Given that their country’s humor is so steeped in subtle and sophisticated irony, Russian officials’ frequent inability to get a joke can be pretty mind-blowing. And it appears that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter just had a good laugh at Moscow’s expense.
Speaking this weekend, the 91-year-old Carter said he had offered to provide Russia with accurate maps of Syria so its pilots could actually target Islamic State positions in the country—rather than U.S.-backed opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. Carter, who was among a group of prominent former global leaders who met Putin this past spring, said the Russian president had provided him with an email address.
“I sent him a message on Thursday [October 15] asking him if he wanted a copy of our map so he could bomb accurately in Syria,” Carter said.
He added that the next day the Russian Embassy “called down and told me they would like very much to have the map. So in the future, if Russia doesn’t bomb the right places, you’ll know it’s not Putin’s fault but it’s my fault.”
The maps Carter spoke of are publicly available on the Carter Center’s website, which on October 8 published a report saying that the vast majority of Russian airstrikes in Syria were not hitting Islamic State targets.
In the video of Carter’s remarks posted in YouTube, it is clear that the 39th U.S. president, who is known to have a playful sense of humor, was just having a little fun. But it appears that Moscow didn’t pick up on the joke. The Interfax news agency flashed the following: “RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONFIRMS THAT EX-U.S. PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER HANDED MAPS INDICATING ISLAMIC STATE’S CURRENT LOCATIONS IN SYRIA TO RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN WASHINGTON.”
Russian news sites followed up with stories citing Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying that “it was with a big thanks that we accepted this gesture by the former U.S. president who obviously is sincerely calling for joint efforts in the fight against terror and is concerned about the fate of the Syrian people.”
Zakharova added that she hoped that another Carter—U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter—would continue this spirit of cooperation. Perhaps Zakharova was joining in on the joke. But history suggests otherwise.
The Foreign Ministry is far from the only part of official Russia that has trouble understanding contemporary humor. Back in May, prosecutors in Rostov questioned the organizer of a local spelling bee about whether he has any connections to so-called “grammar Nazis.”
Grammar Nazi, of course, is a slang term for somebody who habitually—and often annoyingly—corrects other people’s grammar. In recent years, it has developed into a satirical Internet meme, which uses imagery that vaguely resembles swastikas. But prosecutors in Rostov didn’t get the joke. They interrogated spelling bee organizer Aleksei Pavlovsky, asking him whether he believed people who make spelling and grammatical mistakes should be exterminated.
This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.