Russia declares invasion of Ukraine a ‘war’

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The Kremlin has admitted that Russia is in a “state of war” amid a push to increase domestic support for President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine after previously calling it a “special military operation”.

Russia has used the Kremlin-mandated euphemism since the full-scale invasion more than two years ago, in an apparent attempt to convey the impression to the Russian public that the fighting was minor and distant, with little effect on daily life.

But the invasion has increasingly seeped into all aspects of life in Russia, from Ukrainian drone attacks that have reached as far as Moscow to omnipresent patriotic and militarised content in its cultural life. 

“Yes, it started as a special military operation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with Russian newspaper Argumenty i Fakty, published on Friday. 

“But as soon as this gang developed and the collective west started participating in the conflict on the side of Ukraine, for us it became a war,” Peskov said. 

Speaking to reporters after the interview was published, Peskov clarified that Moscow’s legal definition of the conflict had not changed, “but de facto, in reality, for us it has transformed into a war”, Peskov said. 

“I am convinced of this. And everyone must understand this too, for their own internal mobilisation,” he said.

The west’s provision of weaponry and funding for Ukraine — to defend itself from being overrun by Russian forces — was to blame for the “special military operation” turning into a “war”, Peskov said, according to state newswire RIA Novosti.

Almost 20,000 people have been arrested for protesting against the war, with hundreds receiving lengthy prison sentences, according to independent rights monitor OVD-Info.

Police have detained Russians for transgressions including holding up a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace or writing “No to war!” on a ballot at last Sunday’s presidential election, while Russian media have avoided using the word “war” in favour of “special military operation”.

Asked about those arrests, Peskov said “the comparison is inappropriate, because there’s a different context”.

Both Putin and Peskov have in the past used the word “war” in passing to describe the fighting, but it is the first time the Kremlin has so clearly spelt out that the “special military operation” — even if still in place in legal terms — was in a reality a full-blown war.

Analysts saw this as signalling a change in what the Kremlin wants from Russian society.

“So now it’s official: the ‘special military operation’ has been acknowledged as a war,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. 

“Of course, de facto [it] had become a war a long time ago . . . But this is a certain psychological threshold, beyond which the demands on both the population and the elites will be different.”

Peskov also said Russia would continue to fight to seize land from Ukraine in four southern and eastern regions of the country which Moscow claimed as its own in the autumn of 2022, but where it has not managed to secure full control. 

He said that “the main thing” for Russia is to “liberate” these territories, which are internationally recognised as part of Ukraine.

Russia has laid claim to the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions of Ukraine, naming them as Russian in its constitution, but controls only part of each. 

In the Kherson region, Russia briefly occupied the regional capital, also named Kherson, but was pushed out by Ukrainian forces in 2022, and now holds only a share of the province.

It has never managed to secure control over the city of Zaporizhzhia, and Peskov has previously dodged questions about whether the city was part of Russia.  

Ukraine’s continued claim to Crimea and to the four regions means Russia cannot “tolerate” it as a neighbour, Peskov added.

Additional reporting by Max Seddon in Riga

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