The President’s Words

* nur EinzelwörterPowered by Yandex.Dictionary
term frequency(per 100,000 words)
/ Examples
* nur EinzelwörterPowered by Yandex.Dictionary
term frequency(per 100,000 words)
/ Examples
Source: en.kremlin.ruHow we analysed the dataLast update: March, 18th 2020

How we analysed the data

The chart shows the frequency with which individual terms or combinations of terms appear in publications of the President of the Russian Federation over the period from 2000 up until 2019.

In preparing and depicting the data, we based our procedure largely on that used by our colleagues over at Zeit Online for their project 70 Jahre Bundestag – Darüber spricht der Bundestag [70 years of the Bundestag – What the Bundestag talks about]

What data did we use?

The analysis is based on raw data pulled from more than 10,000 transcripts published on the website of the Kremlin between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2019. These include official addresses given by the Russian president and transcripts of meetings and interviews, as well as other kinds of texts, such as op-eds by the president that appeared in various newspapers.

Dmitry Medvedev served as Russia’s president from 7 May 2008 to 6 May 2012, with Vladimir Putin assuming the post of prime minister. Thus, the data for this period which is known as “castling” relate to statements made by Medvedev. From 7 May 2012 onwards, they once again relate to Putin’s words. We have labelled the years in the chart accordingly.

What procedure did we follow?

The transcripts posted on kremlin.ru also contain the speech of people other than the Russian president – people who attended meetings with the president, interviewed him, etc. Although we did our best to filter this speech out, we cannot absolutely rule out the possibility of slight distortions resulting from content of this kind, because the transcripts do not always indicate a change of speaker in a uniform manner.

The first thing we did to prepare the data for analysis was to chop the filtered transcripts up into individual words, known as tokens. Then we removed all of the “stop words” from the token list – i.e. words like “and” (и), “so” (так) or “only” (только), which have no particular relevance for the analysis.

Individual terms (especially in Russian) can occur in a variety of forms (газета, газеты, газете, газету, …), so the next step was to standardise all the variants, i.e. change them all to their dictionary form, or lemma. In computational linguistics, this step is called lemmatisation. We used an algorithm developed by the Russian search engine provider Yandex for this. (For the English version: StanfordNLP LemmaProcessor.)

We also searched the data for words that occur in two or three-word strings (known as n-grams) with particular frequency, because we were interested in combinations of words like “artificial intelligence” (искусственный интеллект) or “Great Patriotic War” (Великая Отечественная Война), as well as in individual terms.

The last step was to count the number of times that the words and word combinations appear in the data associated with each individual year. To ensure that differences in the volume of material published in different years would not distort the results, we set up the tool to chart relative rather than absolute frequency; i.e. it shows the frequency with which a word or a combination of words appears per 100,000 words in a year. 

What else should users keep in mind?

Like the original documents, the data may contain misspelled words. To keep the dataset to a manageable size, only terms occurring at least three times over the entire period are shown.

The data for the German and Russian versions of this tool were derived from the Kremlin’s Russian-language publications; for the English version of the tool, we used the English-language publications at en.kremlin.ru. There may be differences between the English and Russian versions of a chart, since the English-language Kremlin site posts somewhat fewer documents and because the translations can sometimes differ from their source texts, and can also be prepared using different spelling standards (“modernisation” vs. “modernization”).

Decoding Putin

Vladimir was elected to the Russian presidency for the first time in March of 2000. He has been in power now for twenty years. Twenty is a lot of years. And a lot has happened: terrorist attacks, economic crises, the Russo-Georgian War, the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, sanctions on Russia and Russia’s countersanctions. There have been extensive reforms, the inaugural sessions of five newly elected parliaments, and large-scale demonstrations.

The dekoder special 20 Years of Putin is an attempt to decode Putin. And we actually mean “decode” in a technical sense, not just a figurative one. For this purpose, we have developed a tool that analyses texts from the official website of the President of Russia to generate a graphic representation of the frequency of word use by Putin (2000–2008 and 2012–2020) and Dmitry Medvedev (2008–2012). Researchers from European universities pick out individual terms and tell us the stories behind them.

