Added in translation?

President Biden stated the obvious in an ABC interview, as Bloomberg reports:

After ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Biden if he believes Putin is “a killer,” Biden murmured agreement and said “I do,” without elaborating.

By itself, killer is a mild word: homicide is not necessarily murder. Technically, any US President authorizing the taking out of a foreign rogue might be called a killer. Barack Obama, say, for disposing with Osama bin Laden, and Donald Trump for destroying Qossem Soleimani. However, the context made it clear that Biden was not talking about genuine terrorists killed at the Kremlin’s orders.

Rather, the US president had in mind the Kremlin’s hit squad and its victims. The small crowd of people targeted over the years are a diverse group, including opposition politicians, various actors deemed disloyal or unreliable, former spies, and other figures whose faults in the eyes of the Kremlin aren’t very clear. None of them, apparently, is a villain of bin Laden’s or Soleimani’s proportions.

The intended meaning of killer as used in this context must be stronger than the word’s generic definition. The Russian language, interestingly, does not have exact equivalents to killer and murderer. The act of killing – homicide – is usually called ubiystvo. However, the Russian word, while broader than murder, is narrower than homicide since ubiystvo normally implies a certain culpability. The Russian word ubiytsa used to translate killer – in this particular case as well as generally – implies, I believe, an even greater degree of culpability. Incidentally or not, the Russian translation seems a pretty good fit here.


  1. […] By the way, I don’t even think Putin was offended when Biden called him a killer by replying “yes” to the interviewer’s question. (But then I don’t think Putin’s feelings are central to this story – Biden’s message is.) In a silly way, this episode reminds me of the book I wrote about in 2016. Russian affairs can drive anyone mad so one needs some comic relief. […]

Comments are closed.

Discover more from Winterings in Trans-Scythia

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading