The “Ukrainian war” is not enough. Let’s call it that: the illegal invasion of Russia
By Ane Mestvedthagen, Public Affairs Officer, International Association for Democracy
Some newsrooms may prefer the term “war in Ukraine” as it may sound less biased than “invasion”. However, using the correct term would be a more accurate description of what is currently happening in Ukraine, writes Ane Mestvedthagen.
“Ukrainian war” and “war in Ukraine” are terms frequently used by the media to refer to the war illegally launched by Russia on February 24, 2022.
But if Russia started the war by invading its peaceful neighbor, why isn’t the media using terms like “Russian invasion of Ukraine” instead? And why is it important to know how the media refer to it?
This may seem like a minor detail. But how we approach war becomes crucial for our understanding of what is happening and for public opinion.
Empathy takes a hit
Although the “war in Ukraine” may seem more impactful than “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” or “Russia’s war”, it may give the impression that Ukraine shares at least a part blame for Russia’s war of aggression.
This was seen in a news article published by the BBC earlier this year.
The article began by stating that “the war in Ukraine will drive up energy prices and put even more pressure on British families”. In fact, the article does not mention Russia once.
It also featured a link to another article titled “Five Ways the War in Ukraine Could Drive Up Prices.”
In articles dealing with spillovers to other countries, it is particularly important to use precise terminology.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused economic hardship and increased prices for essential goods such as electricity, gasoline and food.
For struggling families in Europe and around the world, it could be difficult to feel sympathy for Ukraine if the perception is given that the invaded country and not the invader is the reason for these economic difficulties.
Calling it “Ukrainian crisis” is worse for readers
The BBC article is one example, but far from the only one. The media often blame the inflation on the “Ukrainian war” rather than the “Russian invasion”.
Although the issue was most prominent during last year’s large-scale media coverage of inflation and rising prices, it remains a term commonly used in price discussions, seen both by Reuters and the Washington Post.
In articles discussing the invasion itself, several news sites use “Ukrainian War” in their tags and titles, supplemented by “Russia Invasion” and “Act of aggression” in the article itself. It’s a beginning.
More controversial is the term “Ukrainian crisis”, which downplays the act of aggression committed against Ukraine.
Along the same lines, the “Russian-Ukrainian War” alludes to a mutual fight between two countries rather than an invasion.
Ukraine defends its right to exist
UN Secretary-General António Guterres refers to it as “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”; the attack is considered a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, contrary to the principles of the United Nations Charter.
The EU describes Russia’s war against Ukraine as “unprovoked and unjustified military aggression”, and the Council of Europe refers to “the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine”.
The International Association for Democracy (IAD) agrees with the EU, the UN and the Council of Europe and recommends using the term “illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia”.
The news media should refrain from using words that could lead their audience to believe that Ukraine is the source of this increase in living expenses.
After all, Ukraine is defending its right to exist against an illegal and unprovoked invasion.
It would therefore be prudent to encourage corporations and the media to assess how they speak and write about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
We should talk about how Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine will drive up energy prices and how Russia’s act of aggression could drive up prices elsewhere in Europe. Not the opposite.
Using the right term doesn’t make coverage less objective
Some newsrooms may prefer the term “war in Ukraine” as it may sound less biased than “invasion”. The media should indeed strive to obtain objective information.
However, using the correct term would not create less objective media coverage. Rather, it would be a more accurate description of what is currently happening in Ukraine.
The world witnessed in horror the illegal invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army just over a year ago. Russian leader Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia had carried out a “special military operation” to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine”.
However, few, if any, Western countries believed this claim. Since the start of the invasion, multiple atrocities have come to light.
There has been a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Several war crimes have been committed against civilians and infrastructure.
Let’s call it what it is
Ukrainians have shown immense resilience in the face of Russian troops in the struggle to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty.
The rest of Europe has provided Ukraine with economic, military and diplomatic support.
The EU will continue to defend Ukraine’s democratic freedom for as long as it takes, as EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell stressed earlier this year. Unity with Ukraine remains strong, and rightly so.
However, to ensure that unity for Ukrainian sovereignty remains constant, we must remember to support Ukraine even by the way we speak, and we must avoid giving the wrong impression about who is responsible for the difficulties.
Let’s call it what it is. An illegal invasion. An act of aggression. Made by Russia.
_Ane Mestvedthagen is a public affairs officer at the International Association for Democracy (IAD), where she works to raise awareness of democracy issues around the world.
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