Путин и американские выборы / Putin and the U.S. Election

Putin at Valdai

Audio content: In a speech to the Valdai Club, Putin responds to some of the charges that were lobbed at Russia during the American presidential election.

Two video clips embedded below.

I started this post, which features some memorable comments from Putin on the U.S. presidential race, before Election Day. With Trump’s victory, the topic is even more relevant, and in fact I may do one more post regarding Putin’s attitude toward Trump. The upcoming post will feature Putin speaking in his distinctive casual manner, whereas in today’s post he is using the more complex formal language appropriate for one his major annual addresses. For more samples of Putin’s rhetoric, see the earlier post on Putin’s speech to the U.N.

Putin and Russia came up frequently during the U.S. presidential campaign. United States intelligence agencies determined that the Russian government was behind several high-profile email hacks that targeted the Clinton campaign, although Trump refused to accept these findings. Evidence emerged that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was a very highly paid consultant for the pro-Putin former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich. Foreign policy experts were alarmed when Trump voiced opinions that seemed to play into Putin’s hands, such as hesitation on support for the NATO alliance, denial that Russia had any presence in Ukraine and claims that Putin is a stronger leader than Obama. Journalistic investigations also found that Russian citizens backed by the Kremlin have created Trump-supporting Twitter accounts with fake American identities. Meanwhile, Clinton took an aggressive stance with respect to Russia, and in the past she has sharply criticized the legitimacy of Russian elections and the Russian incursion into Crimea. Clinton labeled Trump a “puppet” of Putin during the third debate, while Trump insisted it would be a good thing if the U.S. could get along with Russia. Unsurprisingly, Russian state-controlled television has a pro-Trump bias.

Putin commented on this entire situation during a late October speech to the Valdai Discussion Club, an organization that hosts an annual gathering of international Russia experts. Putin traditionally addresses the gathering on its final day. In the video excerpts below, Putin responds to two main charges: that Russia is an aggressor on the world stage and that it is interfering in the United States election. He treats both claims as laughable absurdities and — without using her name — suggests that Clinton is stirring up anti-Russia sentiment purely for political gain.

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Нарушения на выборах / Voting Irregularities

young woman confronts police officer

Audio Content: In Moscow, voters and polling site observers describe some of the odd large-group voting activity they are seeing in their precincts.
Video Content: Interior of two different Moscow voting sites.

Video available below or in a higher-quality version at TV Rain (subscription required).

Here’s a second post on the elections topic! See the previous post for information on the general results of the September parliamentary elections. This post focuses on some of the irregularities observed during the voting. The general consensus seems to be that this voting day had fewer irregularities than in 2011. Nevertheless, some apparent voting fraud was observed, and in any case there are numerous ways to influence elections well before voting actually occurs. The major Russian TV channels are more or less state-controlled and opposition parties do not get media exposure, public demonstrations require prior government approval, opposition candidates and parties are charged with crimes or administrative violations, etc. Meanwhile, a few types of voting-day fraud are well known enough to have acquired common nicknames. The most straightforward and egregious method is “вбросы,” simple ballot-box stuffing. One alarming instance of this in the city of Rostov was caught on video and widely circulated on the internet. Results for this precinct were subsequently annulled. Another method is the “карусель” or “merry-go-round.” In this procedure, voters (who for one reason or another — money, employment status — are under the control of the entity organizing the fraud) are given an already filled-out ballot. They go into the polling place and are given the same empty ballot as all voters. They then put the pre-provided ballot into the voting machine and upon exit give the empty ballot to the organizers of the fraud, who thereby confirm that the individual acted as instructed.

The potential voting irregularity featured in this post is related to a sort of absentee voting. Voters in Russia are able to vote at a site other than their home precinct if they provide a legal document called an “открепительное удостоверение” (loosely, a “detaching attestation”).

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Выборы в Госдуму / Russia’s Parliamentary Elections

Moscow voter

Audio Content: A journalist quizzes voters on their choices.
Visual Content: Images of Moscow voters, voting precincts, ballots and machines.

Video available below or in a higher-quality version at TV Rain (subscription required).

On September 18 Russians turned out to elect representatives (депутаты) to the lower house of the national parliament (Государственная Дума, Госдума). Actually, turnout (явка) was quite low, around 48 percent, a circumstance generally viewed as favorable to the party in power because it means that their supporters (some of whom are pressured to vote) end up carrying greater weight. This election was carried out using a hybrid system. Half of the Duma representatives (225 of them) were chosen according to closed party lists, similar to the “parliamentary” style of democracy used in Canada and many Western European nations: voters select a party and seats in the Duma are allocated proportionally according to the votes each party receives. This is referred to as voting “по партийным спискам” (by party lists). The other 225 representatives were chosen as individuals particular to a district, similar to how the United States votes. This is referred to as voting “по одномандатному округу” (by single-mandate district). This system allows for ticket-splitting: one can vote for one party overall but support a candidate from a different party for one’s individual “single-mandate” district.

In this video, the TV Rain journalist Pavel Lobkov visits voting precincts in several elite neighborhoods in the center of Moscow and asks people how they voted. (The introductions to each section, where he provides statistics for each neighborhood, are great listening practice for numbers.) Lobkov also converses briefly with Andrei Zubov, a well-known historian and Duma candidate from an opposition party. Muscovians tend to give more support to opposition parties than do voters in the regions, so you’ll hear a variety of parties mentioned in the video.

Although Putin’s party is by far the dominant force, Russians can choose among several other options.

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Российская фехтовальщица на Олимпиаде / A Russian Fencer at the Olympics

Deriglazova with gold medal

Audio content: Russian Olympic champions and their families react to their victories. Includes an example of dialectical language variation.
Visual content: Russian athletes and fans, a few domestic interiors.

(Video embedded below, or available here)

Recently I took a break from Луч света to focus on my research for a little while, but I’ve been keeping track of some good videos and will be posting them over the next few weeks. Here is one more follow-up on Russia’s Olympic appearance. The video focuses most of all on Inna Deriglazova, a 26-year-old fencer who won a gold medal in a closely fought 12-11 victory over a former gold medal champion from Italy. We hear from her, her coach and her family.

This video clip has a few culturally and linguistically interesting aspects. The interviewees, and Inna in particular, come across as role models for the values promoted in official circles and in the state-controlled media — values of decency, graciousness, commitment to family and simple straightforward patriotism. The brief comment at the end from the 19-year-old swimmer Anton Chupkov, a bronze medal winner, also fits into this framework. Note as well the cross around his neck — a fairly common sight amid the post-Soviet revival of the Russian Orthodox Church. The segment ends, however, with a little jab at the U.S. (not included in my transcript): the announcers mention that the Russian swimmer Yuliia Efimova will be competing in the 200-meter breaststroke tonight and that the American swimmer Lilly King did not even qualify for this event. Russian fans are encouraged to gloat over this fact because of what happened after the 100-meter breastroke: King, the gold medal winner, did not congratulate silver medal winner Efimova because of doping suspicions. The International Swimming Federation had in fact banned Efimova from the Rio Olympics because of earlier positive doping tests. The suspension period for these violations was over, but Efimova was excluded because of the stricter criteria being applied to the Russian team because of the nation’s state-supported doping scandal (see the previous blog entry). Efimova subsequently won an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. She had to endure boos from the crowd during her races.

From the linguistic point of view, the video provides two interesting examples of atypical speech: a woman speaking a southern dialect and the speech of a young child — see below.

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Допинг-скандал: Кто не поедет в Рио? / The doping scandal: Who won’t be going to Rio?

