In August 2013, the summer evening at a beachside nightclub in Sochi was filled with excitement and adrenaline. The mixed martial arts contest between Russian fighters and a “world” team was intense, with scantily dressed women cheering them on with Russian flags. 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.
Vladimir Putin himself was in attendance, sitting in a front-row seat wearing a white dress shirt and surrounded by security guards and political followers. 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.