Путин высмеивает американскую политику / Putin Mocks American Politics

Putin at a forum with CNN journalist

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 offers a taste of Putin’s distinctive 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 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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?”).

In spite of Putin’s skill at casually brushing off any challenges or concerns in the video featured below, the real situation is much murkier than his polished persona would lead us to believe. Putin questions some aspects of American democracy as if he cares about the integrity of elections, when in fact he has imprisoned political opponents and engineered a severe lack of democratic choice in Russia. (See the previous few posts, and the posts on Aleksei Navalny and Boris Nemstov.) He acts as if a friendly relationship with Russia is a simple, obvious choice; but to many in the West this would entail allowing Putin to invade neighboring countries with impunity (or cheat at the Olympics). And despite Putin’s complaints about Western “meddling” and his professed commitment to noninterference, the Russian state is happy to meddle extensively in other countries in the service of perceived national interests. Putin would point out that, of course, many other nations have done similar things.

Regarding the issue of Russian electoral “meddling” in the 2016 U.S. presidential election: According to the U.S. intelligence community, the Russian government carried out a state-sponsored email hacking scheme that extensively aired the internal discussions of one campaign while allowing the other campaign to maintain confidentiality in its internal conversations. Journalists and independent investigators have also found signs that some of the totally false “news” that circulated on social media near the end of the campaign originated from “trolls” employed by the Kremlin to push the state’s preferred message or impersonate politically passionate American citizens. For Russia, such actions have turned out to be a low-cost, relatively effective way to influence international events. Citizens of democracies need to get much better at recognizing fake news, voting wisely and resisting propaganda campaigns that sow division and appeal to our worst impulses. If people don’t take seriously the responsibilities of democratic citizenship, or if they are too cynical to care about defending whatever functioning civic institutions they have, authoritarian political systems may in fact turn out to be more powerful and durable than democracies.

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Video Clip

Russian Transcript

В. В. Путин: Вот… (смех и аплодисменты) Вы очень… Вы известный человек в нашей стране, вот вы лично. И не только как ведущий одной из крупнейших телевизионных корпораций, но и как интеллектуал. Зачем вы все передергиваете? (аплодисменты) Возьмите… Вот, над вами берет верх журналист, а не аналитик. Но посмотрите, что я сказал. Я на ходу сказал, что Трамп яркий человек. А что, не яркий? Яркий. (аплодисменты) Никаких других характеристик я ему не давал. Но, вот, на что я точно обращаю внимание, и что я точно приветствую, и не вижу здесь ничего плохого, наоборот: господин Трамп заявил, что он готов к восстановлению, полноформатному восстановлению российско-американских отношений. Чего здесь плохого? Мы все это приветствуем. А вы нет? (смех, аплодисменты)

Но мы не вмешиваемся, мы никогда не вмешиваемся в внутриполитические процессы других стран, тем более Соединенных штатов. Но мы будем работать с любым президентом, за которого проголосует американский народ. Хотя я не думаю, кстати говоря, что вот они всех учат, как надо жить, и демократии учат. А что, вы считаете, что там демократический выбор президента, что ли? (аплодисменты) Это правда. Посмотри: там дважды в истории США избирали президентом человека, за котор-… большинством голосов выборщиков. А за этими выборщиками стояло меньшее количество избирателей. Это что, демократия, что ли? Значит, а когда мы, а когда мы… мы дискутируем иногда с коллегами. Мы никого не в чем не обвиняем, просто дискутируем. Нам говорят: не лезьте, это не ваше дело, мы так привыкли. Так и хочется сказать, ну тогда не лезьте к нам! Чё вы лезете-то? Пожалуйста, разберитесь у себя сначала.

Но повторяю, действительно, это не наше дело, хотя по-моему там даже прокуроры отгоняют от участков международных наблюдателей в ходе избирательных кампаний, американские прокуроры. Говорят, что в тюрьму посадят. Но это их проблема. Это.. Они так привыкли. Им нравится. Америка великая держава. Ну, сегодня, наверно, супер… единственная супердержава. Мы это принимаем. Мы хотим и готовы соработать с Соединенными штатами. И как бы там не происходили эти выборы, в конце концов они состоятся. Будет глава государства. У него большие очень полномочия. Значит, там идут сложные внутриполитические и экономические процессы в Соединенных штатах. Миру нужна мощная такая страна, как Соединенные штаты, и нам нужна. Значит… но нам не нужно, чтобы они постоянно вмешивались в наши дела, указывали, как нам жить, а… мешали Европе строить с нами отношения.

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English Translation

V. V. Putin: Well… (laughter and applause) You are very… you are a well-known person in our country, I mean you personally. And not only as the host at one of the largest television corporations, but also as an intellectual. Why do you distort everything? (applause) Take for example… the thing is, the journalist in you is winning out over the analyst. But look at what I said. In passing I said that Trump has a vivid / flamboyant (yarkii) personality. So what’s your point– isn’t he flamboyant? He’s flamboyant. (applause) I did not ascribe any other qualities to him. But, you see, the thing I definitely do want to direct attention to, and that I really do welcome — and I don’t see anything wrong with this, quite the contrary: Trump declared that he is ready for a restoration, a full-format restoration of Russian-American relations. What is wrong with that? We all welcome that. Don’t you welcome it? (laughter and applause)

But we do not interfere, we never interfere in the internal political processes of other countries, especially not those of the United States. But we will work with any president that the American people vote for. Although I don’t think, by the way… they [the Americans] are instructing everyone how we should live, and teaching everyone about democracy. But listen: do you think there is really a democratic selection of the president there? (applause) This is true. Consider this: twice in the history of the USA a president was elected for whom… was elected by the majority of electoral votes. But those electoral votes corresponded to the smaller amount of actual voters. So what do you say — is this really democracy? So, this means… when we…. sometimes my colleagues and I have discussions. We do not accuse anyone of anything, we just have a discussion. And people say to us: don’t meddle, it’s none of your business, we are used to doing it this way. In that case I want to say: well, then, don’t meddle with us either! Why the heck are you meddling? Please, straighten things out in your own country first.

But I repeat: in truth it is none of our business. Although, I think, some prosecutors there, American prosecutors, are shooing international observers away from the voting precincts during the course of the electoral campaign. [See this article on Russians observing American elections.] They say that these people will be put in prison. But that is their own problem. That is… they are used to doing it that way. They like it that way. America is a great power. Today, probably, a super… the sole superpower. We accept that. We want to and are prepared to cooperate with the United States. And no matter how those elections are conducted, after all they will ultimately take place. There will be a head of government. He will have very great prerogatives. So… there are complicated political and economic processes happening domestically in the United States. The world really needs a country that is as powerful as the United States, and we need such a country. So…. but what we don’t need is them constantly interfering in our business, instructing us about how to live, and… getting in the way of Europe’s moves to establish a relationship with up.

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