How Russians Read Putin's NYT Op-Ed on Syria

Vladimir Putin, 16 July 2013, Kremlin press service, public domain.

Vladimir Putin, 16 July 2013, Kremlin press service, public domain.

It’s not every day that the Russian President pens an opinion piece in the New York Times, but it happened yesterday, and the American blogosphere promptly lost its collective marbles, as tweeting journalists and surprised ordinary Internet users stumbled over each other to react. In the aftermath of local and regional elections, most Russian bloggers seem to be too preoccupied with domestic issues to take much interest in what Putin had to say to Americans.

But not everyone has ignored the story, and many RuNet users have hailed the President’s overture as something of a needed display of Russian moral authority on the world stage.

Within hours of its publication on the New York Times’ website, the online translation portal inoSMI.ru posted a Russian language version [ru] of Putin’s article. At the time of this writing, the translation has attracted 476 comments, the majority of which express positive responses.

User Skuter, for instance, writes:

Правильно сделал ВВП. В большинстве амеры понимают и признают всё это. Пусть теперь не только амеры знают, но и Обама знает, что амеры знают. Думаю лишним не будет. А с БОМБАМБАМЫ пузырь вискаря Путину, за сохранение лица…а может и жизни…

[Putin] did the right thing. The majority of Americans understand all this and admit it. Now let not just the Americans know it, but let Obama know what the Americans [already] know. I don’t think it’s going overboard. And bombobama [Obama] owes Putin a bottle of whiskey for saving face… and maybe his life…

Another user called zapravdu writes, with a tinge of 9/11 conspiracy theory:

Великолепное обращение, вот еще бы американский народ его услышал. Потому-как их в их сми постоянно идет прямо-противоположный посыл. Да что говорить, даже о трагедии 9/11 многие имеют лишь поверхностную инфу.

A magnificent piece, and all the better that the American people heard it, since it’s always the exact opposite message in their mass media. Even when it comes to 9/11, many have only the superficial info.

Not everyone, of course, marveled at Putin’s eloquence. User namik83 contrasted Russia’s nonintervention position in Syria with its willingness to engage troops in South Ossetia and then Georgia in 2008:

очень красивые слова..но когда россия бомбила грузию где было то санкция оон о котором сейчас говорят так много

Very pretty words … but when Russia bombed Georgia, where were the UN sanctions they’re now talking about so much?

Echoing the sentiments of many in the LGBT community (whose patience with the Russian government has worn thin, after the recent wave of anti-gay laws), Anton Krasovsky (a gay Russian journalist who last year lost his job after coming out) asked on Facebook if Putin had homosexuals in mind, when he wrote that “God created us equal.”

On Twitter, there is evidence of a botnet celebrating Putin’s op-ed, tweeting laudatory remarks and using the hashtag “#PutinForPeace.” Many of these suspicious accounts, like Vasilii Kuharev’s, post relatively infrequently, typically using hashtags involved in various pro-Kremlin campaigns. (Mr. Kukarev’s account, for example, has been active four times since July 2013, once praising Putin [ru], and three times criticizing prominent members of the Russian opposition, always using suspect hashtags.)

If the Russian authorities are behind efforts to promote Putin’s New York Times piece (and frame it as a public relations victory over the White House), the Twitter botnet is undeniably a primitive attempt. But the bots aren’t the only ones on the Russian Internet trying to spin the story in this direction.

Stanislav Apetian, aka Politrash, is a pro-Kremlin blogger who also weighed in today on the President’s New York Times article. Apetian collected dozens of positive reactions (as well as a few negative ones) posted to Facebook by random Americans, translated them into Russian with the help of a friend, and published them together [ru] on LiveJournal. Apetian’s work conveys the same sentiments propagated by the #PutinForPeace campaign (pride in Russia’s apparent—and admittedly rare—public relations coup), without the phoniness of robotic retweets.

Ironically, it seems that the more effective strategy for promoting a positive twist on Putin’s article is the one that relies on American netizens—not Russia’s.

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