This article offers an analysis of a bundle of historical, political, and legal reasons behind Putin’s choice to avoid the term ‘war’ and use a ‘special military operation’ instead to describe his invasion of Ukraine. Admitting that what Russia does in Ukraine is, in fact, a war, threatens to destabilize the foundations of the post-WWII order which Putin’s regime made into a core of its political identity by building a distinct historical narrative about Russia’s role in the victory over Nazism. The language of war would have excluded Russia from its own conception of international order and required building a new identity.

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