Ukraine: Time to call Russian invasion what it is

by | Nov 21, 2014 | Opinion

Serge Halytsky
Guest Columnist

Last week, CTV news reported tanks and armoured vehicles crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine and then went on to refer to those fighters as “Ukrainian rebels” and “separatists.”

On Nov. 12, a New York Times article called Russian mercenaries and soldiers “pro-Russian separatists.” The article cited NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander carefully referring to it as an “incursion”, even though the scale of the situation demands a stronger word.

It calls for the truth.

Being a journalist, and a Canadian-Ukrainian, and having memories of Ukraine still fresh in my mind it makes me wonder: why does the western media repeat Russian propaganda myths about civil war or some mysterious “rebel-fighters” and let the Kremlin claim a propaganda victory?

Why are western leaders still waiting to define events in Ukraine properly, that is, as a Russian invasion?

The people fighting are not Ukrainian, neither are they rebels, by definition. In the best case they are Russian trained, Russian armed, Russian paid, Russian recruited mercenaries; in the worst case they are Russian Army regulars.

It seems like Russian President Vladimir Putin is laughing at us now while sending more troops and tanks to Ukraine’s east.

Yes, Stephen Harper and other G20 leaders demanded Russian troops leave Ukraine at a recent summit in Australia (when Harper famously said he would shake Putin’s hand but Russia needed to get out of Ukraine). But Putin stayed defiant and instead pulled out of the meeting early; and there has been no followup to date on Canada’s part.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, condemned Russia for its tanks crossing the border but wasn’t prepared to call it an invasion, either.

What makes the entire free world media avoid telling the truth? Everyone can see what really happening, but no one wants to state it unambiguously. It’s no secret that Russia actually brought that war into Ukraine, that conflict was created artificially with the annexation of Crimea in March, yet our media has continued calling it a civil war or rebellion.

The number of Russian citizens in the “armies” of the so-called Donetsk/Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine varies from 75 per cent to up to 90 per cent in some specific units, even according to the invaders.

And we keep calling them “Ukrainian rebels”.

Captured “rebels” have repeatedly admitted to Ukrainian officials that they are Regular Russian Army soldiers, identifying their ranks and units.

Yet we keep calling them “separatists.”

In many cases they are not even trying to hide their unit’s insignia.

And we pretend they come in unmarked tanks with no insignia.

Hundreds of tanks, artillery, armoured vehicles, all of which are only used by the Russian army, cross the Ukraine border from Russia on a regular basis, according to innumerable reports in the world press.

Yet we fail to call it an invasion.

There are many reports from Russia of its soldiers refusing to fight the war in Ukraine, or of secret burials of Russian soldiers and mercenaries who died in combat. There are also reports of mercenary recruiting centres all around Russia, specifically invader training camps around the Rostov region, which is close to Ukrainian border.

There is more than enough evidence to start calling it what it really is: Russian imperial expansion carried out by  ussian forces, and yet, our media and even politicians, keep avoiding the problem.

Of course, any statement of this kind would draw dismissive denials from Moscow. Ever since the conflict started we didn’t hear a word of truth from the Kremlin. It seems these people are living in some kind of Orwellian bubble. But as journalists, we have an obligation to tell the truth, call things what they truly are.

Telling the truth would also mean recognizing a Russian threat to the entire western world, ringing a bell that western politicians try to avoid. But we can’t avoid war by ignoring it. Russia poses a threat to our whole post Second World War world order, to the things that we now take for granted.

Clearly, Russia is determined to use its military strength to achieve its imperial objectives and even if the world decides to ignore it, it will not go away. But before we fight this problem we have to define it, start to see a clearer picture.

We have to tell the truth. We owe it to ourselves, our society, no matter how worrisome it is.

So before anything else we have to recognize one thing. This was said by one of the real Russian journalists. “There’s no civil war in Ukraine. There would not be war if there was no Russia.”

Would we make enemies by telling the truth? Yes. But as former U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “Good! That means you stood up for something in your life.”