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I'm unsure whether my question is on-topic, but I learn Russian and got really curious when reading a Radio France Internationale article of September 2021 written in Russian and quoting a Russian political scientist, Valery Solovey, as saying:

Деньги он может получить, конечно, только в России. И это главное объяснение визитов Лукашенко. В Кремле его считают хитрым крестьянином, Владимир Путин дал ему прозвище „Картофельный лось“. Путин иногда даже любуется тем, с какой крестьянской хитростью Лукашенко обходит его, мастера геополитических комбинаций. Я нисколько не шучу. Лукашенко раздражает Путина, и одновременно у российского президента нет альтернативы. Он не может заменить Лукашенко, а Путин нуждается в каком-то геополитическом успехе.

My translation:

He can get money only in Russia, of course. And that's the main explanation of Lukashenko's visits. The Kremlin considers him a cunning peasant; Vladimir Putin coined a nickname for Lukashenko - Potato Moose. Sometimes Putin even admires the peasant trickery with which Lukashenko successfully deals with him, a geopolitical grandmaster. I'm not kidding at all. Lukashenko annoys Putin, but Russia's president doesn't have any alternative. He can't replace Lukashenko and needs some geopolitical success.

So, why Potato Moose? What could Lukashenko have to do with moose and potatoes?

The quoted text creates an impression that this bizarre nickname might be related to Lukashenko being seen as a cunning peasant, but what could be the logic of this relation if it exists?

I'm really puzzled and humbly hope that SE users interested in politics can shed some light.

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    Leaves are quite poisonous and a moose unlikely to be able to dig roots out of the ground. Hence here may be something more complex than a moose coming to garden for potatoes as wild pigs do.
    – Stančikas
    Apr 9, 2023 at 14:46
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    It's definitely a figure of speech and the definition seems to come in the article "peasant trickery". How to come from potato moose to "peasant trickery" might be more a language question. Apr 9, 2023 at 15:02
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    Russian language usage questions are a better fit for russian.stackexchange.com Apr 9, 2023 at 20:56
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    A candid comment: the so-called "political scientist" Valery Solovey is a joke. If you research his statements, writings, and the opinions of others, you'll clearly see that he is a 21st century Alessandro Cagliostro, a self-styled guru, a laughably obvious impostor. I would triple-check any of his statements, and, if possible, not take them into account at all. Apr 10, 2023 at 12:23
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    @CopperKettle exactly. Treating anything said by Solovey, especially on a government propaganda outlet like RFI, as truth, without other sources confirming it, is unwise.
    – Eugene
    Apr 10, 2023 at 16:07

5 Answers 5

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Potato is a speciality and signature plant of Belarus.

Картофель стал неотъемлемой частью белорусской идентичности. Скромный клубень прославляется в литературе, искусстве и музыке.

Potatoes have become an integral part of the Belarusian identity. The humble tuber is celebrated in literature, art and music.

This is not unlike Ireland potato allusions and arose under similar conditions. Belarus is also famous in Russia for its dairy products.

Unlike Ireland, though, I don't believe that Belarus has seen any significant famine in a peacetime, and even Soviet famines of early 20s and 30s has mostly spared it.

I'm not sure about moose, it is a commonly referred animal in Russian culture and comparing one with a moose would refer to being large and healthy - but there may be some more specific reason which I do not know.

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    Thanks a lot, but what about moose? I can now understand the potato part thanks to your answer, but what could Lukashenko have to with moose?
    – Mitsuko
    Apr 9, 2023 at 11:08
  • I recall a non-fiction book about someone surviving during ww2 with peasants in that general area (perhaps the Ukraine or Russia) and it seemed like during the winter, they ate almost exclusively mashed potatoes, with meals being a bowl passed around, everyone sharing the bowl and the spoon. Not a balanced diet -- but they did survive.
    – releseabe
    Apr 10, 2023 at 11:43
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    Potato does wonders in most of Russian climates since you can grow them everywhere, the output is abundant and predictable, and you can survive eating potato with minimal additions. A lot of people small-scale farmed potatoes during the 90s, me included.
    – alamar
    Apr 10, 2023 at 11:54
  • @Mitsuko I think the answer lies in the combination of this answer -- potatoes -- with that of mustaccio -- moose -- politics.stackexchange.com/a/79163/7465
    – RonJohn
    Apr 10, 2023 at 14:58
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    I'm Irish and I don't think we celebrate the potato in literature, art or music. We do eat a lot of the things, but that's it. Apr 11, 2023 at 23:46
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The "moose" part can be explained, as was alluded to in the comments, by the association in the Russian culture of that animal with something large in size (Lukashenko is about 1 ft. taller than Putin), strong, stubborn, and not particularly sophisticated.

