Through an analysis of official statements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as speeches and remarks by Putin, this article argues that history has played an important but varying role in official rhetoric. With Crimea, the emphasis was on the ‘sanctity’ of the territory for Russian Orthodox identity, drawing on history dating back to the baptism of Prince Vladimir in 10th century AC. The shared past of the two states has not been as central in official Russian policy justification regarding Ukraine outside Crimea: the ‘brotherhood’ of the two nations has been noted repeatedly, but usually secondary to arguments pertaining to economic and political interests. The two world wars have been used as a cautionary tale, with Russia effectively seeking to delegitimize the new Ukrainian government by evoking carefully selected elements of its past. Finally, the author looks at the use of international precedence as a form of justification, turning the history of Western – US in particular – actions back on Russia’s critics. The official usage of history is placed within broader strategies of legitimation, as it is not enough to study propaganda and manipulation strategies as part of information warfare to explain how the Kremlin achieves support for its policies. The ‘thick’ historical narratives of Crimea play on elements linked to issues of national identity, making it difficult to dispute using the type of counter-propaganda and rebuttal of disinformation proposed by some.