Russian Collusion fans have had a hard time of it lately, as their favorite theories about how the evil mastermind Putin installed his dimwitted stooge Trump in the Oval Office have been exploded, but that ever-vigilant guardian of global peace, the United Nations, is ready to fill in the breach. The United Nations’ Department of Global Communications has ordered its staffers not to refer to Ukraine war as a “war,” or to Putin’s invasion as an “invasion.” If you still thought the UN was some sort of impartial international arbiter, this ought to disabuse you of that notion forever.
The director of the UN Regional Information Centre sent an email to its staff on Monday, with the subject line “Ukraine crisis communications guidelines.” According to Irish Times, which saw the email, foremost among these guidelines read more like a command: “Do NOT add the Ukrainian flag to personal or official social media accounts or websites.” The email also offered “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.”
This was right out of Vladimir Putin’s playbook, as he doesn’t call what Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine an “invasion” either; instead, he likes to call it a “special military operation,” a bit of linguistic legerdemain on par with Old Joe Biden calling requirements the voters show identification when voting “Jim Crow 2.0”: just as cynical, just as dishonest, just as deceptive.
The Regional Information Centre situated these directives as adherence to the UN’s policy of neutrality: “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.” This was more than a little hypocritical, as the UN has frequently condemned acts of aggression by member states. It routinely singles out Israel for particular condemnation, virtually all of it unjustified, and has never felt constrained from doing so by its “responsibility to be impartial.”
Russia, however, is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and the UN is clearly wary of crossing it. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated: “It’s hard to believe that the UN could essentially impose the same kind of censorship that the Kremlin imposes inside Russia now by banning the use of the words ‘war’ and ‘invasion.’ UN reputation at stake.”
Indeed it is. But kowtowing to Putin is not the image that this august organization wishes to project, however, and so when this email became public the UN was quick to disavow it, but did not appear to have its story straight. UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric stated: “I don’t dispute the validity of that email but it can not be considered official policy to staff.” According to Irish Times, however, “the UN Spokesperson Twitter account initially described The Irish Times’ reporting as ‘fake’, before deleting the Tweet.” If the email was real, then the Irish Times report wasn’t fake. The UN has not cleared up this discrepancy.
After this all came out, however, the UN did relent, informing staffers that they could use the words “war” and “invasion” after all. Gee, thanks. That’s terrific, but it doesn’t erase the impression that the original email left, that the UN is far more susceptible to fears of offending Putin than it ought to be. And Putin isn’t alone in this, either. Since its inception, the UN has been far too vulnerable to being manipulated by various blocs. During the Cold War, the Soviet bloc and its allies exercised undue influence in what is supposed to be the international hall of peace and reconciliation; after the demise of the Soviet Union, the fifty-seven-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has frequently been a significant power at the UN. On April 12, 2011, at the behest of the OIC and with Obama administration support, the UN Human Rights Council passed Resolution 16/18, which called upon the nations of the world to ban speech involving “defamation of religion,” an elastic and subjective term that could easily be used to silence any honest analysis of how Islamic jihadis use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify their acts of violence. And if adopted by an American administration (then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in favor of it), it would kill the First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of speech.
Eleven years later, the UN is in Putin’s pocket. This is hardly an improvement, and demonstrates yet again that the entire organization is not fulfilling its purpose. It is long past time for that unpleasant fact to be generally recognized.