Saturday, February 13, 2016


Google Translate Makes Russia 'Mordor,' Lavrov 'Sad Little Horse'

The surname of Sergei Lavrov, the long-serving Russian foreign minister who has been a prominent and outspoken figure since the crisis erupted between Ukraine and Russia nearly two years ago, was translated as "sad little horse."

Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- Google's hugely popular translation tool has taken to rendering certain Ukrainian words into Russian with a pronounced pro-Kyiv political spin.

On January 5, for instance, "Russian Federation" in Ukrainian (Російська Федерація) was being translated as "Mordor," the fictional realm occupied and controlled by evil necromancer Sauron in J.R.R. Tolkien's epic, The Lord Of The Rings.

It was unclear if the mistranslations were the result of a hack, or whether they were due to a malfunction in the algorithms used by Google to power its translation tool.

Meanwhile, the surname of Sergei Lavrov, the long-serving Russian foreign minister who has been a prominent and outspoken figure since the crisis erupted between Ukraine and Russia nearly two years ago, was translated as "sad little horse." 

Google Translate Ukraine-to-Russian translation of Lavrov as "sad little horse"
Google Translate Ukraine-to-Russian translation of Lavrov as "sad little horse"

 

Ukrainian media reported that "Russians" (росіяни) was being expressed as "occupiers," although a test on January 5 failed to produce such a result.

Kyiv and NATO accuse Moscow of providing regular troops, heavy weapons, and other forms of support to pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine since the fighting began, and a United Nations vote confirmed Crimea's continued status as part of Ukraine despite Russia's invasion and annexation of that peninsula in March 2014.

It is not the first time politically charged mistranslations have crept into the Google Translate service between Ukrainian and Russian. The misconstructions tend to cast Russia as a malevolent marauder and Ukraine as its victim in a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people. But that's not always the case.

According to RBK Ukraine, in November Google Translate rendered "All-Ukrainian" (загальноукраїнських) as "All-Russian."

The news outlet Ukraine 112 reports that in mid-2015, the "Revolution of Dignity" -- one of the many nicknames given to the Euromaidan uprising that overthrew Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych -- was translated into Russian as "political crisis in Ukraine" in what appeared to be a dig at Russian state propaganda.

The wonky translations appear to have lasted online for at least the better part of a day. Ukrainian media first reported on the political inflections on January 4.


Russian Official Denies He Shot Himself In The Foot; Twitter Demands To See Leg

According to some reports, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin hurt himself during an incident at a shooting range on December 29.

Anna Shamanska

An official who warned that the West was "shooting itself in the foot" by imposing sanctions on Russia has, um, shot himself in the foot. Or maybe not.
 
An aide to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin denied an Interfax news agency report on December 29 that his boss had wounded his foot during an outing at a shooting range.
 
Nikita Asimov said Rogozin had suffered a "sports injury" a few days ago while playing handball.
 
But for Internet users, the denial came too late -- and sounded dubious. One user said on Twitter that the mocking would not stop "unless Rogozin posts a selfie with legs."
 
Just over a week ago, Rogozin -- who is in charge of Russia's defense industry -- posted a video of himself at a shooting range. In the 30-second clip, he shows off his skills, even shooting two guns at once.  

 
But if Rogozin has worked hard to build up an image as an anti-Western tough guy, the report of a shooting mishap may be a setback.
 
"The dude can't even shoot and they entrusted him with the defense complex," wrote Russian lawyer and human rights advocate Pavel Chikov.  

Twitter users also expressed doubt about the handball story.
 
"After the incident with Rogozin, Vladimir Putin signed a decree that prohibits government members playing handball with weapons," one joked. 

A nationalist and former Russian ambassador to NATO, Rogozin has been a strident critic of the United States and European Union.
 
In August 2014, Rogozin wrote on Facebook that the West was "shooting itself in the foot" by imposing sanctions against Russia over its seizure of Crimea and its support for separatists fighting against Kyiv's forces in eastern Ukraine. 

And he wasn't the first Russian bureaucrat to use the phrase.
 
Satirical site Lentach made a collage of 13 headlines containing the same phrase. To name just a few:"The U.S. shot itself in the foot trying to ruin Russia's economy," "Having shot down the Su-24, Turkey shot itself in the foot" and "The alliance shot itself in the foot. Russia threatened NATO with strengthening its military presence in Crimea." 

