The civil war hoax: words that fooled the world

Despite loads of Russian military hardware being identified in Donbas, the term “civil war” is still often used to describe the situation in Ukraine. Photo: rbc.ua

Despite loads of Russian military hardware being identified in Donbas, the term “civil war” is still often used to describe the situation in Ukraine. Photo: rbc.ua 

2016/10/25 • Analysis & Opinion, Featured, Russia

The linguistic status quo regarding the situation in Ukraine has finally been changed on the international level. Two Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolutions on Ukraine which have been passed on October 12 identify terms regarding Crimea and Donbas that leave no gap for manipulations; the phrase “conflict in Ukraine” has been replaced by “Russian aggression.”

Language is an important instrument of war for the Putin regime in Russia. It helps them create false images in the minds of masses and implement their imperialistic ambitions. Due to the Russian propaganda abroad, including two international channels founded by the Kremlin – RT (the re-branded Russia Today) and Sputnik, the international media has absorbed this manipulative language and started to use it in their own materials. So, Russian propaganda is broadcast not just in Russia, but all over the world.

Read also: How Russia’s worst propaganda myths about Ukraine seep into media language

The members of the Ukrainian delegation in PACE recognize that it was not easy to achieve such strict resolutions on Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian MPs, the Ukrainian delegation felt the presence of the Russian lobby. Ukrainian MP from Popular Front party Leonid Yemets explained that a large part of the PACE management wants the Russian delegation to be returned to the Assembly, after being removed in 2015 due to the Russian annexation of Crimea and armed conflict in Donbas.

“There was constant pressure from the Russians. They have powerful groups of influence here – deputies of PACE, the secretariat employees which are responsible for particular bureaucratic procedures, and the powerful lobby among the management of PACE,” the MP said.

“The French delegation really helped us. They dramatically changed their position [on Ukraine] after [Russia’s] bombing of Aleppo and the statements of both the president and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of France. And in general, the situation has changed dramatically. Our prediction that Putin does not need Georgia, Moldova, or Ukraine, but wants to dominate in the world is proving true. Syria is a prime example of this,” said Serhiy Sobolev, another member of the Ukrainian delegation and Fatherland party MP.

Russia reacted to the events in PACE predictably, blaming the organization for being biased:

“A frivolous carnival of russophobia went on in the autumn session of PACE. The assembly still does not understand that it is defective without Russia,” said the head of the of the Russian Parliamentary Committee on International Affairs, Aleksey Pushkov.

Will the term “russophobia” become a new form of Russian propaganda manipulation? Let’s look at how the language surrounding the situation in Ukraine has evolved since 2014.

The coup and revolution

The birth of civil society was the main achievement of the Euromaidan revolution. Not a good example for the Russian people, from the totalitarian regime’s point of view. Photo: uk.shram.kiev.ua

Russian word games in the media started with Euromaidan. Inside the country and around the world, Russia spread the myth that it was a “coup” calling the new Ukrainian government a “junta” and people involved in Euromaidan fascists and radicals.

Images of burning tires were shown in an attempt to reinforce the belief that the activists were radicals, however these images were taken out of context just as much as their words.

Why is the difference between the words “coup” and “revolution” so important? “Coup” is used for defining the illegal or forced change of power, while “revolution” implies a fundamental change in society. After the Euromaidan Revolution, Ukraine experienced the birth of civil society. This was both the main achievement of the revolution, and the greatest tool Ukraine received for further development.

Russia couldn’t refer to Euromaidan as a revolution because a totalitarian regime is afraid of a strong society, and the image of a dignified revolution would set a bad example for the people they want to control.

Just an annexation and an illegal annexation

At the begining of the occupation of Crimea, the Russian professional armed forces were called the “Crimean militia.” Photo: chtooznachaet

Anyone who visited Crimea before 2014 knows that Russia’s desire to seize the peninsula is nothing new. This was visible at least from the jokes of Russian tourists who described the peninsula as “theirs.” Meanwhile, the Russian authorities were preparing the ground. While they created the myth of Crimea wanting to go “back home to Russia,” in fact it was Russia who could not wait to fulfill its imperialistic ambitions. Again, these ambitions and aggression were covered by the manipulation of words.

