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UN refrains from calling Ukraine conflict ‘war’ or ‘invasion’ – media

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The alleged language guidelines are an effort to remain “impartial”

The United Nations has banned its staff from referring to the conflict in Ukraine as a “war” or an “invasion,” and forbidden them from adding the Ukrainian flag to their social media profiles, according to an Irish Times report on Tuesday. In such matters, the UN reportedly told its employees that they have a “responsibility to be impartial.”

In an email to staff on Monday, the UN’s communications department reportedly set out “some specific examples of language to use/not use at the moment.”

“[Use] ‘conflict’ or ‘military offensive’ and NOT ‘war’ or ‘invasion’ when referring to the situation in Ukraine,” the email apparently read, before warning employees: “Do NOT add the Ukrainian flag to personal or official social media accounts or websites.”

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

Impartiality in matters of war and peace is considered important at the United Nations, especially considering Russia occupies a permanent seat on its Security Council. However, diplomats from western countries have used the UN as a platform to signal their opposition to Russia, with dozens walking out during a speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week, and others placing placards reading “Stands with Ukraine” beside their nameplates during a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Tuesday.

Russia does not describe its own actions in Ukraine as an “invasion,” but a “special military operation” aimed at neutralizing what it views as a hostile government in Kiev. Due to a recently passed law targeting “fake news” in regards to the conflict in Ukraine, Russian media outlets have been avoiding use of such terms as “assault,” “invasion,” or “war,” using either the Kremlin’s terminology or the politically neutral and factually correct “military offensive” instead. 

Western outlets and government have for the most part sided with Ukraine in calling the situation an “invasion” or “war of aggression,” despite Kiev itself still avoiding officially declaring war.

At time of writing, the UN has not commented on the email. Mikhail Podolyak, advisor to the Ukrainian president, has called the publication in The Irish Times a “Russian provocation.” 

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