The fiction ends here

February 2, 2015 § 6 Comments

Terrorist? Soldat? Separatist? Kombattant?

Terrorist? Soldier? Separatist? Combatant?

There’s war between Russia and Ukraine. If you are new to this conflict, or have relied on nothing but radio and TV news, you might however think it’s a war between a horrible nazi state and peace-loving rebels.

So-called “established media” – championed by BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, New York Times, The Guardian, The Independent and what have you – as represented by their indifferent, disinterested and ill-researched journalists, have dished out a Russian propaganda narrative ever since the Russian military invasion of Crimea. The narrative, or “story”, wants you to believe that fighting in Ukraine is a clash between Ukrainian regular troops (or even  “troops loyal to Kiev”) and so-called “rebels”, “separatists” and “pro-russia forces”. The latter category is usually writ without citation marks, a not so minor omission that lends a measure of validity to a shaky concept.

This is a fiction.

It is high time to puncture the myth and the fiction surrounding these “rebels” and “separatists”, and to STOP using Russian semantics in reports and commentary about Ukraine.

The fiction has gained traction through a wide distribution of these concepts, not merely in media but also through politicians, security experts and other pundits who are widely cited among peers, thus making the wrongful use of misleading words permanent and exceedingly difficult to dislodge.

It’s a question of semantics: of the meaning and use of words, of association, of reference, substitution, concept and interpretation – classic topics that journalism schools worldwide should have on the curriculum. However, a quick glance shows that a very large proportion of commentators must have slept through that particular class.


The search for a truthful concept
The standard interpretation of “rebel” turns your mind to romantic guerilla warriors rising against an oppressive central power: Che Guevara, Pancho Villa, Guiseppe Garibaldi, Spartacus et al – or popular culture rebel icons such as James Dean, Robin Hood and Marlon Brando. It’s easy to like the rebel: he’s an underdog fighting for the people, for justice, for freedom. The Russian “rebels” have NOTHING in common with that concept or such role models.


The dictionary says that a rebel is someone rising in opposition against an established regime, brandishing pitchforks and Kalashnikovs doled out of cupboards and illicit crates. This is a decent description that could also apply to the “rebels” in Ukraine – were it not for the fact that 80-90% (opinions vary) of the “rebels” in Donbas comprise uniformed citizens of Russia, some hailing from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Belarus and the farthest reaches of Wherever. The homegrown component of the”rebel army” is melting away daily and is used primarily as a fig leaf for regular Russian troops in their own or borrowed uniforms.

If these “rebels” were truly rebels, they would, as Russians, turn around and train their guns on Moscow, not Kyiv.

It is therefore gravely misleading to use the “rebel” title as description of Russian and/or Russian-backed militants fighting in Ukraine.

Inte rebell.

Not a rebel.

How about separatist then, is that OK?
The standard interpretation of “separatist” is just as gravely misleading when applied to the fighters in Ukraine. The so-called “separatists”, chiefly comprising Russians, certainly do want to “separate” Donbas from Ukraine – or more correctly, conquer Donbas for Russia, or yet more despicably, the terrible fiction “Novorossiya”.

What we are seeing in eastern Ukraine is not a “war of separation” but a war of conquest. It’s a project initiated by Russia, planned by Russia and staffed by Russia: it is supported logistically, financially, morally, propagandistically and militarily by Russia, a war that that would not and could not happen without Russia’s complete support. A homegrown “separatist army” would not last a week without Russia’s active support.

There is no doubt about this. So why does not truth appear in the semantics of war, why is truth so conspicuously absent in the narrative as told by supposedly unbiased western reporters? Why is this erroneous fiction about “rebels” and “separatists” upheld in domestic and international media?

The credulous among us refer to carelessness, laziness, ignorance and want for better words. (!)

The scribes seek shelter among colleagues and peers and simply write “such as every one else does”. Or, as you may want to call it: they abdicate from responsibility.

