Vladimir Putin will be treated far better by history than by his critics. Oliver Stone’s “The Putin Interviews” which aired on Showtime this week revealed things even a hard-core Putin follower like myself didn’t know.
But, for the average American, fed on a steady diet of childish propaganda like Megyn Kelly’s recent hatchet job, Putin remains a boogie-man. Anything good said about him has to be tempered with comments like, “…but he’s a bully,” or “… he’s a murderer who hates gays.”
None of that should matter when assessing his actions as President of Russia. Do I want men like Putin running the world? No. Do I think the world is capable of functioning in the absence of Putin all other things being the same?
That said, people will see what they want to see and judge events not as they are but as they want them to be. It is, as I say all the time, the gulf between the world I want and the world “I got” that separates serious analysis from the immature.
It only takes a casual perusal of comment threads on Progressive sites like Salon to see people who see themselves as free thinkers fail to leave their bias behind enough to assess events from another’s point of view.
And to see Putin for what he has become on the world stage; the pre-eminent statesman for national sovereignty and the rule of law.
Stone’s films puncture many of the myths of Putin, even the ones held by Americans sympathetic to him. And that’s why these are important for everyone to watch. The picture Stone and Putin paint is of an eminently pragmatic man, devoid of ideological fervor, but determined to set Russia on a course of long-term prosperity with or without U.S. cooperation.
He will defend Russia’s interests and suffer no reinterpretation of the facts. Putin understands he has to do things under the color of the law to achieve his goals, not to assuage Americans, but everyone else.
The Putin seen in Stone’s films is the Putin you can find in a cursory stroll through YouTube. That’s why so little of this was new to me, but it was still fascinating.
Putin is no saint. To do the job he’s done given the circumstances requires making hard choices. But, what Stone does in these interviews is to allow Putin to elucidate why he made those choices.
It doesn’t make those actions right in a moral or ethical sense. It makes them understandable. It makes Putin relatable. It should give every American pause who thinks Russia hacked the U.S. election or that Trump is Putin’s puppet, on the left and the right.
Putin is about as approachable as a world leader gets. There’s a sequence where they are driving and halfway through it my wife realized Putin was driving the car. No U.S. President drives himself.
He has an incredibly nuanced mind, a heart of iron and near-infinite patience. I knew all of these things going into these films.
What I didn’t know was he resigned from the KGB for siding with the government during the civil war that broke out during the end of the U.S.S.R. His position on Snowden – he should have resigned, not leaked – make so much more sense.
The timing of these films could not be better. The U.S. Senate, trying to trap President Trump into a corner, overwhelmingly passed new economic sanctions on Russia to try and scuttle the Nordstream Pipeline expansion.
These new sanctions are designed to punish firms that do business with Gazprom overseas, to stop the recent financing deal put together by a consortium of oil majors for Nordstream, when Poland’s anti-competition laws could not. And by passing the bill through the Senate with a veto-proof 97 votes, Trump will have no choice but to sign it if it passes the House, which it will, because:
1) he can’t suffer a defeat by his own party over-riding his veto
2) he can’t do anything pro-Russia during a nonsensical investigation adding fuel to the impeachment fire.
This is John McCain’s revenge, designed to ensure U.S. relations with Russia continue to deteriorate. While Stone is doing what he can to unwind the narrative that all the evil in the world today comes from Putin’s hand in the Kremlin it will fall on too many deaf ears to change anything.
As Putin says to Stone early in the first film, “Presidents change.” And after a pause and a subtle shift in expression, “But, the policy does not.”