One Twitter user joked that Rogozin should win an award for demonstrating how the Russian sanctions against other countries work -- implying that it is Russia that has shot itself in the foot.
 
And in the tradition of blaming Russia's problems on outside forces, many in the Twittersphere jokingly looked abroad for the culprit behind Rogozin's injury. 

One user wrote that it certainly couldn't be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "You know me, I would shoot him in the back," Erdogan says in a fictitious quote referring to last month's Turkish downing of a Russian jet, which Putin called "a stab in the back." 
 
Some suspected the Russian president himself. 

​But another found that, once again, U.S. President Barack Obama is to blame. 


No Sanctions On Santa: Kremlin Takes Aim At West In Flawed Holiday Card

Critics have been picking holes in a supposedly lighthearted Christams message that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov sent out to journalists.

Steve Gutterman

When do geopolitics get onto a Christmas card?

When the Kremlin wants to make merry in a holiday message to journalists -- at the expense of the West.
 
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov took aim at U.S. and EU sanctions, travel bans on Russian officials, and low oil prices that have battered the country’s economy in a New Year's and Christmas greeting card, according to a Kremlin pool reporter who says he got one of the missives.
 
The front of the card, posted on Twitter by Komsomolskaya Pravda reporter Dmitry Smirnov, shows the snow-dusted onion domes of the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral beneath the words "Administration of the President of the Russian Federation" in gold type. Ornate lettering wishes the recipient a happy New Year and Christmas, which in Russia is celebrated on January 7.


 
The message inside is less typical. It seeks to make light of the sanctions the United States and EU have imposed on Russia in response to its interference in Ukraine over the past two years, while also taking a jab at U.S. efforts to build coalitions and brushing aside the oil price plunge that has drained the country's coffers.

It goes like this:

"You can't slap sanctions on Grandfather Frost [the Russian Santa Claus]
 
The New Year needs no visas
 
A coalition forms all by itself for celebrations round the tree
 
Unlike oil, champagne isn't getting any cheaper.
 
Let's make this fairy-tale reality last all 365 days!"

The greeting card was promptly picked apart by critics who pointed to a number of flaws.
 
2016 will be a Leap Year with 366 days, not 365, some pointed out. 

Others questioned why the fact that champagne prices are not falling would be a good thing -- or lamented that the cost of bubbly is rising in Russia, where a ban on many Western foods has driven prices up and inflation is expected to be about 13 percent in 2015. Wages, by contrast, are down 9.2 percent this year.

News of the greeting card came a day after it emerged that a book compiling quotations and speeches by Putin is being sent to officials as a New Year's gift -- a move Kremlin critics likened to Chinese Communist dictator Mao Zedong 's Little Red Book. 

With reporting by Bloomberg and nr2.com.ua

Tit-For-Cat: Expelled Polish Reporter Leaves Feline In Russian Ministry's Hands

Moscow stripped Polish journalist Waclaw Radziwinowicz of his press accreditation on December 18.

Anna Shamanska

Russia's Foreign Ministry claims a Polish journalist made one final request upon learning he was being expelled in a tit-for-tat dispute: Take care of my cat -- Marusya.

It's a twisted tale of an inspirational feline and her "halal" habits.

It begins on December 18, when the ministry stripped the press accreditation of Waclaw Radziwinowicz, a veteran Moscow correspondent for the leading Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. 

It was official retaliation for the expulsion of Russian RIA Novosti correspondent Leonid Sviridov from Poland, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.

Poland had accused Sviridov of espionage and forced him to leave the country on December 12.

While Zakharova said the punishment was aimed at Warsaw, she recalled an argument with the journalist at a September press conference over Poland's decision to demolish monuments to Soviet General Ivan Chernyakhovsky. Historians say that, in addition to fighting Nazis, Chernyakhovsky repressed Polish resistance-fighters. 

In interviews with news outlets, the Polish journalist described his 50-minute meeting with ministry deputy spokesman Artyom Kozhin in detail. 

"When I asked if I could appeal, and if so, then to whom, Kozhin said he didn't know," Radziwinowicz told Gazeta Wyborcza. "But I have 30 days to leave Russian territory. Kozhin also couldn't answer if I would be let back into Russia, if I decide to visit Poland during holidays, and then come back for the rest of my things."

The ministry, apparently offended by the interviews, responded on Facebook that Kozhin's conversation with the correspondent had been "heartfelt." 

