My adventures in Russian (mis)translation

“Washington’s dove of peace. Although they are sneakily disguising it, they cannot hide its dirty gut!”

Once, Russian sites such as InoSMI would run accurate translations of Western articles, but with acid little commentaries or new titles. These days, it is often the case that Russian news outlets will instead offer up doctored versions, slanted to reassure Russians that the West is divided and near collapse and its people unhappy with policy over Russia and Ukraine (I talk a little more about this in my latest podcast).

They seem to pay a lot of attention to the Spectator (as they should), both the magazine and its online blog, and not only do the Kremlin/Kremlophile trolls flock to its comment pages, but its articles often get this treatment. My most recent piece, on the Black Sea, seems to have attracted particular attention (and PolitRossiya, apparently unaware that UCL is not UCLA, describes me as an emeritus professor at the University of California), but an especially egregious example came in the increasingly nationalist ‘news agency’ Krasnaya Vesna (‘Red Spring’).

The essence of my article was that while we focus on the land war in Ukraine, there is also a naval dimension, and this has true global significance, as evident through the Russians’ capacity to strange Ukrainian grain exports by sea, which drove up prices worldwide. Although Crimea’s political future is a complex issue, so long as the peninsula is both Russian-controlled and heavily militarised, then it can disrupt activities in the Black Sea. That’s the nutshell version – do feel free to read the full version, as well as the Council on Geostrategy report I highlight.

So, what did Krasnaya Vesna make of this? This is their piece (run through Google Translate, which generally does a decent job with Russian), in italics, with a few annotations of my own:

Spectator: naval bases in Crimea make Russia stronger than NATO in the Black Sea

OK, just for the record, this is not what I say…

Naval bases in Crimea make Russia stronger than NATO in the Black Sea. This point of view was expressed by Spectator columnist Mark Galeotti on May 14, the newspaper writes.

“As long as Russian forces are deployed in Crimea, the Black Sea will obey the will of Moscow – to threaten and suppress,” Galeotti believes.

According to him, “what is happening now in the Black Sea does not remain in the sea, and the waves of what happened are spreading all over the globe. ”

Galeotti cited examples where NATO air forces failed in a collision with Russian fighters.

Well, I talk of the civilian Polish plane almost forced into the sea by a Russian jet, the American drone which was crashed, and the British reconnaissance plane that a Russian fighter accidentally shot at… only for the missile fortunately to malfunction

In his opinion, NATO has long considered the Black Sea region a front line with Russia.

“And Crimea is both a platform for Russian strikes and a target for retaliatory Ukrainian air and sea attacks,” the observer emphasizes.

“It is Crimea that becomes the reason that the forces of the NATO countries arrange provocations here near the Russian borders. The purpose of these provocations is to challenge the influence of the Kremlin in the waters of the sea, which the West seeks to control ,” Galeotti concludes.

This is simply made up. I’ve looked carefully at my text to see if there is anything that could innocently or wilfully be read as this, and I find nothing. All there is, is a reference to Western FONOPs — Freedom of Navigation operations — in international waters. Like, say, the spy ship Viktor Leonov off the US coast. Or the missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov in the North Sea. Both this year; both Russian; both unhindered; but apparently neither a ‘provocation’.

Of course, disinformation is a tool of war as old as history, but this is not directed externally. It’s in Russian, for a Russian audience. This, alas, is the new line, trying desperately – including relying on outright fabrication – to persuade Russians that the evil West is out to get them. How long before we see the old-fashioned clumsy Soviet propaganda cartoons like the one above, with fanged, fat American soldiers and their bloodthirsty top-hatted or cigar-smoking capitalist masters?

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