Elena Isinbaeva, Russian pole vaulter

Audio content: Athletes and sports officials commenting on the exclusion of Russia’s track and field athletes from the Rio Olympics
Video content: leading athletes, coaches, track and field competitions

(Video embedded below)

Russian athletics has been caught up in a doping scandal of enormous proportions for the last year or more. A report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) recently presented the results of their investigations. According to the report, Russian state agencies including the Federal Security Service (ФСБ, Федеральная служба безопасности) and the Ministry of Sport (Министерство спорта) oversaw the falsification of doping tests for Russian athletes in the years leading up to and including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Over the course of several years, state agencies worked with the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory to simply reclassify positive tests as negative. Then, after the scheme was discovered, the Moscow laboratory was discredited by international organizations and its head, Grigory Rodchenkov, fled to the US in late 2015 and began sharing additional information about the doping system. The most sensational aspect of the scandal is the plot used to evade doping safeguards at the Sochi Olympics. Apparently there was a small hole in a wall between the secure room that stored athletes’ urine samples and an adjacent room that was outside the secure perimeter. In the middle of the night, Russian anti-doping officials would pass out urine samples to FSB agents in the next room, who would replace the tainted urine with clean samples that had been collected well in advance. Somehow the people involved managed to open and reseal the supposedly tamper-proof urine bottles without leaving a trace. Their efforts seem to have paid off: Russia won more medals than any other nation in the Sochi Olympics. See this article by the New York Times for more information.

After this state-directed doping scheme was revealed, the big question, of course, was whether Russia would be allowed to participate in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. In late July 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued its decision: Russians would be allowed to participate, but any athlete who had been caught doping at any time in the past — even if the disqualification period had expired — would not be allowed to participate. Also, the entire Russian track and field team has been disqualified due to an earlier decision by the international federation for that sport. This article by Meduza gives a quick overview of how the decision affects Russia’s Olympic teams in various sports.

So how has Russia responded to this situation? That’s the focus of today’s post,

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Молоко, сыр и красивые телёночки / Milk, Cheese and Cute Baby Calves

Lev, calf, Russian dairy farm

Audio content: Dairy farmers and cheese producers showing off their very impressive operations
Video content: Interesting images of the countryside near Voronezh, large-scale Russian agriculture, dairy cattle, grain fields, milking systems, cheese factories

The video doesn’t allow embedding. Follow the link to watch the video at tvrain.com (no subscription needed)

With oil and other raw material prices weak, TV Rain decided to do a series on components of the Russian economy that are not based on the extraction of natural resources. They found some particularly interesting developments in the agricultural sector. The half-hour segment at the above link explores an impressive dairy cattle and cheese operation called Молвест (Molvest). The company’s operations are centered around the city of Voronezh, several hundred kilometers south of Moscow. Until recently, Molvest was only engaged in dairy processing: they purchased the milk itself from independent suppliers and turned it into finished products. But in 2012, faced with an ongoing milk deficit and unstable prices, the company decided to take a big leap into farming and become fully “vertically integrated.” From that point on, the company would raise the dairy cattle themselves, grow the feed for the cattle themselves, milk the cows themselves, and then turn the milk into cheese and yogurt at their existing processing plants. The result is the enormous and very up-to-date operation you’ll see in the video. Molvest’s decision turned out to be particularly fortuitous in the wake of the sanctions and counter-sanctions that appeared after the Russian annexation of Crimea. Sanctions currently limit the import of cheese into Russia, so there is increased demand for good domestic cheese. But the infrastructure you’ll see in the video is not cheap. The company leaders complain that they have to compete with low-priced products labeled as “cheese” but actually produced using vegetable oils.

The transcript below covers two segments. In the first, we visit the barn that houses newborn calves. When Molvest first entered the dairy cattle industry in 2012, the company imported a special breed from France that produces milk with protein and fat levels that are ideal for cheese production. The animals were very expensive and Molvest aspired to raise the cattle for themselves as soon as possible. They seem to have succeeded — you’ll see that many native Russian cows are being born every day on their farms. In the second featured segment, the TV Rain journalist visits the site where cows are milked by means of a fast and space-efficient system known as a “carousel.” The dairy cows walk into a stall on a moving carousel, and by the time they’ve traveled the whole circle the milking is done.

Language notes: You’ll see a couple words more than once. “Малыш” = “baby, little one.” “Корм” = “feed” (for animals) — recall the verb “кормить” = “to feed.” And a young cow, i.e a calf, is a “телёнок.” This is already a diminutive form, but if you want to make it even more diminutive-affectionate you can say “телёночек,” a form you’ll see in the transcript. Also, words for animal young tend to have atypical plural forms ending in -ата; “calves” is “телята.”

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