Ukraine War, September 28, 2022: How we talk about “referendums”and “annexations” is critically important, if we are to avoid spreading Russian propaganda


How commentators and news organizations talk about the sham referendums carried out in four Ukrainian provinces over the last week is critically important, as is the way they report or comment on Russian arguments about nuclear threats and violations of the country’s territorial integrity.

The “results” of the referendums in Russian-occupied provinces of Ukraine

Russian propagandists know how Western news organizations blindly repeat numbers no matter what their source, and rarely investigate or comment meaningfully on what they mean.

For example, reputable news sources such as PBS continue to report the ridiculously understated numbers of dead and wounded civilians in Ukraine reported by the U.N. Human Rights Office, despite known defects in the way in which they are gathered and stark limitations on what they actually mean. For months the U.N. reported the number of deaths as in the range of 5,000 while Mariupol alone reported over 20,000 deaths.

Now, our news media are falling once again into the trap of reporting, and propagating, meaningless numbers regarding the results of the referendums held in Russian-occupied provinces of Ukraine.

The referendums were a sham.  They satisfied not one of the major international standards for the holding of free and fair elections or referendums.

To cite but two glaring examples.  First, ballots were collected by electoral workers accompanied by armed soldiers who visited residents’ homes and demanded they fill out and hand in the ballots.

Second, the ballot boxes were transparent, so electoral workers could easily see how an individual voted.

Consequently, the results of the referendums reported by the Russian authorities were utterly meaningless.

Why should a Western news organization report on and propagate these meaningless numbers?

Obviously, they should not. Doing so only propagates the lies of the Russians.

Russian arguments on territorial integrity and the use of nuclear weapons in “self-defense”.

In a similar manner, Western news media repeat and propagate Russian propaganda when they report on the significance of the referendums and the imminent Russian annexation of the four provinces involved.

They repeat the Russian argument that now that the provinces are part of Russia, Ukrainian attacks within these provinces violate the territorial integrity of Russia, which may use nuclear weapons in self-defense.

What is gravely serious is that they repeat the Russian propaganda arguments without explaining that they are utter bulls*** arguments and why.

First, the acquisition of territory by military conquest is void under international law and has no legal effect.

Russia cannot argue that it is acting in self-defense of territories it has unlawfully purported to annex, after it has occupied those territories in a war pf aggression through the illegal use of force.

If the Russian propaganda arguments are reported at all, it should only be in this context with a full explanation of why the arguments are invalid.

If the arguments have no validity under international law and are advanced by Russia only to justify its aggression and illegal “annexation” to a domestic Russian audience, Western news organizations should state these facts clearly, leaving no doubt in the non-expert reader’s mind.

Western news organizations are lazy, and when there are competing arguments over a fact they tend to shrink from their obligation to state which is true.

Citizens must demand that they orovide the context for any reporting of Russian propaganda, and state clearly what the facts are when the facts are clear.

In the cases cited above, the facts are clear.

The Trenchant Observer