Путин о “вмешательстве” в выборы / Putin’s Comments on “Interference” in Elections

Russian language practice. Putin speaking at Petersburg Economic Forum, seated

Audio content: Putin responds to questions about Russian interference in the US presidential election. Includes many examples of his trademark folksy-aggressive communicative style.

Video embedded below and available on Youtube. [UPDATED 7/23/2017 after the previous video was taken down]

I thought Luch sveta readers and Russian language learners would find it interesting to check in on what President Vladimir Putin has been saying about claims of Russian interference in foreign elections. The video featured in this post is also a wonderful example of Putin’s distinctive speech style (see comments below). To get a real feel for who Putin is, you need to hear him speaking in Russian in a non-scripted, combative setting like this one.

In the clip below, Putin responds to questions from NBC News journalist Megyn Kelly during an event at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (Петербургский международный экономический форум) in early June 2017. (Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is sitting between the two of them.) The Forum is an annual event intended to build connections between Russian and foreign business and political leaders. The event has become quite prestigious since Putin began promoting and attending it regularly in the mid-2000s.

Keep some background information in mind as you listen to Putin’s comments. In October 2016 the U.S. Intelligence Community announced that it was confident the Russian government was behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. In January 2017 the CIA and FBI expressed “high confidence” that Putin had personally ordered a broad influence campaign meant to improve Trump’s election prospects and also undermine faith in the U.S. democratic process regardless of which candidate would win. The same report found that Russian hackers had gained access to voter information from several U.S. state election systems, but it did not find that actual vote tallies were altered. The Russian government’s influence campaign also involved the spreading of false information on social media channels. Russia’s influence campaigns are not limited to the U.S.; Russian media outlets also spread false information during the spring 2017 French presidential campaign, and the eventual victor, French President Emmanuel Macron, said that his campaign experienced many hacking attempts.

The Russian government’s response, as you’ll see in the video, is to deny the allegations, labeling them as hysterical or irrational Russophobia. Putin suggests that

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Крупные акции протеста против коррупции / Major Protests Against Corruption

Schoolboy at protest in Tomsk

      Photo: Марат Хамматов, Tomsk.ru

Audio content: Voices from the March 26 anti-corruption protests in cities across Russia.
Video content: Images of the protests, chanting crowds, speakers, police detainment of protestors.

I’ve finally found time to put together a great selection of voices and images from the anti-corruption protests that occurred in cities across Russia on March 26, 2017. The protests, which drew more participants than any similar event in the last several years, were organized by Aleksei Navalny’s Фонд борьбы с коррупцией (ФБК, Anti-Corruption Fund). In particular, demonstrators were reacting to the recently released video Он вам не Димон (He’s Not “Dimon” to You — a reference to a very casual nickname for Medvedev, which his press secretary famously rejected), in which Navalny methodically — and with quite a bit of PR skill — presents evidence that Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev has profited from numerous corrupt arrangements that give him access to magnificent vacation properties and luxury goods. The video is part of Navalny’s quixotic campaign to be elected president in the 2018 elections, an endeavor that is unlikely to end in his actual electoral victory but that nevertheless threatens to significantly undermine the political security of Putin and his circle.

Navalny’s video, together with details turned up by his foundation’s earlier investigations, is a pop culture phenomenon. The video seems to have appealed to young people in particular: many observers commented on the large number of high school students and college-age people at the protest events. Numerous “memes” related to Medvedev are visible in the videos below. They include ducks (a reference to a house for ducks located in a pond at Medvedev’s alleged secret dacha), athletic shoes (the first “thread” in Navalny’s investigation is a pair of colorful athletic shoes visible in Medvedev’s Instagram, which Navalny links to an Amazon order sent to an anonymous email account supposedly linked to Medvedev) and the phrase “сами вы держитесь!” (“hang in there yourself!!” — referring to Medvedev’s ham-handed response to a group of elderly people complaining about their meager pensions in 2016 — he told them to just “hang in there”).

Any group political protest in Russia is supposed to be pre-approved and assigned to a particular site by the authorities. Several of the March 26 protests were officially approved, but most were not. In Moscow, participants claimed they were just out for a “walk” (прогулка) near the Pushkin statue on Tverskaia street in the center. Although the vast majority of protesters attended the events without experiencing immediate repercussions, significant numbers were arrested, including about 700 in Moscow, according to the video from Телеканал Дождь below. Police also visited the offices of the Anti-Corruption Fund, initially claiming there were concerns about a fire, and took all employees into custody. Navalny was given a fifteen-day prison sentence. Authorities blamed him for leading the youth astray by encouraging them to engage in dangerous activities.

