When the Russian leader sent his troops into Ukraine last February, he called it a “special military operation” – a euphemism that the Kremlin, Russian ministers and state media have mostly used in their rhetoric, even coining a new Russian acronym, SVO.
Shortly after the invasion, Russian media were banned from calling the conflict a war, following the passage of several very broad laws. In short, the Russian media either followed orders or were forced to shut down.
But in response to what Russia says was a major Ukrainian drone attack on Moscow, Putin used the word “war” four times last week, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the Kremlin.
“No matter what we say, they will always try to put the blame on Russia, but that is wrong: we did not start this war, I repeat, in 2014. “The Kyiv regime started the war in Donbas,” V. Putin said.
The remark was broadcast on state-run Rossiya television during Sunday’s primetime program.
On May 9, Victory Day, when Russians commemorate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, the country’s leader told veterans in Red Square: “A real war has begun again against our Motherland.”
Western diplomat in Moscow: “It’s surprising how Putin and the elite seem to be breaking their own rules.”
In recent months, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the head of the private military group Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin have publicly used the Russian word “voina” for war.
“We are basically living in a state of war,” claimed Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, which has come under attack by pro-Ukraine Russian militants in recent weeks.
Even the Russian elite, speaking in private circles, calls what Russia is doing in Ukraine a war.
Even a seemingly insignificant change in public official rhetoric gives an idea of how the Kremlin’s perception has changed – and could indicate what the future holds after more than 15 months of Europe’s most brutal war since World War II, Reuters news agency noted.
“It’s surprising how Putin and the elite seem to be breaking their own rules,” one Western diplomat in Moscow told the agency.
“More importantly, what does this say about the future: does war mean a more serious attitude and what will Russia look like in wartime?” he added.
Former Kremlin speechwriter Abbas Galiamov emphasized that it is important not to forget that the euphemism of “special military operation” was invented at a time when “they thought they would win quickly and without shedding blood, like in Crimea.”
“But now it is clear to everyone that this is a war. And this became clear a long time ago, when everyone realized that “blitzkrieg” had failed,” A. Galiamov commented.
Reuters pointed out that V. Putin rarely used this term last year.
When he declared in September that four regions of Ukraine were part of Russia, he called the conflict a war, in October he said the West was “inciting war”, and in December he was even more specific, calling it “this war”.
This prompted St. Petersburg councilor Nikita Yuferev to file a complaint.
“Sooner or later we will achieve that everyone will call it a war and recognize it as a war,” N. Juferev claimed to the news agency. “And war can mean martial law, mobilization of the economy, mobilization of the army and reservists.”
The Kremlin has said there are no plans for martial law or further mobilization after a limited mobilization last year.
But last month, Putin approved amendments to allow elections to be held under martial law, and defense companies have called in extra shifts to work almost around the clock.
The attacks inside Russia, which Moscow blames on Ukraine, have hardened opinion in the Kremlin, emboldening supporters who are proposing a much tougher approach to a war that Putin says Russia is not even serious about.
In Moscow, the war is seen as existential and decorated with Russian Orthodox symbolism.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of a Russian private military group, who accuses Putin’s top government officials of destroying the Russian military, raised the prospect that events will unfold in the same way as during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile.
“People write to me that we need to do Chile to defend ourselves. Chile is Pinochet, Chile is the Russian elite – or primarily the bureaucratic elite – in the stadium, surrounded by people with automatic weapons,” said J. Prigozhin.
“This is not a game,” he added. “We’re losing this war.”
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