Wording matters: why the world should call  war a war

Territorial defense fighters. Photo Marienko Andrii UNIAN

The proper terms for what is going on in Ukraine right now are “war”, “invasion” or the “armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine”. The reference to Russia as an aggressor State always has to be made.

24 February 2022, the Russian Federation launched a full-scale war against Ukraine, committing an act of aggression, an attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, a grave violation of the UN Charter and fundamental norms and principles of international law.

The Russian troops have openly attacked Ukraine, invading Ukraine’s sovereign territory with regular troops, armored vehicles, artillery, aviation, and missiles, killing civilians and ruining infrastructure. Thus, the term “armed conflict” must be applied, in which Russia is the aggressor state and Ukraine is the one defending itself.

The “crisis” is an inappropriate term when describing the war in Ukraine. It has been used mistakenly by some international organizations since 2014, as Russia, being a member of such organizations, blocked the use of any other term related to the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Although the “crisis” was quite widespread in the media due to its use by international organizations, there are no grounds to use it by media and civil society since 24 February. The term “Ukrainian war” is also unacceptable, as it caters to the narratives of Russian propaganda that aims at shifting responsibility to Ukraine.

Key arguments:

  • The actions of the Russian Federation fall under the definition of aggression in accordance with the provisions of the UN General Assembly resolution  3314 (XXIX) “Definition of aggression”.
  • In response to Russia’s actions, Ukraine is entitled to its right of  self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky has imposed martial law to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  • Russia has been long preparing for the full-scale invasion. Before the invasion, it concentrated about 150 000 troops along Ukraine’s border and conducted militarization of the illegally occupied Crimea. 
  • Today Russian troops widely use operational and tactical aircraft, high-precision long-range weapons, and multiple rocket launcher systems against the Ukrainians. Moreover, Russia is conducting covert mobilization and intends to deploy Syrian combatants in Ukraine.
  • For years, Russia had rejected its military presence in Donbas. On  February 24, the aggressor state openly invaded Ukraine, claiming so-called “denazification” as a legitimate reason for aggression.
  • The Russian Federation is shelling civilian targets: residential areas, schools, hospitals, maternity hospitals, and humanitarian corridors. Russia is thus committing crimes against humanity and violating the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of War Victims.
  • As of March 12, the number of peaceful Ukrainian citizens who died at the hands of Russian occupiers is higher than the number of our military members of all defense sectors who were killed in battle.
  • Given the above, the use of the word “crisis” to refer to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine is unacceptable. Russia wages war against Ukraine.
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