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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Glossary Edits War Language




There are no ground forces operating in Chechnya, as the Russian military sees it. There are no refugees fleeing the region, and there aren't any Chechen fighters.


That's according to the new glossary of military terms to be used by the armed forces press services.


Instead of messy, casualty-ridden "ground operations," the proper term is this 34-word expression: "special operations of the units and sub-units of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the forces of the Interior Ministry for the liberation of Chechen territory from the control of bandits."


And despite official government estimates that there are over 150,000 refugees from the fighting, the term "refugee" is not to be used, with no alternative term given.


Moreover, "Chechen fighters" should be renamed "Chechen terrorists," or "international characters belonging to organized fighting groups and those behind their creation."


The new terms were sent to all military departments by Rosinformcenter, the government's new information center set up to put out the government's version of the war, Kommersant reported on Friday. Rosinformcenter officials would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the document Monday. But the Defense Ministry press office, asked about the Kommersant report, confirmed that use of such terminology is now official policy.


Reports of the new ways of describing things come on the heels of President Boris Yeltsin's statements that the Kremlin will be paying close attention to media reports on the war so that Chechen rebels cannot manipulate public opinion.


Yeltsin's spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin was quoted as saying by Interfax on Monday that Yeltsin has "emphasized the need for approaches that are as considered and responsible as possible, because terrorists might use any accidentally dropped word to their benefit."


But political analysts say the new terminology is nothing less than an attempt to keep up public support for the war by putting the best face on things. The new glossary eliminates many terms commonly associated with the fighting in Chechnya. Some new phrases seem aimed at describing the Chechen rebels as terrorists, while others avoid reference to civilian hardships.


For instance, the term "filtration" is banned. Filtration camps were where Russian forces confined thousands of Chechens during the 1994-96 war, supposedly to filter out guerrillas hiding among civilians - but where many civilians died in abusive conditions. Now, winnowing refugees is "random checking" or "identification of persons appearing on territories neighboring Chechnya or near units of the Russian Federation's armed forces."


The word Wahhabi - a common term for Islamic extremists - should be omitted from all military press statements and replaced with "extremist" or "religious extremism," according to a press spokesman for the Defense Ministry, who declined to give his name.


Some expressions seek to avoid any hint that Chechnya is separate from Russia. The "sanitary zone," or much-discussed buffer area to contain the rebels, should be referred to instead as the "zone of safety along the administrative border with the Republic of Chechnya," or "the territory freed from international terrorists." The term "administrative border" is favored by the government to emphasize that it's not an international border.


"Precision strikes" have been renamed "strikes aimed at the annihilation of the infrastructure and manpower of international terrorists."


Analysts say the new approach to public relations is a lesson Russia learned from NATO's air war in Kosovo. It's the West that gave the world phrases like "collateral damage" for "unintentionally killing civilians" and "non-permissive environment" for "combat."


"Russia saw how effectively the United States managed to control the media without heavy-handed censorship. The information was always helping those who supported the war," said Boris Kagarlitsky, a political analyst with the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Comparative Politics.


The government isn't forcing news media to use the new terms. But if military representatives use the new expressions exclusively, Kagarlitsky said, they will inevitably make their way into public discourse, because all quotations and sound bites will come straight from the list of approved phrases.


Over the past week, government officials have stressed that they are monitoring news media coverage of the war. "[Yeltsin] is attentively following it and believes that here a weighty and responsible approach is necessary, because any rash word could play into the hands of the terrorists," a Kremlin spokeswoman was quoted as saying by Reuters.


But Western-style propaganda may not prove effective in maintaining public support if the war goes badly.


While public opinion is now pro-war, Kagarlitsky said that unless casualties remain very low and the possibility of defeat remains remote, the public mood may change quickly, with memory of the losses of the previous war still fresh.


"The Kremlin doesn't want to use heavy-handed censorship," Kagarlitsky said. "But if this plan fails, they will have to."