Words Matter: Russian Forces in Ukraine are not ‘militants’ or ‘rebels’ but ‘invaders’ and ‘occupiers’

A soldier of the Russian occupation force in Ukraine

A soldier of the Russian occupation force in Ukraine 

2014/08/03 • Analysis & Opinion, Featured

Ever since Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Ukraine began, the Western media have struggled over what to call the forces on whom he has relied, tending in far too many cases to use either meaningless euphemisms like “little green men” or terms that lend legitimacy to Moscow’s claims like “militants” or “rebels” against Kyiv.

But as it becoming clearer with each passing day, especially as it appears Moscow is preparing to launch a full-scale invasion of southeastern Ukraine, these “pro-Russian” forces are far more accurately described not as “militants” or “rebels” but as “occupiers,” citizens of a foreign state seeking to rule over the territory of a neighboring one.

As ever more Ukrainian and some Western media outlets have documented, an ever higher percentage of the organizers and even executors of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk “peoples republics” are not citizens of Ukraine but instead citizens of the Russian Federation. Consequently, they should not be described as “rebels.”

The clearest exposition of this is provided by Casey Michel in The Moscow Times. She writes that “if the annihilation of MH17 ends in anything, it should be the realization that these men are neither ‘Ukrainian’ nor ‘rebels’ … they are outsiders and usurpers, men with either mercenary or imperial motivations.”

Those involved are not Ukrainian citizens who oppose Kyiv’s pro-European choice, she writes. “They are pro-Russian” and “they are separatists.” But they are not separatists from the inside but from the outside: “these men are invaders — and they are not Ukrainians.” Instead, those doing the fighting “are a compendium of post-Soviet citizenships.”

“Although some are undoubtedly motivated by mercenary inclinations, many non-Ukrainians are there for more than money,” she says. “An Armenian citizen recruited through the separatists’ Moscow office, who has since left the ranks of the separatists, said that he was “fighting for [the Soviet Union].” A Turkmen national, swathed in Soviet regalia, was filmed a few days later saying much the same thing.”

“For a certain sector of the post-Soviet populace, 1991 never happened. For this group, nostalgic for the Soviet Union, the men in eastern Ukraine are rebels and freedom fighters, rather than the Russian-led, Russian-backed marauders that the West and the Ukrainian government recognizes them to be.”

“But the West should not help them out by labeling them as “Ukrainian rebels,” the Bishkek-based American commentator says. “Only a handful of these men are Ukrainian. And given their either mercenary or imperial motivations, they are closer to invaders by definition than ‘rebels.’”

In the wake of the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner, she argues, “calling them what they really are is the least we can do.”

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  • Milton Devonair

    “terrorists….russians….terrorists….russians….”
    What’s the difference again?

  • Eugene Berkovich

    Most of these people ARE invaders.

  • Andrij_aka_Andy

    Everyone repeat after me: “KREMLIN-BACKED TERRORISTS” … “KREMLIN-BACKED TERRORISTS” … “KREMLIN-BACKED TERRORISTS” … “KREMLIN-BACKED TERRORISTS” !!! These predominantly Russian miscreants need to be exposed for what they are: “KREMLIN-BACKED TERRORISTS” – after that, you can call them saboteurs, invaders and occupiers all you want. The separatists are an insignificant and petty lot, the militants and rebels are not far behind. “KREMLIN-BACKED TERRORISTS” are what we need to teach the world to sing!

    • Dave Ralph

      “terrorists” is the wrong word. These guys are enemy soldiers in a war. Calling war an “anti-terrorist operation” is 100% propaganda; and not very effective propaganda at that.

      • http://euromaidanpress.com Mat

        Not true, these guys are terrorists by any definition of the word. A soldier engaging in terrorism is a terrorist.

        • Andrij_aka_Andy

          Agree with Mat. Furthermore, whether we like it or not, Ukraine is not officially in a state of war – one has not been proclaimed either by the offender or the defender. ATO is accurate and until further notice, we should support Ukraine’s president by properly describing the participants during the country’s official course of action in an attempt to stop Voldemort Putler, International Terrorist Extraordinaire.