LONDON, Dec 23 – A St Petersburg politician has asked prosecutors to investigate Russian President Vladimir Putin for using the word “war” to describe the conflict in Ukraine, accusing the Kremlin chief of breaking his own law.
Putin has for months described his invasion as a “special military operation”. He signed laws in March that prescribe steep fines and jail terms for discrediting or spreading “deliberately false information” about the armed forces, putting people at risk of prosecution if they call the war by its name.
But he departed from his usual language on Thursday when he told reporters: “Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war.”
Nikita Yuferev, an opposition councillor in the city where Putin was born, said he knew his legal challenge would go nowhere, but he had filed it to expose the “mendacity” of the system.
“It’s important for me to do this to draw attention to the contradiction and the injustice of these laws that he (Putin) adopts and signs but which he himself doesn’t observe,” he told Reuters.
“I think the more we talk about this, the more people will doubt his honesty, his infallibility, and the less support he will have.”
In his challenge, filed in an open letter, Yuferev asked the prosecutor general and interior minister to “hold (Putin) responsible under the law for spreading fake news about the actions of the Russian army”.
Yuferev, who asked Reuters not to disclose his location, said Putin critics who publicly called the war a war have suffered harsh punishments.
Opposition politician Ilya Yashin was jailed for 8-1/2 years this month for spreading “false information” about the army. In July another local councillor, Alexei Gorinov, was sentenced to seven years for criticising the invasion.
Yuferev said he had previously drawn authorities’ attention to the use of the word “war” by other prominent figures including Sergei Kiriyenko, deputy head of the presidential administration, and leading lawmaker Sergei Mironov.
He said police told him they examined the complaint against Kiriyenko and found he had done nothing wrong, and refused to look into the Mironov case.
After publishing the open letter about Putin, Yuferev said he had received hundreds of hate messages. But he said he believed the majority of Russians understood what was really happening in Ukraine.
“War, in Russian society, is a frightening word. Everyone is brought up by grandparents who lived through World War Two, everyone remembers the saying ‘Anything but war’,” he said.