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'Intrusion' or 'Invasion'? Russian politicians attack May over mis-translated speech

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Theresa May on December 20, 2018.
Theresa May on December 20, 2018. -
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Russian politicians have reacted angrily to British Prime Minister Theresa May's Christmas message — but all seemingly because of a mistranslation.

May's festive address praised the armed forces for playing a "vital role" in "protecting our waters and our skies from Russian intrusion".

But in Russia, the TASS news agency and multiple news organisations — including Kommersant, the Novaya Gazeta and NTV — translated the sentence as "Russian invasion", sparking the outrage.

'Absolutely stupid'

Alexei Chepa, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's international affairs committee, described it as "an unweighted, absolutely stupid and ill-conceived statement", according to the Ria Novosti news agency.

"I think that it, on the one hand, causes a certain irony in the assessment of the political strength of the British leader, on the other hand, it is very offensive and very alarming that such statements are heard from the lips of the leaders," he added.

Andrei Klimov, head of the Federation Council's Commission to Protect State Sovereignty, also took aim at May over her words.

"Something is wrong in the British Kingdom. Nobody attacks the UK, so it's very convenient for them to say that their army is bravely resisting threats from Moscow," Klimov is quoted by Ria Novosti as saying.

What May was talking about?

UK authorities routinely intercept Russian military planes flying over the North Sea and approaching its airspace without talking to air control — eight times a year on average.

Russian planes rarely use transponders which alert other aircraft of their presence and which can cause problems for civilian planes in the area. The RAF escort is therefore also a way to flag other aircraft of the Russian presence.

In January and June, the Royal Navy was also deployed to escort Russian military ships sailing through the English channel and thus in an "area of national interest."

In her speech, May also thanked the military for "cleaning up after a sickening nerve agent attack on the streets of Salisbury," which the UK has blamed on Russia — allegations Russia has vehemently denied.

'Rules-based international orders'

The British military also helped in the fight against the so-called Islamic State and to send a message to the Assad regime in Syria "that we will not stand by while chemical weapons are used, as they were in April on families, including young children," May said.

"Time and again, you have stood up to aggression and those who flout the rules-based international order.

"You should be incredibly proud of all that you do, just as the whole country is proud of you," she added.