After the illegal referendum to “come back home” was organized in March 2014, much remained hidden behind the false image of joy created in the Russian media. They did not report of abductions and deaths of the annexation’s opponents and that many of them had to leave the peninsula, or that there were repressions against those who voiced their position openly, and that Russian troops which forced Ukrainian military units to leave the peninsula by threats to them and their families were portrayed as so-called “Crimean people’s militia.” Those who tried to resist got killed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted that it were Russian forces blocking the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the peninsula only half a year later. However this did not matter anymore; the image of a peaceful annexation already was fixed in the minds of the Russian public. Additionally, the euphemism for Russian occupiers, “polite green people,” did well to conceal the nature of an armed invasion.

The civil war and the war

To counter Euromaidan, Russia organized protests in the eastern oblasts of Ukraine. There is evidence that these protests were artificially organized by Russia. Recently, Ukraine’s General Prosecutors Office (GPO) released a video they say proves that top officials of the Russian Federation were involved in the illegal annexation of Crimea and encouraging separatist unrest in southeastern Ukraine in the aftermath of the Euromaidan Revolution.

At that time, however, Russia was making it seem there was no difference between people who were standing at Euromaidan and those who came to protest in Eastern Ukraine. However, there was a significant difference in numbers (maximum 10 thousands of pro-Russian protesters compared to a half a million at Euromaidan). The other difference is the direct foreign involvement in the protests in the East.

Even though, after two years of war, different kinds of Russian tanks, artillery, and aircraft were confirmed on Ukrainian territory, the word “civil war” is still often used in to describe the situation in Ukraine. Even respected media such as BBC uses this terminology.

Recently the phrase “civil war” was used in the BBC-2 documentary entitled “The Conspiracy Files: Who Shot Down MH17,” and the accompanying article by Mike Rudin on the BBC website. After the incident, Ukraine’s Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs sent an official letter to the British media giant, appealing to the broadcaster to stop using the term “civil war” to refer to the situation in Ukraine.

Read also: Seven reasons the conflict in Ukraine is actually a Russian invasion

Rebels, separatists, and pro-Russian forces

In August 2014, Russian soldiers were captured in Ukraine while the world talked about the “civil war” in Ukraine. Photo: Reuters

To rebuke the civil war myth, the parties involved in this war should be also defined. From the very beginning, Russia had denied its influence, insisting the rebel groups were formed by locals. The term “rebels” took strong roots in both Russian and international media. Another word for so-called rebels was “separatists.” However, how can people who come from Russia be called Ukrainian separatists?

After some time, the Russian presence in Ukraine’s East became so obvious that the international language had to be changed.

In April 2015, U.S. officials briefed on intelligence from the region said Russia has significantly deepened its command and control of separatist forces in recent months. That led the United States to subtlely introduce a new term: “combined Russian-separatist forces.”

So what is the role of locals in this war?

According to Ukrainian military analyst Dmytro Tymchuk, Russian military has troubles with fulfilling the battalions of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”:

“The locals in the Donbas are, in fact, cannon fodder. Too often, the commanders of the “battalions,” with rare exceptions, are Russian officers,” says Tymchuk. The expert is confident that the battalions which consist mostly of locals [such as ‘Somalia’ and ‘Kalmus’ battalions] are not strong or well organized, but are still significant for propaganda purposes, because the foreign media can be focused solely on local battalions like these, ignoring all involvement by the Russian military.

Ukrainian crisis, conflict in Ukraine, and Russian aggression

Burned Russian military hardware was found in Ilovaisk. Photo: ua-ru.info

By using the phrase “Ukrainian crisis” when referring to the situation in Ukraine’s East, Western media has mislead their audience. The word “crisis” is perceived as a complex of internal problems. There can be a political crisis or an economic crisis, and both can be relevant to the situation in Ukraine, however not in the East. Because this terminology omits the involvement of the most important player – Russia.

