ukraine that should win him a Tony Award. And tomorrow, when the curtain rises on his musical comedy, How to Succeed with Annexation without Really Trying, the world will stand in awe of his skills at manipulation and showmanship.

In truth, Putin has created the exact conditions necessary to justify an invasion of eastern and southern Ukraine. He has engineered protests in three major cities — Kharkov, Donetsk and Lugansk — where at least three people have died and dozens have been injured. As if on cue, the Russian Foreign Ministry ominously warned about the “excesses” of ultranationalists — code for fascists. Ukraine’s government officials have said the provocations were “well planned.

Whether you believe Moscow or Kiev is irrelevant. Neither side is to be complimented on their accuracy or honesty. What’s clear is that Vladimir Putin is the master of events and it is up to him whether there will be peace or war with Ukraine.

His propaganda machine is in full swing.

The Associated Press reports:

This is Ukraine today, at least as seen by most Russian news media: the government is run by anti-Semitic fascists, people killed in protests were shot by opposition snipers and the West is behind it all.

And the room to disagree with that portrayal is getting smaller by the week.

With Crimea set to hold a referendum Sunday on whether to merge with Russia, the push to demonize Ukraine’s leadership has reached fever pitch. Authorities in Ukraine have responded by blocking Russian TV channels.

Lev Gudkov, head of a respected independent Moscow-based polling agency, says the propagandist tone of Russian state television has reached new levels.

“For intensity, comprehensiveness and aggressiveness, this is like nothing I have ever seen over the whole post-Soviet period,” Gudkov said.

News bulletins on top network Channel 1 carry extensive reports detailing purported rampant lawlessness to vague threats of reprisals against ethnic Russians and Jews, as well as showing interviews with talking heads alleging foreign-engineered plots.

NTV, owned by gas giant Gazprom’s media arm, on Thursday aired a report about purportedly hacked email correspondence between U.S. and Ukrainian officials on plans for staging an attack on military jets. The piece goes on to claim that the incident was to serve as an excuse for the United States to take military action against Russia.

It is steadily becoming conventional wisdom in the most widely watched news shows that those shot dead during protests in Kiev last month were victims of shadowy figures possibly hired by opposition forces.

Right Sector, a radical ultranationalist group that spearheaded the most violent assaults against riot police, is a subject of scaremongering daily exposes. For all the attention it has received, the group has not been granted any posts in the new government and observers say it has little actual clout.

Putin’s manipulation of domestic and world opinion apparently isn’t working well. The largest anti-Putin demonstration since 2012 was held in Moscow today and Russia was forced to veto a UN resolution that called on nations not to recognize Putin’s putsch in the Crimea.

The U.S.-drafted resolution was defeated 13-1, with one abstention by China. The only uncertainty going into Saturday’s vote was whether China would also cast a veto.

Western diplomats said they forced Russia to block the resolution to highlight Moscow’s international isolation.

Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi has called the Crimean crisis “highly complex and sensitive” and has condemned acts of violence by “extremists.” But China has reiterated it long-held stance supporting territorial integrity and against interference in a nation’s affairs.

Samantha Power, the U.S. envoy to the U.N., called the veto “a sad moment.”

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, speaking before the vote, acknowledged that secession is an “extraordinary” act but defended Crimea’s right to vote for it.

U.K. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said, “The resounding message from today’s vote is that Russia stands isolated in this council, and in the international community.

“Russia alone backs this referendum. Russia alone is prepared to violate international law, disregard the U.N. charter, and tear up its bilateral treaties,” he said. “This message will be heard well beyond the walls of this chamber.”

No doubt that’s true, except it won’t be heard where it would matter — in Moscow. Putin is beyond caring — if he ever did — what the rest of the world thinks of his Crimean gambit. Whatever he has planned past his guaranteed victory at the Crimean polls tomorrow, it won’t matter a fig what the U.S. or western Europe thinks about it.

The stage is set, the overture is playing, and the Russian president is bringing up the curtain.