"To our great disappointment, in W. Radziwinowicz's retelling, which has gone public, in which fiction is grotesquely combined with facts, there was no place to mention the key (at least for the duration of the discussion) moment of the entire meeting," the Facebook post reads. "Namely, his request to the Foreign Ministry of Russia 'to take care of the cat that stays here.'"

The ministry also writes that it found from "open sources" that the cat's name is Marusya, or Masya, and it eats "halal meat."

"It's a shame if W. Radziwinowicz tells his Masya that the fact that [the] ministry took away his accreditation stands behind their separation," the statement, which includes the hashtag #we'lltakecareofmarusyathecat, says. "Because, according to those same open sources, Masya wasn't just a fling, but the journalist's muse."

The ministry then addresses the cat itself, promising to take care of it, because it "promised Waclaw not to leave his cat behind."

Waclaw Radziwinowicz has not yet commented on the ministry's statement.
 


On The Rocks: Vilnius Mayor Fulminates At Russian Envoy's Holiday Gift

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius

Charles Recknagel

Did Russia's ambassador to Lithuania have holiday cheer in mind when he sent a Christmas gift this month to Vilnius's mayor?

Mayor Remigijus Simasius thinks not.

The present was a bottle of Putinka vodka, a designer booze made in Russia whose name is an affectionate diminutive of Russian President Vladimir Putin's own.

Since receiving what he's convinced is a poisoned chalice in the form of the Putinka bottle, Simasius has fired back at Russia's envoy very publicly.

Sharing an image of the vodka on social media on December 18, Simasius mused about what to do with the gift: "Send it back or sell to collect some $ for Russian freedom fighters?"

Simasius returned to the topic days later, adding on December 21:

"Is there any other country in the world whose ambassador gives vodka named after its president as a Christmas gift?"

Good question. But then, there are few diplomats who have as bad relations with the mayor of their host city as Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Udaltsov has with his.

Lithuania and its eastern European neighbors have expressed concern since Russia invaded a fellow former Soviet republic, Ukraine, and annexed Crimea in early 2014. They have responded in earnest to Moscow's trolling on the roots of Baltic States' independence and stirring things up among their Russian minorities, a cross-border kidnapping, and threats to prosecute Red Army malingerers, and midair near-misses and provocative military drills near Baltic borders. Among other countermeasures, recent months have seen the reinstating of the draft in Lithuania, new links with the West to reduce Baltic energy dependence on Russia, and a bid to collect compensation from Moscow for the damages inflicted by nearly a half-century of Soviet occupation. 

Beyond the broader tensions between the Russian and Lithuanian governments, Udaltsov seems to be on the lookout for ways to bait Simasius, including extending an invitation in July to visit Crimea, the Russian-occupied peninsula that most of the world sees as still belonging to Ukraine. 

The mayor riposted that he would come, but only if he were invited by the Ukrainian ambassador.

'Tis the season to be jolly and let bygones be bygones. But if the spat in Vilnius is any indication, Moscow's man in Lithuania is having too much fun trolling his hosts to stop.
 


Video Kadyrov Shames Chechen Social Worker On TV

Chechen social worker Ayshat Inayeva (left) and her husband looked very contrite when they had to meet with Ramzan Kadyrov on TV after she had sharply criticized the Caucasus leader.

Anna Shamanska

Few Chechens dare to criticize Ramzan Kadyrov publicly, and those who do risk being bullied into submission. Or worse

But earlier this month, Ayshat Inayeva was angry.

A social worker from the Chechen village of Gvardeyskoye, Inayeva said that after paying off her utility bills her boss was forcing her to put aside another 3,000 rubles ($42) from her paycheck as collateral for next month's payment.

In a two-minute audio message posted to Whatsapp that was then shared by others on social media, she placed the blame squarely on the Chechen strongman.

"What do you want from us? You are not even letting us bring our salary home," Inayeva asked of Kadyrov. "Are you the only one who ought to eat? Are you the only one who ought to drink? Are you the only one who has the right to live?"

Three days later, a sullen Inayeva found herself on government-run TV, supposedly with an opportunity to address the "Padishah," a superlative meaning "Great King" that Chechens often use in Kadyrov's company, in an "open dialogue."

WATCH: Kadyrov Berates Couple On Live Television

Kadyrov Berates Couple On Live Televisioni
X
December 30, 2015
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov doesn't tolerate dissent. This is what happened when Ayshat Inaeva complained about her utility bills in an audio message posted to WhatsApp.

