In any nationalist / ethnic expansionist arguments history is often misused. This is the case repeatedly at present and in recent times in both Western and Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans, SE Europe and the sphere of the former Soviet Union.
Critics of the European and American support for authorities in Kiev, and supporters of the separatists in parts of eastern Ukraine, seem particularly prone to this. National creationist myths or myths of unity in national struggle are particularly powerful. The Russian / Soviet nationalist romantic political projection is of Russia's past and continued resistance to fascists and Nazi collaborators. Of course Stalin was allied to Hitler for two years, and the USSR then fought Nazi Germany for four years. In the friendship period Russia invaded and occupied parts of several neighbouring countries (Romania, Finland, Poland), occupied several other neighbouring recently independent countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and slaughtered Polish officers like cattle at Katyn.
Who was worse, Hitler or Stalin? Hitler was statistically worse than Stalin but the answer must morally be equal for both Hitler & Stalin. Snyder suggests Hitler and the Nazis killed 12 million, Stalin and the Soviets 9 million non-combatants. 'Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Killed More?' Timothy Snyder. New York Review of Books, MARCH 10, 2011 Issue. Who was worse, Hitler or Stalin? (1).
There is certainly a problem that Russian media and nearly all English language media (and journalists) seem to have diametrically contradictory observations of what is happening in both Kiev and the east of Ukraine. (2) There will always be different perspectives and observations but it seems unlikely that only Russian state backed media is right and much other state and independent media is wrong. Pro-Russian media reports of deaths of pro-Russia activists appear to be consistently exaggerated; although as in Bucharest in 1989 the actual numbers from Maidan (and cause) also may take time to emerge. It is true that some conservative media in the US, Britain, Ireland publish headlines blaming the Russian state for incidents without publishing any evidence or sources. There have been more documented beatings of peaceful opponents of absorption into Russia in the east. Cheerleaders for war always seem to have a particular hatred of peaceful opponents.
A glance at the UK's Foreign Office twitter feed gives the impression that every apologist for the Soviet Union and Russian nationalism is an avid reader (many the romantic rose-tinted Communist sympathisers from Britain, some Middle Eastern socialists or nationalists). Much criticism of UK (and other EU states and US) foreign policy on the grounds of hypocrisy or opportunism is entirely justified but attacking support for a sovereign Ukraine and democratic elections is not possible on those grounds.
Nor can sins of the past be blamed on current UK Ministers or Foreign Office civil servants.
Part of President Putin's Tsarist type expansion rhetoric seems to be based on the traditional Russian nationalist narrative that the USSR lost 20 million citizens defeating the Nazis and therefore is entitled to hold sway over Eastern Europe. The Putinist narrative seems to forget other sins of the past. (3), (4).
There is another similarity between Stalinist and Nazi techniques and the current crisis. The apparent political killings. So far there only appear to have been a small number – a Crimean Tartar activist murdered, a pro-Ukrainian councillor murdered. This is similar to the fascist technique for destabilising countries or areas before they moved into them, and similar to the tactic that Stalin's forces used to undermine the democratic and nationalist forces in Eastern and South Eastern Europe before destroying them behind the Iron Curtain. I have read little credible evidence of political killings of pro-Russia supporters, although the beating up of a pro-Russia Presidential candidate was an outrage that should have been prevented. These killings are nothing like the number in countries where there have been large scale atrocities and massacres in the last twenty years and hopefully both sides will realise that all the overwhelming number of people in Ukraine want peace and they will stop killing and assaulting those with opposing views.
Snyder in his figures includes the Katyn massacre under civilian deaths, which I don't think is correct, although the officers were prisoners of war at the time.
(2) A thoughtful analysis on the controversial / notorious Stepan Bandera is 'Hero or villain? WWII partisan Bandera still animates Ukraine-Russia fight', Matthew Schofield. McClatchy Foreign Staff, 28 March 2014
"It's common for two nations at odds to believe differently about historical figures," Volodymyr Viatrovych. (For further examples compare Spanish and English views on Francis Drake – villainous pirate or treasured national hero; or more recently Kosovar and neighbouring Albanian martyr status for liberation leader Adem Jashari, a police killing bandit or terrorist to Serbs in Kosovo and Serbia).
"Bandera's forces did sign up to back Hitler," Viatrovych acknowledged. "But Putin isn't pointing out that their agreement with Hitler lasted one week longer than Stalin's agreement with Hitler.
(3) I have read the full English transcript of President Putin's speech to the Russian Parliament on the Russian Federation adopting Crimea.
'Address by President of the Russian Federation' 18 March 2014, 15:50. The Kremlin, Moscow.
I read the transcript carefully as soon as it was published. The language of much of the speech is much more reasonable than reported in the English speaking media I saw, although there was also significant nationalist rhetoric; and actions have not matched the conciliatory nature of the words.
(4) This Washington Post analysis itself contains some debateable or partisan points (political and legal) but also several facts that I have not seen reported elsewhere: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2014/03/19/fact-checking-vladimir-putins-speech-on-crimea/
'Fact Checking Vladimir Putin's speech on Crimea (video)' Glenn Kessler, 19 March 2014.