- A Russian lawmaker is calling for legal action against Putin for calling the Ukraine invasion a “war.”
- Putin signed a law in March that effectively made it illegal to call the invasion a war.
- Until Thursday, Putin had publicly referred to the war only as a “special military operation.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly described the conflict in Ukraine as a “war” for the first time on Thursday, previously only referring to the unprovoked invasion he launched in late February as a “special military operation.” A Russian lawmaker is now calling for Putin to face legal action over the comment and wants prosecutors to investigate, contending the remark violates a law the Russian leader himself signed earlier this year.
“Our goal is not to spin this flywheel of a military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” Putin said during a press conference Thursday. “This is what we are striving for.”
Nikita Yuferev, a lawmaker in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg, said that this comment is not consistent with a law Putin signed that effectively criminalized referring to Russia’s assault on Ukraine as a “war” or “invasion.” The law made it illegal to spread “false information” about the Russian military, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, which essentially made criticism of the war a criminal offense.
“Vladimir Putin called the war a war but there was no decree to end the special military operation and no war was declared,” Yuferev said on social media, per the Moscow Times, adding, “I sent an appeal to the authorities so Putin can see justice for spreading ‘fake news’ about the army.”
Critics of Putin have often ended up behind bars or died in violent ways. Putin’s most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, nearly died in 2020 after he was poisoned with the Soviet era nerve agent Novichok in Siberia. After receiving treatment in Germany, Navalny returned to Moscow in early 2021 and was promptly arrested and sentenced to prison on charges widely decried as politically motivated. Navalny remains behind bars, where he continues to criticize Putin and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Earlier this month, a Moscow court sentenced opposition politician Ilya Yashin to eight and a half years in prison for spreading “false information” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yashin, an ally of Navalny and vocal critic of the war, had spoken about atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, a Kyiv suburb, on his YouTube channel.
Yevgeny Roizman, a former mayor of the Russian city of Ekaterinburg, in August was detained on charges of “discrediting” the Russian military. Roizman told reporters he was detained after referring to Russia’s war in Ukraine as an “invasion.”
Indeed, Putin has gone to extraordinary lengths to censor criticism of the Russian government and the war in Ukraine.
Despite the risks of publicly opposing the Russian leader and the ongoing invasion, Yuferev told Reuters it was important for him to draw attention to the contradiction and the injustice of these laws that [Putin] adopts and signs but which he himself doesn’t observe.”
“I think the more we talk about this, the more people will doubt his honesty, his infallibility, and the less support he will have,” Yuferev added.
Putin and other top Russian officials avoided calling the Ukraine conflict a “war,” instead employing the phrase “special operation,” in an apparent effort to diminish the scale of the invasion to the Russian public. In reality, Russia’s offensive in Ukraine is the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II.