Medvedev’s HighlightsRussia and UkraineSocial policyThe Fight Against Corruption

Medvedev’s Highlights

Text: Translation: William Driver17.03.2020

In 2024, the second round of the two presidential terms that Vladimir Putin was eligible to serve under the constitution were going to end. However, he has decided to simply rewrite the constitution in order to remain in power for another 12 years. Putin ran up against the two-term limit once before, in 2008, but back then he opted for a different way to retain power: Dmitry Medvedev, an old comrade from Putin’s years in Petersburg, became president. What happened in the four years that followed may have been what convinced Putin to take a different approach this time around.

Though many experts believe that Medvedev was never truly an independent figure, there were clear differences in the rhetoric of the two politicians, and these occasionally ended in open conflict. Below, the “buzzwords” for the Medvedev years.

georgiapeacekeeping

The Russo-Georgian war, the most significant foreign-policy event of Medvedev’s presidency, began shortly after he took office. It marked Russia’s first entry into armed conflict with a European state since World War II. A Georgian attack on a Russian peacekeeping force in South Ossetia – a small unrecognised state on the Russo-Georgian border – provided the pretext for the war, which lasted only a few days, in August 2008. The subsequent actions taken by Russian army were described in Russian propaganda as an operation aimed at forcing Georgia to make peace. By the end of the war, Moscow had recognised the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist region of Georgia. In addition to the severance of relations with georgia, the war triggered a drastic deterioration in Russia’s relations with the West. Georgia itself, though, quickly fell off the radar again.

resetstrategic offensive

The situation changed in late 2008, however, when the United States voted Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, into the presidency. By March 2009, Obama, seeking a fresh start to relations with Russia, had launched a policy that came to be known as the reset. One visible result of the thawing of relations between the two countries was the strategic arms Reduction Treaty (START III; START II having been abandoned in 2002); in signing this instrument, both sides demonstrated a willingness to refrain from the mutual threat of nuclear weapon use.

wto

Medvedev’s period in office also saw a key phase in the talks on Russia’s accession to the world trade organization (Russia’s WTO membership did not become effective until after Medvedev left office). In entering the WTO system, Russia committed itself to abide by its standards, much to the annoyance of economic nationalists.

libya

Several political analysts see Medvedev’s support of the USA’s position on the Libyan conflict as the cause of a public rift between him and Putin.

A short recap: civil war ignited in libya in early 2011. It was clear that airstrikes would give Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorial regime the upper hand – if it could use them. But the Western states urged the UN Security Council to create a no-fly zone above Libya, and the Russia delegation, on Medvedev’s instructions, made no objection, despite Putin’s public calls for a veto of the relevant resolution. Gaddafi was subsequently overthrown, and Putin soon returned to the presidency.

crisis

The international economic crisis in 2008/2009 coincided with the start of Medvedev’s presidency. Thanks to the government’s strict financial policy, Russia was on its way to a fairly swift economic recovery, interrupted by the dramatic fall in oil prices in 2013 and imposition of sanctions due to the Ukraine crisis. Interestingly, Putin referred to the crisis in 2015/2016 – which was in many respects an internal Russia crisis – as “ours” far less frequently than Medvedev.

modernisation + modernizationdemocracy

In the face of the international crisis, Medvedev spoke quite often about the necessity to modernise the country. Many took the word modernisation to be a modern translation of perestroika; some welcomed this, others were more wary. Medvedev spoke about democracy a lot more than Putin, as well.

In essence, this talk of modernisation involved the promise to create an innovative economy, privatise many state assets and actively develop the energy sector. In the end, only this last aim was realised – the oil and gas sector did in fact become one of the most innovative sectors, at least with respect to those aspects of the sector that permit innovation. 

internet

In the minds of many Russians, the ideology of modernisation was closely entwined with Medvedev’s own enthusiasm for gadgets (the first iPhones had just hit the shelves), the internet and social networks. His detractors dubbed him the Twitter President for this reason, though his account was not a channel for a genuinely two-way flow of opinions or information.

policearmy

In April 2009, Major Denis Yevsyukov, a senior officer in the militia, shot several people in a Moscow supermarket while intoxicated. Shortly thereafter, the Medvedev government initiated what was probably its most talked-about reform: that of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In reality, though, it was to essentially an exercise in rebranding – renaming the “militia” (militsiya) the police (politsiya). The reform had almost no effect on internal ministry structures, and in particular none on the so-called “stick system” – in which the performance of police officers is assessed chiefly on the basis of numbers of cases solved – which encourages police misconduct and abuse. Interestingly, Medvedev undertook a, far more successful, reform of the army during his time in office as well, but he almost never mentioned it.

corruption

After the release of Aleksey Navalny’s documentary “Don’t call him Dimon” in 2017, the name of Medvedev, by then prime minister, became practically a byword for corruption. All the more interesting, then, to note that Medvedev was the one who introduced the word corruption to the active presidential vocabulary. Words alone had almost no effect on the situation, though, at least not in the eyes of the urban-dwelling middle classes: the electoral fraud accompanying the 2011 Duma elections was seen by many as an example of political corruption. And it was the protests following these elections that made Navalny, who had previously fought against financial fraud in state-owned corporations, the leader of the opposition. Incidentally, Navalny’s name was never uttered publicly by either president.