The word “conflict” recognizes the involved parties, but this term is also misleading. Russian media and authorities like to use the term “the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine” as this wording is convenient for them; the word “conflict” is perceived as something internal. Whether a conflict is armed or not, it is not perceived as a war between two countries. By using this term, the media presents Russia as a third party, an international observer of what is going on in Ukraine, and not as the instigator and the main adversary in the war. Although Russia’s involvement is sometimes acknowledged, the scale of its role is downplayed. [Very few outlets call this for what it is: “Russian military aggression” and “Russo-Ukrainian war.”]

When international organizations adopt this neutral language, they equate Ukraine’s responsibility to that of Russia, even though Russia is the only one fighting on the territory of another country.

Replacing the word “conflict” with “Russian aggression” rightfully puts the responsibility for the military violence and human rights violations in Ukraine on Russia.

Read also: Donbas “separatists” got 33 types of military systems from Russia – report

How the war is called in Ukraine

Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers were mobilized to the war which is called an Anti-Terrorist-Operation. Photo: ZN.ua

The Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas and military volunteers who help the army define the situation in the East is as war, but Ukrainian officials still use the term “Anti-Terrorist Operation” after two and a half years of the conflict.

“As there is no act of declaring a war, except an open aggression against Ukraine – the hybrid nature of this threat – we use the form ‘anti-terrorist operation,’” said Ihor Kosyak, a representative of the Headquarters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

However, this wording has a significant problem: Ukraine does not officially recognize the Luhansk and Donetsk “People’s Republics” as terrorist organizations. The current Ukrainian law On Combating Terrorism has no provision on how an organization can be recognized as terrorist; the responsibility to recognize an organization as terrorist is put on a court.

The bill on Amendments to some laws of Ukraine on the Improving of the Mechanisms of the Fight Against Terrorism already exists, but so far there has been no progress in passing it.

The work of Ukrainian Delegation in PACE has brought about many positive changes in regards to how the situation in Ukraine is referred to. The changed terminology and other provisions of the passed resolutions open the door for preventing and giving an appropriate response to the acts of Russian aggression in Ukraine. However, certain changes still have to be made within Ukraine, in particular, changing the legal language.


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Edited by: Isabella Popa

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  • Terry Washington

    Now that the “civil war” non sequitur has been junked in favour what it was along-viz Russian aggression- the next logical step for Ukraine to do is to sign and ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC(International Criminal Court) and draw up a list of Russians and/or their Ukrainian quislings(such as Valentina Lisitsa) who may be lawfully indicted and tried as war criminals( and who will hopefully be sentenced to lengthy prison terms if so convicted). This is the 70th anniversary of the first convictions and subsequent executions of defendants tried at Nuremburg( Von Ribbentrop, Kalternbrunner, Streicher, Sauckel et al)- if waging aggressive war is bad for Germans and Japanese, then why not Russians?!

    • Quartermaster

      It would be better if Russian war criminals danced on air. But I’ll take a prison sentence that confines them for the rest of their natural lives. Perhaps Spandau can be rebuilt.

      • Terry Washington

        I take you mean by “dancing on air” you mean hanging- the ICC fortunately has NO death penalty even for the most horrific of war crimes, but it DOES have its own prison( present inmatesJean Paul Bemba and future ones hopefully Kim Jong Un, Viktor Yanukovych and last but not least one V.V.Putin)!

        • Quartermaster

          It’s too bad the ICC odes not have the death penalty. Certain crimes warrant it. What Putin has done in Ukraine (Crimea and the Donbas) are certainly deserving of it. The Quislings in the Donbas certainly deserve it as well.

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            Pedo Putolini is gradually bumping off the Kolorad thugs, thus sparing the expense of a trial and jail sentence. Hopefully he will do us the favour of bumping himself off as well, after bumping off Lozhvrov, Shoigu, Rogozin and Co. (Wishful thinking, I know. Still, one can dream…….).

