UN tells comms staff not to call Ukraine conflict ‘war’ or ‘invasion’

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UN tells comms staff not to call Ukraine conflict 'war' or 'invasion'

​The United Nations has advised its communications staffers against using the terms “war” or “invasion” to describe Russia’s attack on Ukraine, according to a report out Tuesday that has some questioning whether the international body is cowed by the Kremlin.

The Irish Times, citing a Monday email from the UN’s global communications department, reported that employees have been told to refer to the fighting as a “conflict” or “military offensive” — even as Russian troops target Ukrainian civilians and more than two million people flee to neighboring countries.

The email also included a warning not to add Ukraine’s distinctive blue and yellow flag to official or personal social media accounts, a gesture that has become a worldwide symbol of support for the country since the Russian invasion began Feb. 24.

The email, which was posted on Twitter by Irish Times reporter Naomi O’Leary, described the cautious policy as a way to avoid “reputational risk.”

“This is an important reminder that we, as international civil servants, have a responsibility to be impartial,” the message said. “There is a serious possibility of reputational risk that has been flagged by senior officials recently.”

The email is striking​ly​ similar to Moscow’s recent edict that the war be called a “special military operation,” and raised concerns that the UN is going too far not to offend Russia, one of five permanent members of the body’s Security Council.

The United Nations has advised its communications staffers against using the terms "war" or "invasion" to describe Russia's attack on Ukraine.
The United Nations has advised its communications staffers against using the terms “war” or “invasion” to describe Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
AP Photo/John Minchillo
People walk next to an apartment building hit by shelling in Mariupol on March 7, 2022.
People walk next to an apartment building hit by shelling in Mariupol on March 7, 2022.
AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka
A man lights a fire under the kettle in a yard of an apartment building hit by shelling.
A man lights a fire under the kettle in a yard of an apartment building hit by shelling.
AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

“Quite clearly this is not just any war, but an illegal war of aggression, that should be condemned from a height by all members of the UN and the UN itself,” Neale Richmond, a member of the Irish Parliament and the Fine Gael political party’s spokesman on European Affairs, told the Irish Times.

“The fact is just because Russia is a big country that has an essential role in the UN, they’re influencing policy in a direction that’s simply false​,” he added.​​

Roskomnadzor, the agency that regulates Russian media, ordered local outlets to delete the words “assault,” “invasion,” or “declaration of war” two days after the attack was launched. The Russian parliament then passed a new law imposing prison terms of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $14,000 for spreading “fake” news about the military, which led a number of international news organizations to go dark or suspend operations in Russia. 

Abandoned vehicles of those who fled sit on the road before the destroyed bridge as people continue to leave the town of Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Abandoned vehicles of those who fled sit on the road before the destroyed bridge as people continue to leave the town of Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda
Ukraine representative to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya speaks during a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
Ukraine representative to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya speaks during a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
The bodies of those killed by Russian artillery ie covered in the street in the town of Irpin on March 6, 2022.
The bodies of those killed by Russian artillery ie covered in the street in the town of Irpin on March 6, 2022.
AP Photo/Diego Herrera Carcedo

A spokesman for UN Secretary General António Guterres told The Post he was not aware of the email and pointed to a Monday tweet by Rosemary DiCarlo, the American head of the body’s political and peacebuilding department, to indicate the policy was not universally binding.

“Nearly two weeks on, it is painfully clear that those suffering the most after Russia’s invasion of #Ukraine are civilians — killed, wounded displaced,” DiCarlo tweeted. “This war is senseless. We are ready to support all good-faith efforts at negotiation to end the bloodshed.”

Guterres himself avoided using the terms “war” or “invasion” in remarks to the media last week after the UN General Assembly voted to denounce Russia’s attack.

An elderly woman is coated in snow as she sits in a wheelchair after being evacuated from Irpin.
An elderly woman is coated in snow as she sits in a wheelchair after being evacuated from Irpin.
AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda
People carry a wounded woman during the evacuation by civilians of a Ukrainian town on March 8, 2022.
People carry a wounded woman during the evacuation by civilians of a Ukrainian town on March 8, 2022.
ERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images
A mother sleeps with her children among many others in a temporary shelter hosting the Ukrainian refugees located in a former shopping center near the city of Przemysl.
A mother sleeps with her children among many others in a temporary shelter hosting the Ukrainian refugees located in a former shopping center near the city of Przemysl.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP via Getty Images

“The message of the General Assembly is loud and clear,” he said at the time. “End hostilities in Ukraine now. Silence the guns now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy now.”

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