Perched on a golden, brocaded couch next to her seemingly mortified husband and flanked by parliament speaker Magomed Daudov, presidential administration head Islam Kadyrov, and others, including her boss, Inayeva took back everything she'd said. 

The 39-year-old Kadyrov -- wearing a sweatshirt decorated with the images of his assassinated father, former pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov, a mosque, and the words "The road to success -- dream, pray, act" -- hectors her at length and casually drops loaded words like "extremism" and "Wahhabism." He replays segments of her audio message as Inayeva and her husband mostly stare downward, hands folded in front of them. 

The Inayeva of three days earlier had called out Kadyrov as selfish.

"We'll die of hunger," she'd complained, "and you don't care, as long as you do well, as long as your construction goes well. You pay your artists with apartments and cars.... Why won't you give something to common people?"

Now, back within the friendly confines of state television, Kadyrov uses the opportunity to demonstrate his brand of compassion.

"I am not going to punish you, I just want you to explain to the people and me how do I show off?" asks Kadyrov, who routinely posts photos to his popular Instagram account of him beating underlings in mixed martial-arts fights, hosting celebrities and other high-profile visitors, and cavorting with his collection of exotic animals. "How do I steal money from the people?"

Rights activists say Kadyrov has created a climate of fear in Chechnya and have accused him of rights abuses including abductions, torture, and executions.

In the state TV segment, Inayeva largely remains silent, and when she is asked to speak is nearly inaudible. 

Kadyrov and his aides take turns lecturing her on where budget proceeds go -- new childcare centers, roads, power lines, and water pipes. 

A state TV anchor also dresses down Inayeva. "In her so-called address to the head of Chechnya, she asks: 'Why don't you care about common people?' She seems to have forgotten that at her personal request Ramzan Kadyrov laid a kilometer-long gas pipeline to her house," the anchorman says.

'How Could I Say Such A Thing?'

Inayeva's husband, Magomed Idigov, also apologizes, saying he blames himself for not keeping an eye on his wife and letting her spread such "lies."

"I don't know what [devil] possessed her. That is what happens when our people listen to those abroad who denigrate our Chechnya and our Padishah," he says.

The woman's boss, Aza Dzankhotova, calls Inayeva a liar.

In a televised "backstage" moment after the couch session with the Chechen officials, Inayeva can no longer explain why she recorded the message. She claims to be completely satisfied with her job and with Kadyrov's government.

"Not once in the past seven years have the salaries of either myself or my husband been delayed," she tells the camera crew. "We never made big mistakes in life, but how I could say such a thing, I don't even know. I am guilty under the gaze of Allah, the people, my husband, and the Padishah."

Inyaeva has returned to work, according to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, although there have been unconfirmed rumors that she was beaten and briefly hospitalized.

"She is alright. Nobody is after her... She continues to work for us," Dzankhotova told Caucasian Knot. "As for firing her, I haven't thought of that yet."


What's Behind Italy's Step Back On Extending Sanctions Against Russia?

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi during the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, on November 16.

Rikard Jozwiak

BRUSSELS -- It was supposed to be a done deal: European Union envoys had been expected to approve a six-month extension of sanctions against Russia over its interference in Ukraine, as agreed by EU leaders last month.

But the Italian ambassador upended that plan at a meeting on December 9, telling the others that Rome wanted more debate on the matter.

A high-ranking EU diplomat told RFE/RL that EU ambassadors would not discuss the sanctions at their December 10 meeting. That means the issue is unlikely to be resolved this week, dragging the discussion closer to an EU summit on December 17-18, the holiday recess, and the January 31 deadline for a final agreement to prolong the sanctions through July 31, 2016.

So far only Rome has spoken out, but diplomats suspect countries such as Hungary, Austria, Greece, and Cyprus may be in the same camp.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was among the leaders who agreed on the sanctions extension at a meeting on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Turkey on November 16 -- so why the unexpected change of heart?

EU sources say that Renzi may have been driven by one of the following motives, or a combination of all three:

1. He wants to put pressure on EU member states from the east to be more helpful on another crucial issue facing the 28-member grouping -- migrants -- in the run-up to the EU summit next week.

2. He wants to show the Italian business community and Russia -- whose foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is visiting Italy on December 10-11 -- that he is fighting to the end, not just giving in to the EU majority.

3. He dislikes European Council President Donald Tusk and wants to annoy him, knowing that the former Polish prime minister cares deeply about the issue and is determined to keep sanctions against Russia in place.

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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