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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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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