White House complains about Russian language expression in English
An offhand remark made by Russian President Vladimir Putin towards his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, on Monday has earned the Kremlin a reprimand from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, after a reporter claimed that the Russian leader’s jibe was a crude joke about rape.
The controversy began after Putin’s joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, when he quoted a common rhyming expression, often used with children, while accusing Zelensky of failing to live up to the Minsk agreements, treaties signed in 2014 and 2015 that were meant to resolve the ongoing conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.
“In Kiev, first they say they will comply, then they say it will destroy their country,” Putin complained. “And the president said recently there’s not one item in the Minsk agreements that he likes. ‘Like it or not, my beauty, bear with it.’ They must be fulfilled, it won’t work any other way.”
Some listeners were outraged by the president’s choice of expression, believing that he had made a reference to sexual violence, particularly after some pointed out that his words bore a close resemblance to lyrics from a 1990s song by punk group Krasnaya Plesen (’Red Mold), in which the singer describes a necrophiliac fantasy and says, “like it or not, / my beauty, sleep.”
Native Russian speakers quickly pointed out that Putin and Krasnaya Plesen’s words were variations on an ordinary expression often used to reprimand stubborn children. At a press conference on Wednesday, however, one reporter told Psaki, “He made what many Russian speakers interpreted as a rape joke directed at Ukraine. Given that diplomacy is all about talking, how does the administration view talk like this? Does it shorten the diplomatic off-ramp, because it’s a pretty undiplomatic thing to say?”
Psaki, who did not appear to be familiar with Putin’s words, replied, “Well, first, I would say that any joke about rape would certainly be something that everyone in this government would be outraged by, whether it’s happening from the mouth of a US official or a foreign official.” She went on to blame the Russian leadership for “bellicose rhetoric” in the past, and emphasized, “We have never held back on our concern.”
As for Zelensky himself, the Russian-speaking Ukrainian leader maintained a sense of humor about the matter. At his own appearance with Macron on Tuesday, the former comedian quipped, “‘Like it or not, my beauty, bear with it.’ There is, of course, something here that I won’t dispute with the Russian president: Ukraine really is a beauty. But as far as the word ‘my’ goes, calling Ukraine ‘my beauty,’ I think that is going a bit too far.”