Audio Content: At a forum with a CNN journalist, Putin clarifies his mistranslated description of Trump as “bright” and takes some shots at U.S. democracy.
Video clip embedded below or at RT’s YouTube channel.
Here is one more video on Putin, Trump, and American democracy, to wrap up what turned out to be a four-part series on elections both American and Russian. This excerpt is a great example of Putin’s communication style, public persona and attitude toward the West. The clip also sheds light on an interesting Russian-English translation snafu that surfaced memorably in the U.S. presidential election. I also reflect below on the far-reaching implications of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. Subsequent posts will turn to lighter topics.
The video featured in today’s post comes from the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum held in mid-June 2016. In the clip, Putin responds to a question from the CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria, who was moderating a forum that also included the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and the Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi.
The translation issue I mentioned above involves the word “яркий” (yarkii). At a December 2015 press conference, Putin responded to a question about Trump by describing him as a “яркий” person. Many U.S. news outlets translated this word as “brilliant,” which Trump interpreted in an intellectual sense, quickly exaggerating the incident into the claim that Putin called him a “genius.” But the word “яркий” never has this intellectual connotation; its range of meaning is closer to that of the word “vivid.” In a visual sense the word means “bright” or “colorful” and in a metaphorical sense it means “flashy” or “flamboyant.” Putin was describing Trump’s persona, not his intelligence. In this clip he lightly mocks the journalistic brouhaha over his offhand comment.
The video clip also displays Putin’s diplomatic and public relations skills. He starts and ends his comments with bits of disarming flattery, which bracket several biting criticisms delivered in an amiable tone. As I mentioned in the previous post, Putin is good at “trolling” the West. Here he reprises some of his usual complaints and criticisms: that our political system is not nearly as democratic as we claim, that the West tends to “lecture” Russia in a hypocritical and meddlesome manner, and that the West is unnecessarily hostile in spite of Russia’s desire for friendly relations. Putin makes all these comments with the demeanor that he usually displays to international audiences: he comes across as confident and charming, folksy yet mature, clever and reasonable, full of common sense and essentially benevolent intentions. He presents Russia as acting justly and honestly while being treated unfairly. This skilled rhetoric tends to make his interlocutors appear slightly ridiculous or foolish, although Putin masks the attack with his personal charm. Finally, in contrast to the previous post that featured a prewritten speech in a formal register, in this clip Putin speaks ad lib and reveals traces of the casual, folksy speaking style that appeals to his Russian listeners. Note the use of the conversational “чё” in place of “что” at one point, as well as the mildly combative phrase “а что” (“so what?” / “what the heck are you implying?” / “what’s wrong with what I’m saying?”).