In August 2013, a summer evening at a beachside nightclub in the Black Sea resort of Sochi was an intense and exhilarating experience. The mixed martial arts contest featured Russian fighters dominating against a “world” team, with scantily dressed women cheering them on with Russian flags. The crowd erupted with cheers as the home squad achieved victory after victory, reaching a peak when a 44-year-old American fighter was knocked out.
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. The event took place in front of Vladimir Putin himself, who sat in a front-row seat wearing a white dress shirt and surrounded by security guards and political followers.