Medvedev’s HighlightsRussia and UkraineSocial policyThe Fight Against Corruption

Russia and Ukraine

Text: Translation: Robert Orttung17.04.2020

Two key events – the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine – have significantly influenced Russian policies and Russia’s relations with Ukraine, Europe, and the US. However, these events play only an episodic role in Russia’s official narrative – a clear sign of how far the policies and rhetoric of the Russian state have diverged.

ukraine

The Russian president mostly talks about ukraine during crises – first in the context of the Orange Revolution in 2004, when mass protests prevented Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-backed presidential candidate, from manipulating the election result. Then there was the Euromaidan protests of 2013–2014, to which Russia responded by annexing Crimea and supporting the separatists in Donbass. Russian state television has been calling Ukraine’s state sovereignty into question on a regular basis, so President Putin only feels the need to take up this issue himself during the peak of the crisis.

ukrainecrimea

The 2014 annexation of crimea came as a surprise both to Russian society and to the international community. The official Kremlin rhetoric reflects this: the Crimean Peninsula was hardly ever mentioned before 2014. Although the plan for the annexation had been fully worked out some time in advance, the decision to actually implement it in February 2014 was intentionally not preceded by a propaganda campaign in Russia. Only once it had been annexed did Crimea become a key element in the image of Russia as portrayed by itself and by outsiders.

crimeasyria

Despite the central importance of the annexation of crimea for Russia’s domestic and foreign policy, direct references to Crimea in the official rhetoric fell off quickly. While Crimea does not disappear completely from the Kremlin narrative, from 2017 its presence hovers around a low baseline level. By contrast, syria takes on paramount importance in Russian foreign policy, and references to the country become frequent in the official rhetoric.

crimean tatars

For Russia, the crimean tatars remain the most difficult aspect of the annexation of Crimea. Their territorial claim to Crimea is closely linked to the memory of their deportation under Stalin and their return to the peninsula after 1991. In 2014, Crimean Tatars figured prominently among those protesting the annexation. They have since been a major target of Russian repression: Crimean Tatar organisations and media have been banned. It is therefore in Russia’s interest that the Crimean Tatars receive as little mention as possible in presidential speeches.

donbassdonetsklugansk

The war in the Donbas, which began in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea, is another topic that is rarely mentioned in Russia’s official rhetoric. In 2015 – i.e. with a certain time lag (the war began in the first half of 2014) – references to donbass, donetsk and lugansk, the main venues of the conflict, become somewhat more frequent, but they drop off again quickly. As the official Russian narrative still denies Russia’s involvement in this war, it is only logical that the region would not appear more than occasionally in the official rhetoric.

separatistmilitia

The Russian president also avoids references to “separatist[s]" and “separatism” in relation to the Donbas – not least in order to avoid drawing a parallel with the Chechen separatists, who once figured prominently in presidential rhetoric. When speaking of the Donbas, Putin tends to use another term instead, “people’s militias, which suggests a greater degree legitimacy from below.

Medvedev’s HighlightsRussia and UkraineSocial policyThe Fight Against Corruption

Social policy: Family above all?

Text: Translation: Alison Borrowman17.04.2020

Rising prosperity for broad sections of the population – this pledge was and still is one of the main reasons for Vladimir Putin’s enormous popularity in Russia. Part and parcel of this is an active social policy. Over Putin’s first two terms in office (2000–2008), public social spending (after conversion to US dollars) increased nearly ten-fold. Apparently, however, all that effort still fell short of the mark: in surveys, social policy issues continue to rank in the top five on the list of the greatest problems facing the country. Attempts to restrict cost-intensive social services, like the benefits monetarisation in 2004 or the 2018 pension reform, have triggered mass protests.