Four videos are linked or embedded below. They include images and participant comments from the Moscow protest (video one), speeches in Novosibirsk that give a taste of the protesters’ rhetoric (video two), an overview of events in multiple cities with chanting crowds and comments from individual participants (video three), and a viral video of a school-age boy’s short speech in Tomsk (video four). Also, Meduza compiled a photo gallery of events in numerous cities.

To learn more about Navalny, see this earlier post on his speech to an opposition rally.

Заметки о языке: Useful words include “вор” (“thief”), “воровать” (“to steal”), “митинг” (“demonstration”), “акция” (“rally”), “позор” (“shame,” commonly chanted at police who are detaining protesters), “коррупция” (“corruption”), “власть” (“power,” “the authorities”), “задержать” (“to take into custody, detain”), “молодёжь” (“young people”), “терпеть” (“to be patient, to put up with”).

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Russian Transcript

Video One

0:00-0:20

Ведущая: Я напомню, что в нескольких десятках городов России сегодня, двадцать шестого марта, проходят акции против коррупции, поводом для которых стало расследование Фонда борьбы с коррупцией Алексей Навального о премьер-министре Дмитрии Медведеве.

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Юбилей первой женщины в космосе / Birthday Celebrations for the First Woman in Space

Valentina Tereshkova

Audio Content: On her eightieth birthday, Valentina Tereshkova reminisces about her groundbreaking flight into space. The post also includes a few examples of heartfelt, formal Russian birthday congratulations and an interesting exchange that shows what governing looks like in the Putin era.
Video Content: Great archival images of Tereshkova’s training and space flight and of her life today as a member of the Duma.

Links to two videos are below.

The Soviet Union was responsible for many of humanity’s space firsts, including the first artificial satellite put into orbit, the first man in space and the first woman in space. The first man in space, the beloved hero Yuri Gagarin, died in a jet crash while still in his 30s, but the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, has enjoyed a long public career in the space program and in politics. She is currently a deputy in the Duma representing her native region, Yaroslavl Oblast.

Tereshkova celebrated her 80th birthday on March 6th, 2017 and was prominently featured in news reports that day. The videos below remind viewers of her history: how she was a simple worker at a textile factory in Yaroslavl, participated avidly in a local aviation and parachuting group, was chosen as one of five finalists for the project of sending a woman into space and launched into orbit on June 16, 1963. Tereshkova’s reminiscences are interspersed with archival footage of her training and flight.

The videos are also of interest for a few other reasons. They include an excellent example of the sort of greeting that might be extended to someone in Russia on her birthday — typically very warm, even gushy, somewhat lengthy and formal (see the end of video one). Video two, in which Vladimir Putin offers gifts and congratulations to Tereshkova, offers an interesting view of the public image of governance in a more or less authoritarian, single-party-dominant political system: Tereshkova thanks Putin for sending Yaroslavl a great new governor, Putin thanks her for her support, and everyone ostensibly is working together for the good of the region with none of what Putin might view as the ineffective squabbling of a democracy. Finally, we also encounter some contradictory Russian views of gender, at least as they tend to be expressed on one of the mass-audience federal television channels. In the first video in the news report (actually video two below) the anchor early on refers to Tereshkova as a representative of the “отнюдь не слабый пол” “the definitely-not-weaker sex.” But later, in the second segment (video one below), the elaborate celebration of Tereshkova ends with a reference to women as “представителницы слабого пола” “representatives of the weaker sex”! The term is casually employed for variety and rhetorical flourish. The two uses manage, in the one instance, to acknowledge the derogatory implications of the term and, in the other instance, to present it as an innocuous reference to physical differences.

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Russian Transcript

Video One

Valentina Tereshkova

Watch the video at Первый канал

0:00
Ведущая: Добрые пожелания в адрес Валентины Терешковой сегодня звучат от ее коллег по парламенту, друзей и просто тех, кто помнит, как она вписала новую строчку в историю космонавтики. […]

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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 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?”).

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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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