          • Terry Washington

            The executions of Nazi war criminals in 1946 should be seen in the context of a continent brutalized and ravaged by six years of world war, but I like to think we have evolved morally since those far off days- a period of lengthy(may be even life ) imprisonement should be sufficient punishment. Hey, a nice cozy cell in The Hague, three square meals a day- what;s not to like! We must be merciful even to those who do not deserve mercy!

          • Quartermaster

            Can’t agree with you there. Putin is guilty of crimes against humanity. To whit – aggressive war. He has brutalized the natives of Crimea and the Donbas and should be executed for it. Keeping him in a comfy cell really isn’t anything like what he merits. refusing execution is actually not moral evolution, but devolution.

          • Terry Washington

            No mater how heinous the crimes of Putin may have been, I STILL think that we must NEVER sink to their own level!
            During NI “Troubles” there was frequent talk of restoring death penalty for terrorist bombings but we wisely rejected these calls!

          • Quartermaster

            It isn’t a matter of “sink to their level.” By refusing to bring them to book for the killing and mayhem they have perpetrated you show how little you value those who were murdered as a result of the criminality of people like Putin. It was very unwise to reject restoring death as a penalty for such people.

          • Terry Washington

            Amongst other mthings, once you start killing (for ANY reason), it’s pretty hard to stop At Yalta Churchill advocated the summary execution of Nazi leaders(Stalin of course favoured the mass execution of the German general staff), but wiser heads prevailed in the shape of first FDR and then his successor Harry S.Truman. Let’s get them into court first and then worry about the maximum penalty later!

            PS In my own country, the death penalty has been abolished for half a century see Wikipedia bio entry for Murder(Abolition Of Death Penalty) Act of 1965.

          • Quartermaster

            Killing as carried out in a process meant to yield justice is something that is quite controllable. The French Revolution, or Stalinist purges are what you get when things escape such proceedings.
            It was ironic that Stalin wanted Tribunals and Churchill didn’t. Things still worked out the way Churchill wanted. Frankly, even the Nuremberg trials were tainted with the stench of victor’s justice. The execution of Keitel and Jodl were nothing more than Court Martial sanctioned murder. Neither were given any choice in staying in their positions anymore than Zhukov or Konev did under Stalin. All they were given was a choice of who would carry out their murders.
            While one much be careful on such matters, crimes against humanity should carry the supreme penalty.

          • Terry Washington

            Whilst Nuremburg had its flaws- Fritz Sauckel was executed (along with the presence of Soviet judges such as the notorious Vyshinsky on the bench), whilst his boss Albert Speer was sentenced to 20 years prison, all in all I think flawed justice was and is preferable to no justice .
            The point is that the ICC- unlike the IMT and its Japanese counterpart- will hopefully have learned from the mistakes.
            Apropos of Keitel and Jodel, Kaltenbrunner and their ilk, they were given every chance to defend themselves, even to the extent of calling Allied officers such as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz as defence witnesses- trust me, i doubt if anyone outside their immediate families will miss them!

          • Quartermaster

            Keitel and Jodl were Army Officers that had no choice in their assignments and repeatedly tried to resign. They were forbidden to even submit resignations. Their killings were miscarriages of justice, not merely flawed justice. Who would miss them is irrelevant. It is a black spot in the copybooks of both the US and Great Britain. We see the same thing with the Japanese war crimes trials. Yamashita was executed simply because he beat MacArthur, not because he had done anything. Homma, OTOH, was, most likely, righteously executed. Had they been consistent, Zhukov, Rossikovsky and Konev would climbed the scaffold as well. right after Stalin.
            We see the same thing with the murder of Dostler who ordered the executions of US soldiers captured out of uniform.

          • Terry Washington

            I just looked up “Anton Dostler”‘s bio entry in Wikipedia, the soldiers he ordered shot were wearing US Army uniform and legally entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. Apropos of Nuremburg(and the IMTFE) we must remember that it was the first time such an international tribunal had been formed and there were bound to be a few glitches!
            What’s done is done- we must look to the present and future!

