25 months after invasion, Russia finally admits to being at war. Why?

A Kremlin spokesperson has said Russia is “in a state of war” for the first time since the country launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago.

Russia has presented the war as a “special military operation” since it began in February 2022. The Kremlin even banned media outlets from using the words “war” and “invasion”.

In an interview with a pro-Kremlin Russian newspaper published on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We are in a state of war. Yes, it started as a special military operation, but as soon as … the collective West became a participant on Ukraine’s side, for us it already became a war.”

He later elaborated to reporters: “De jure [legally] it is a special military operation. But de facto [in reality] it has turned into a war.”

President Vladimir Putin and other senior officials had gradually started to use the word “war”, but mainly referred to the conflict as a “special military operation.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia is ‘in a state of war’ for the first time since the country launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 (Photo: Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev/Reuters)

“What strikes me is the deliberate ambiguity: when he claims that “war” is a correct designation in some respects, but in others it is still a ‘special military operation’”, says Dr Martin Smith, senior lecturer in Defence and International Affairs at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

“Simply moving to calling the campaign in Ukraine a ‘war’ implies that the special military operation has failed and a major ramping-up is required.”

Some have predicted a new round of mobilisation in Russia following last weekend’s sham elections, but Dr Smith said he did not expect such an announcement soon, after Mr Putin ruled it out making such an unpopular move at the end of last year, claiming it wasn’t needed.

However, Dr Marina Miron, a post-doctoral researcher in the war studies department at King’s College London, argues that the statement is a signal to “psychologically prepare the Russian population for an upcoming mobilisation”, which she argues will take place now that Mr Putin has “carte blanche” after the landslide vote.

“In the lead up to this, we have heard [Defence Minister Sergei] Shoigu wanting to mobilise some 200,000 to achieve the set tasks of expanding the army. We have also heard Putin talking about creating a “sanitary zone”, [demilitarised zone] which is something like a buffer, thereby amplifying the scope of the aims in Ukraine,” she says.

But why the change after 25 months of military activity? Dr Smith believes it is a “reaction” to French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments last month about the possibility of deploying Western troops to fight in Ukraine, which triggered intense debates.

“I take Mr Peskov’s statement as the Russian government’s response to Macron – hardening its own rhetoric as a warning and to deter any such western escalation, rather than opening the door to a significant short-term ramping up of Russia’s own efforts.”

Mr Macron has stood by his comments, saying sending troops to Ukraine “could not be ruled out”, despite other Nato members rejecting the idea and French officials downplaying his remarks.

After the French leader’s speech at a European summit for supporting Kyiv, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament warned Mr Macron against sending troops to Ukraine, saying they would meet the same fate as Napoleon’s army.

Dr Miron says observers should be careful when interpreting Mr Peskov’s statement. “First, we have to understand that at the moment it is a de facto statement rather than de jure statement,” she noted.

“As de jure war declaration would be much more far-reaching in legal terms when it comes to the Russian population and also on an international stage, considering the international law of war,” she adds.

The comments from Mr Peskov on Russia being in a state of war followed a night of large-scale Russian missile attacks across Ukraine that targeted energy infrastructure, leaving a million people without power on Friday.