Oliver Stone’s series of interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin – conducted between July 2015 and February 2017 – has garnered a lot of attention, albeit in most cases not for the right reasons. In a much-noted appearance of Stephen Colbert’s comedy show, the liberal host attacked Stone for not confronting the Russian leader for his alleged crimes – which simply shows that Colbert didn’t bother seeing the interviews, because Stone most certainly did question Putin about this and other related matters. A review in Salon follows a similar pattern: the reviewer apparently did view at least some parts of the interviews, but predictably focused on the most superficial material: Putin loves Judo, he’s not a feminist, and won’t be marching in any Gay Pride events. Shocking!
In the present atmosphere of Russophobic hysteria, no honest account of what is happening in Russia or what Putin is really all about is likely to be taken at face value. What’s astonishing, however, is that this four-part documentary was even made at all– and shown on Showtime, where it is currently playing. Less surprising is the fact that the interviews contain several news-making revelations that the “mainstream” media has so far largely ignored.
It gets interesting right from the beginning when Stone delves into Putin’s early career. As a KGB officer stationed in East Germany, then the German Democratic Republic, he describes the GDR as entirely lacking the “spirit of innovation,” a “society [that] was frozen in the 1950s.” Hardly what one would expect from the caricature of a Soviet apparatchik Western profiles of Putin routinely portray. And also right from the beginning there is a tension between Stone, with his often archetypal liberal-left views, and Putin, whose perspective – if it has any American equivalent – might be called paleoconservative.
When Stone tries to identify Putin with Mikhail Gobachev, the Soviet liberal-reformist leader – “he has a resemblance to you in that he came up through that system. Very humble beginnings” – Putin rejects this outright with laconic disdain: “We all have something in common because we’re human beings.” Gorby, a favorite of American liberals, is seen by Putin as someone who “didn’t know what [he] wanted or know how to achieve what was required.”
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