          • Quartermaster

            Wiki can’t be trusted. The sources I’ve seen said that the US troops were captured out of uniform. One source said they were out of uniform and had their uniforms in their possession at the time. One point that needs to be made is that we were not signatories of the Geneva conventions during WW2. Even so, if you are caught behind the lines out of uniform you are subject to summary execution. Dostler was well within the right on the issue. His “execution” was simply, at best, a judicial murder.

            The problem with not looking back is you don’t learn from your mistakes, although I would contend Nuremberg was not a mistake, but simply a proceeding to make things look legal. Putting a Soviet Officer on the tribunal was the height of hypocrisy. Killing Keitel and Jodl was also the height of hypocrisy. They were simply men doing their duty. On that basis, Marshall and King should have been brought before the bar and executed.

          • Terry Washington

            First off all WHO are your sources that you cite(I notice you don’t cite them by name- I suspect that they are Holocaust denying or Neo Nazi “revisionist” sites).? I agree that Wikipedia’s open to criticism of its objectivity, but I have also consulted reputable historians of WWII and The Third Reich such as the late William Shirer’s “The Rise And Fall of The Third Reich” (Pan Books 1964) pp 1137-38 of which deals with the Dostler affair and Shirer(a former Berlin newspaper correspondent) is explcit on the fact that the soldiers in question were in uniform and therefore legally entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention(which even if the US – I assume you are an American- had not signed Germany had and was legally bind ing on the latter).
            Secondl;y, the “just doing their duty “line of argument would have covered not just German and Japanese war criminals but Lt Calley of My Lai infamy or Chrles Graner of Abu Ghraib notoriety!

          • Quartermaster

            Keitel and Jodl were in Berlin almost the entire war. The “doing your duty” does apply to them. Placing them in the same boat with people like Calley is simply foolish. Nor does the argument for the Japanese war criminals, with the exception of Yamashita, whose execution was simply because he had the temerity to beat MacArthur in the filed.

            Some of what Shirer had to say is also questionable. He was part of the leftist coterie that loved Hitler before Barbarossa. You’re welcome to believe what you wish, but Dostler knew about the Geneva Convention and was intelligent enough to know that if they were captured in uniform he had no authority to kill those troops.

          • Terry Washington

            As NEITHER of us seems able to convince the other of the veracity of our respective arguments, I suggest that we should end this discussion. For all the flaws and follies of the International Military Tribunal (and its Japanese counterpart in Tokyo), I think it afforded its defendants infinitely more fairness than the judicial proceedings presided over by Roland Freisler at the People’s Court or his counterpart/inspiration Andrei Vyshinsky during the Moscow show trials in the 1930s in which defendants such as Kamenev, Bukharin and Zinoviev “confessed” to such absurdities as plotting to restore capitalism, overthrow/assassinate Stalin, spy for the Nazis or Japanese
            (even if they were Jewish or Chinese by background)). You are of course withihn your rights to think that it was a judicial frame up, but you are also entitled to believe that the Moon is made of bleu cheese dip, that Elvis Presley is alive and well and living in Pocatello, Idaho or that JFK faked his assassination in Dallas In November 1963 and living in Tahiti or Bimini!

    • Микола Данчук

      You do realize that the KGB would never allow a living war criminal to stand trial. No need to air dirty laundry.

  • zorbatheturk

    The rest of the world needs to understand the difference between a nonexistent civil war and blatant RuSSian aggression perpetuated by the foul cockroach in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin! RuSSian DISinformation will not stand!

    • zorbatheturk

      Putin BS. As all your comments, kremtard. Go suck Putin’s tiny tool. Enjoy!

      • zorbatheturk

        Putin is a poo tin, Kremtard.

        • zorbatheturk

          You suck Putin’s cork!

          • zorbatheturk

            Putin dcik polisher!

          • zorbatheturk

            Putin sucks donkeys!