the Kremlin’s loaded lexicon

JOURNALISTS like nice simple categories and descriptions. So Ukraine is divided between “Ukrainian-speakers” and “Russian-speakers”. Crimea is “historically Russian” and in the recent “referendum result”, Russia’s “compatriots” on the peninsular gave an “overwhelming majority” for “reunification” with Russia. The “large Russian ethnic minorities” in the Baltic states may have similar sympathies, writes Edward Lucas for the Lithuania Tribune.

Without realising it, many Westerners writing about the grim news of the past few weeks have adopted the Kremlin’s terminology. This skews their reporting, their readers’ understanding, and (quite possibly) the course of future events.

For a start, nobody should accept the idea of “Russian-speaker” as a political label. I am a Russian-speaker, as are many (though sadly not all) foreigners who deal professionally with Russia. Most people over 40 in the former Soviet empire speak at least some Russian. In some countries (Ukraine is an example), educated people of all ages know the language. But none of these “Russian-speaker” categories means any particular political affiliation, let alone pro-Kremlin sympathies.