The more seasoned and/or conspiratorially inclined among us would rather claim that it is a case of accepting an established narrative. The writer/journalist/commentator accepts the semantics established by Russia and does not rebel against it (no pun). The correct epithet for this is collaborator, or, at the very least, willing or unwitting accomplice to dissemination of a hostile narrative. Another word for this is useful idiot. You don’t want to be one of those.

There is a cure.
The cure is called TELL IT LIKE IT IS, also known as The Truth.

To begin with: the people fighting against Ukraine in Donbas (and maybe elsewhere before you know it) are primarily Russian combatants. They have a long rap sheet of terror acts stretching back to Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Horlivka, Donetsk, Luhansk, Mariupol and, never to forget, the downing of Malaysian Air MH17. As perpetrators of terrorism these combatants have earned the sobriquet terrorist in spades.

Secondly, the so-called “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk are not real republics in the traditional sense: they are nothing but wholly Russian constructs. They have no jurisdiction and rely exclusively on reign of terror and firearms as means of authority. They have been branded as terrorist organisations by Ukraine’s Rada and Ukraine is now working flat out so that the rest of the world shall also brand them as such, on par with ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas and Al-Qaeda. This lends further motive power to the logic of calling Russian combatants and their front men by their true name: they are terrorists.

Bare-chested terrorist leader.

Afraid to state the truth?
If you dare not utter the word terrorist or terrorist state when referring to Russia and Russian soldiers in Ukraine, it is perfectly all right to use conventional terms: Russia, Russia-supported terrorists, Russian soldiers, regular Russian units, mercenaries and, in the kindest possible variant, irregular fighters. However, calling regular Russian formations irregular might be stretching it a tad too far, and the Russians may take offense and lament the fact that they’re cheated of glory under their own flag (which is anyway present in profusion). In the end the actual label is up to the scribe and his/her conscience. Thus far it has not worked particularly well.

Russia is no doubt the only state supplying Donbas terrorists with advanced weaponry such as uniquely modern T-72B3 tanks and Vystrel combat vehicles, high performance surface-to-air missile systems, radar vehicles, artillery localization equipment, multiple launch rocket artillery systems, electronic countermeasures vehicles and weapons of such types and recent production that only VDV, Spetsnaz and other specialized Russian troops have access to. You will not find this kind of stuff in abandoned Ukrainian barracks. This is Russian materiel of the latest mark.

There is ample evidence of direct Russian intervention in Donbas and presence of regular Russian troops from named and localized units. To shroud these verified Russian troops in terms of “rebels” and “separatists” is an outright lie. You need not look very far for evidence. You can look here, look at this, and then continue here, just to get you started. In the latest news, Russian combatants are firing MLRS artillery strikes at their own side of the line in an attempt to blame Ukraine for this outrage. This is not the first occasion nor is it the last.

Yes, all terrorists and Russian combatants in Ukraine are pro-Russian, precisely as German soldiers during WWII were pro-German, quite like American soldiers in Iraq were pro-American. The term is silly. You should stop using it immediately.

Thus, looking back to key concepts and descriptions, it now behooves journalists, commentators, pundits and world-renowned media to stop lying, to stop using false labels, and to start telling the truth about Russia’s war against Ukraine.


Addendum Feb 14: More reading on the subject: Lilia Shevtsova writes brilliantly about the foul political and media charade regarding Russia and Ukraine. It’s a long piece but well worth your time.


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§ 6 Responses to The fiction ends here

  • Tom says:

    I agree with you that Russia is perpetuating this war with both weapons, soldiers and expertise.

    However, your whole argument regarding media semantics is hinged upon the idea that the majority of those fighting against the Ukrainian Army (note my care) are Russians from Russia proper.

    Given this, could you perhaps have sourced more than the one tweet by Ukraine’s ambassador to Austria? There are plenty of vocal elderly locals angry with Kiev, so it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility that many of the able locals have taken up the torch. Indeed, many Ukrainian soldiers defected to “DNR” very early in the piece, often taking their mech/weapons with them.

