In an unexpected turn of events, Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally acknowledged that his military intervention in Ukraine is indeed a “war,” deviating from his usual euphemistic reference to it as a “special military operation.”
This rare admission by Putin occurred during a meeting where he directly addressed the media and military bloggers on June 13.
During the meeting, Putin used the word “war” multiple times while issuing a warning to the West about the possibility of Russia establishing a “sanitary zone” in Ukraine to safeguard itself against potential attacks.
This admission is particularly significant because it runs counter to Russia’s propaganda laws, which prohibit any description of the conflict in Ukraine as a war.
The phrase “special military operation” had been used by Putin when he announced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. At that time, Putin claimed that the operation aimed to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine.
However, the international community swiftly recognized the invasion for what it truly was: a declaration of war.
It was widely believed that Putin employed the term “special military operation” to avoid mobilizing the general public for a full-fledged war, thus keeping the brutal reality of the battlefield at a distance from the lives of ordinary Russians.
Furthermore, the use of this phrase suggested that the offensive would be easily won, requiring only specialized soldiers.
Putin justified Russia’s actions by alleging that they were in response to the expansion of NATO and made baseless claims that Kyiv’s government needed to be liberated from supposed “Nazis.”
In response to public backlash, the press was also prohibited from using the terms “war” or “invasion,” effectively making it illegal to challenge the Kremlin’s narrative.
Now, a year and a half later, Russia expresses concerns that Ukraine might launch an assault on Crimea, which has been under Russian occupation since 2014.
While this is not the first time Putin has used the term “war,” he previously mentioned it during a televised news conference in December 2022, stating that their goal was to end the war rather than perpetuate it. However, he still attributed the prolongation of the war to Western influence.
Critics of those punished for referring to the conflict as a war quickly seized on Putin’s recent admission, highlighting that no official declaration of war had been made and suggesting that Putin himself should be held accountable for spreading disinformation.
The significance of Putin’s repeated use of the term “war” during the meeting cannot be understated. It indicates a struggle within the Kremlin to manipulate the narrative surrounding the war in Ukraine.
Additionally, it signifies the increasing influence of unofficial online commentators who are not as easily controlled as state-run media.
Curiously, after the meeting, Putin refrained from using the word “war” publicly for several months until this recent press interaction in June.
This change in approach may be attributed to his failed attempt to connect with young bloggers, which inadvertently highlighted his reliance on them rather than the other way around, as suggested by expert Mark Galeotti.
Overall, the meeting served as an attempt by Putin to address the widespread discontent within the Russian information space. This could explain why he was more willing to refer to the conflict as a “war” on this occasion.
Notably, absent from the meeting were any supporters of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, who has become increasingly critical of the Kremlin.
The Moscow Times, a Russian-language newspaper, covered the meeting with the striking headline: “The king is naked!” underscoring the significance and impact of Putin’s admission.
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