pension

In his first presidential term, the issue of pensions was the chief issue for Putin in area of social policy. A first pension reform was implemented but ultimately proved to be unsustainable. As in many other countries, pension reform is a thankless issue in Russia: Putin continues to speak of the issue, but with decreasing frequency. Once the 2018 pension reform legislation was adopted, he has almost never mentioned it – although surveys have shown that many Russian’s view it the most important thing happening on the domestic front.

pensionhealthcare

The healthcare sector, by contrast, is a topic with lasting visibility. Although this is another area that has been subject to reform efforts for many years, healthcare reform will supposedly be tackled within the so-called national projects, making it inevitable that they should be mentioned more often in official addresses. Moreover, survey respondents regularly identify healthcare as the most important social policy issue.

povertyunemployment

Of the four traditional aspects of social policy – pensions, healthcare, poverty and unemployment – the last two are mentioned the least often in presidential addresses. This is the case despite the fact that one out of every eight people in the country was still living under the poverty line in 2019, according to official Russian statistics. If one goes by the population’s own estimates of their situation, this number is significantly higher. Average wages have also fallen noticeably from the peak they hit before the Ukraine crisis. Still, unemployment was only a frequent topic during the 2009 global economic crisis.

familyhealthcare Russia was not spared the severe effects of 2008/09 global economic crisis. Many commentators believe that the Russian leadership’s social contract with the population has begun to falter since that time. The state’s use of nationalist propaganda is seen as a response to this – particularly in connection with the 2014 annexation of Crimea. However, the ‚conservative shift‘ in social policy began at an earlier time: the frequency of references to family has been rising steadily, albeit in waves, over the past 20 years. familyunemployment + pension + healthcare + poverty

However, the boost in approval ratings associated with the annexation of Crimea did not last. Russia’s involvement in Syria met with less enthusiasm, and the end of the period of dynamic economic growth also had an adverse effect on Putin’s popularity. One way the state responded to this was to increase its crackdown on protest. At the same time, however, the ‚conservative shift‘ is intended to continue contributing towards greater national cohesion and to justify distancing the country from the West. In 2019, Putin’s use of the word family hit a new record high.

Medvedev’s HighlightsRussia and UkraineSocial policyThe Fight Against Corruption

The Fight Against Corruption: Much Ado About Nothing

Text: Translation: Alison Borrowman17.04.2020

The thing about corruption in Russia is that everybody, from the president on down, wants to combat it. However, the official rhetoric and reality in the country are worlds apart, as a quick look at national survey data and international rankings makes clear.

corruption

In an attempt to distance himself from Putin, Medvedev sought to promote an image of himself as a leader dedicated to fighting corruption at the start of his presidency. And he managed to do so – at least in his speeches: Medvedev spoke about corruption in the four years of his presidency as many times as Putin did in 16 years. However, in reality, Medvedev himself has been accused of corruption – though there were never any legal consequences from the investigations along these lines by the Anti-Corruption Foundation of opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

fight against corruptionfight against terrorism

It is interesting that Putin has taken up the public’s dissatisfaction with corruption and done more to exploit it to further for his own ends – for example, by using a broad anti-corruption campaign to boost his own popularity (as Xi Jinping has done in China, for instance). He has seldom mentioned the fight against corruption, especially in comparison to his use of terms like the fight against terrorism – even when corruption scandals continually make the news.

navalny

Apropos corruption scandals: Alexei Navalny (including in Medvedev’s case), the most prominent challenger of Vladimir Putin, has been exposing one after the other. Even when he is asked about navalny directly, Putin never utters his name, elegantly eluding all questions about the opposition leader.

offshoredeoffshore + de-offshorisation + deoffshorisation

In Russia, the term offshorisatsiya incidentally does not refer to the extraction of oil from beneath the oceans, but instead to the channelling of (illicit) funds to a ’safe‘ country abroad. Estimates put the amount of money funnelled out of Russia into foreign offshore accounts at over a billion US dollars. In no other country in the world is the percentage of assets belonging to the super-rich that are hidden in offshore accounts anywhere near as high as that in Russia, where it is about 60 percent. In 2013, Putin launched a deoffshorisatsiya initiative, aimed at bringing at least some of those assets back to Russia, with promises of a full amnesty in return. The initiative was not successful however, the target clientele apparently believing that their money was safer in the Caymans & co. than it would have been in the Russian Sberbank. And thus ended deoffshorisatsiya’s appearance in Putin’s linguistic repertoire.

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