    • jkylander says:

      I’m glad that you agree. Your point about my argument and its sourcing is valid, to a degree. More sources is of course important for overall credibility, and I’ll make sure to add some more over time to satisfy that demand.

      That said, YOUR argument is even less studded with evidence than mine, hinging as it does on a fantasy of “angry able locals” and “defecting Ukrainian soldiers” that is clearly rooted in a hopelessly romantic view of the “rebel” side. Even if there were legions of “angry able locals”, they would not be able, let alone be allowed, to operate Russia’s latest sophisticated gear, its Vystrel fighting vehicles, or know their way around an artillery radar.

      With regard to propaganda semantics I must say that it is NOT dependent on the ratio of vatniks to bona-fide Russians. The propaganda narrative and journalists’ choice of words is in NO way affected by that. If you believe that, you also believe in horoscopes.

      There is of course some bad blood between Donbass and Kyiv, and rightly so: Donbass was run over and sacked by Yanukovich and the likes of him for years, thus creating a very healthy and natural distrust towards central government. Maidan ousted Yanik. Donbass (at least the loud minority) didn’t wait to see what good would come out of it but were easy targets for swiftly deployed Russian propaganda. It is also pertinent to observe that until Russia started sending easy money, titushki and illegalists into the country, Donbass was cool as a cucumber. No rebels. No separatists. No nothing, except very disgruntled people who felt cheated out of their lives by various brands of kleptocrats. The rest is what we’re seeing now.

    • in 1932-1933, Russia’s Communist regime starved to death local population of Eastern Ukraine and the territories now called Donbas region were repopulated by Russians of the worst kind. In 1996, KGB and the ruling mafia of Russian have physically destroyed everyone who had power and influence in the region and set their own ‘governors’ of Donbas : the now officially wealthiest Ukrainian Renat Akhmetov and Victor Yankovich, the run away president. Ever since that region have been used by Kremlin as the platform for a planned takeover of Ukraine. Its population have been prepared for annexation of it from Ukraine in every possible way from anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian medial propaganda to creation of various organizations training and nurturing and paying the future separatists. By 1998, there wasn’t a single noticeable business that would not controlled by the empire of Akmetov-Yanukovich. All business people, who opposed to that or tried to maintain their independence / ownership were brutally assassinated: in front of their children, burned alive, buried alive.. all kids of ways for discourage any resistance. Donbas has become demoralized zombi-land, ruled by the two super thugs with the region’s low-enforcement forces becoming their personal army. That ruling clique of Russia have started growing their very own future president of Ukraine, who was supposed to come to power in a few years and return the entire country back under Russian rule. I would not refer to the ‘angry elders of Donbas ‘ as a valid argument to why what’s going on in Donbas it is not a Russian invasion.

      • jkylander says:

        “I would not refer to the ‘angry elders of Donbas‘ as a valid argument to why what’s going on in Donbas it is not a Russian invasion.”
        I agree with your text, however, we are indubitably seeing a very concrete Russian armed invasion into a sovereign Ukrainian region.

  • […] Semantics dictate perception and politics – and is the foundation of journalism. This is ever so obvious in the case of Ukraine where not only bullets and shells fly but where there is also an ongoing battle about words and interpretation on the infowar battlefield. A key question in this battle is how to designate the so-called “people’s republics” in Luhansk and Donetsk: what are they really? Are they real, elected, i.e. democratic, organs for a solid popular will, with their own functioning political infrastructure? Or are they cynical fantasies, a propagandistic narrative and tool for Russian destabilization, created by the Russian state apparatus to cloak a war of aggression against Ukraine? […]

  • […] carries no weight or that it is of no import. It is of the utmost importance to cleanse the vocabulary, to speak up against these grotesque lies, to combat this awful degeneration of the public […]

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