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The question is related to politics, but I think the answer lies more in the Russian language and culture rather than in the politics.

In the Russian popular culture, (any adjective) moose is always alluded to "вежливый лось" (the polite moose). The joke pictures a particular moose having strong and indiscriminate sexual activity, but is also very polite. The joke with its variations is quite popular in Russian-language sphere and "polite moose" in Russian is an idiom for someone strongly pushing his agenda.

And "potato", as other answers stated, simply refers to Belarus. Potato is Belarus' informal mascot vegetable. The president of Belarus, Lukashenko, is strong supporter of this symbolic connection between the country and the plant.

In short, this is a targeted pejorative.

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    I highly doubt that Putin is aware of Polite Moose joke.
    – alamar
    Apr 9, 2023 at 21:03
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    @alamar I don't say anything like this. Putin is known to use street language in public when he feels like. On the other hand, while the moose is really well known, "2cher" is imho rather obscure. So you are welcome to explain it for everyone else.
    – fraxinus
    Apr 10, 2023 at 10:36
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    I remember the polite moose as a meme which arose around 2004 (?) together with LiveJournal subcultures which later gave birth to imageboards, and about which Putin could definitely not get a memo. It is not something from the basic set of "russian jokes" to my knowledge.
    – alamar
    Apr 10, 2023 at 10:39
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    As far as I remember, the idiom, together with the joke, goes back at least well into 1980s. It may be even older, but I am not old enough to remember older Russian jokes.
    – fraxinus
    Apr 10, 2023 at 10:56
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    p.s. Putin was adequate and up-to-date to at least 2010, but well, this is subjective.
    – fraxinus
    Apr 10, 2023 at 11:02
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Lukashenko has a big image of being a man of the people. He grows his own vegatables and makes a show of it. He may be genuine about it. Here's a Euronews clip of him doing just that:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjdrTp2Jj0E

Here's another clip of him showing off his produce to Steven Seagal:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cllle4Kyqoo

This clip is notable for having been featured on Last Week Tonight where John Oliver cringed at Lukashenko handing Seagal a freshly peeled carrot. These types of antics and just running around a potato field in your shorts may be seen by some as unbecoming of a country's leader. You're probably not going to see Putin looking like this: (Euronews screen cap from YouTube)

enter image description here

Calling someone a "moose" in russian just means they're big. It also implies they're simple but it can be used positively. The only example I can think of is in this old rap song. It's around 2:54 but feel free to enjoy the rest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCbP2nVAW_Y

Lukashenko is a big guy. He's also notably bigger than Putin so Putin may be lashing out a little bit. (photo from Reuters)

enter image description here

So the direct reference is that Lukashenko is a big guy that grows potatoes. The underlying jab is that he's a simpleton lummox that digs in the dirt.

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Multiple answers mention that potato is a signature plant of Belarus. Now I want to add a possible explanation about the Moose part.

That might be a reference to Białowieża Forest (Беловежская пуща), where wild animals are preserved, and moose is among them.

The forest lies at the border of Poland and Belarus, and it is famous in Russian political history as a place where Belovezha Accords were signed.

So, to some extent, Беловежская пуща with its mooses is also a signature feature of Belarus. Even though Зубр would be more representative animal, as was mentioned in comments, the entry sign still features a moose.

Изображение лося на въезде в Беловежскую пущу

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    – Community Bot
    Apr 12, 2023 at 9:28
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    Зубр is much more representative of that fauna, placing this interpretation in doubt.
    – alamar
    Apr 12, 2023 at 17:38
  • @alamar That is correct. Nevertheless, there is a moose on the entry sign (see the picture).
    – C-F
    Apr 12, 2023 at 22:05
  • There is a moose on the sign because the place is deep woods. Moose are common motif for "woodsy" stuff in eastern Europe. They are common in the woods of both Russia and Belarus including around St Petersburg where Putin is from. Belarus doesn't have a trademark on them. Apr 12, 2023 at 23:17

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