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19th January 2012
Peabody award winner. The citation "How a former KGB spy made himself the Czar in the Grey Flannel Suit – and what his reign has meant for the United States and Europe – is detailed in this monumental four-part documentary". Best Documentary of the Year award from Proud to Present – at the EBU’s Eurovision TV Summit in Copenhagen, April 2012 and nominated for Best Documentary Series, Broadcasting Press Guild Awards.
Vladimir Putin, after eight years as President of Russia and four more as Prime Minister, is stubbornly holding onto power. He has announced his intention to return as President and declared his party the winner in parliamentary elections that are widely seen as fraudulent. In December, tens of thousands took to the streets in Moscow in the largest protests since Putin came to power. Putin began his career as a KGB spy. But when he became President, he made himself a valued ally of the West. How did he do it? And what made Washington and London turn against him? For the first time Putin’s top colleagues - and the Western statesmen who eventually clashed with him - tell the inside story of one of the world’s most powerful men.
Programme 1: Taking ControlThursday 19 January 2011, BBC2, 9pm George W Bush meets Putin in June 2001 and declares he looked him in the eye and ‘got a sense of his soul’. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice recall their discomfort. But Rice, the only Bush adviser in the private talks, reveals that, three months before 9/11, Putin gave Bush a prophetic warning about Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Taliban. After 9/11, Putin describes how he convinced his shocked colleagues that Russia should align with the West. Sergei Ivanov, Russian’s Defense Minister, tells how the Taliban secretly offered to join forces with Russia against America. He says he rejected their offer with the terse English phrase “F*** off.” At home Putin was became increasingly authoritarian. Mikhail Kasyanov, then Russia’s Prime Minister, recalls a meeting where “all the oligarchs present almost hid under the table in fear.” Russia’s richest man at that time, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and some of his closest colleagues, describe how he accused a close Putin aide of corruption - and ended up in prison.
Programme 2: Democracy ThreatensThursday 26 January 2011, BBC2, 9pm Democracy Threatens includes an extraordinary interview with retiring Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. He was widely thought to be responsible for murder, corruption and sanctions-busting. He tells how, in the 2004 election, he set about getting his chosen successor elected President - with the help of Putin and his Kremlin advisers.The opposition candidate, Victor Yushchenko, tells what it was like to be poisoned during the election campaign. It won him many voters and exit polls gave him a clear lead. But the Putin/Kuchma-backed candidate was still declared the winner. This election-rigging sparked the Orange Revolution.Kremlin officials tell how they made sure that Putin wouldn't face a similar revolution at home. Critics of Putin, including the British ambassador, were intimidated or even murdered and tens of thousands of young Russians were mobilised to fight the threat of democracy.
Programme 3: War
Thursday 3 February 2011, BBC2, 9pm
War tells how in August 2008, Russia went to war with America’s ally, Georgia. In-depth interviews with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and with Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili, reveal why each decided it was necessary to make war on the other. The programme charts the intense negotiations that preceded the conflict. President Bush tried to secure NATO membership for Georgia. But he was out-maneuvered by France and Germany, determined not to provoke Russia. When the war started, Washington faced a dilemma. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates describe what happened inside the National Security Council as President Bush considered whether to send in ground troops to save Georgia’s capital. They reveal just how near to war the conflict brought the two nuclear super-powers.
Programme 4: New Start
Thursday 9 February 2011, BBC2, 9pm
New Start tells the inside story of two relationships: Barack Obama's campaign to win over Russia’s new President Dmitry Medvedev, and Medvedev's own complex dealings with Vladimir Putin. Obama became president determined to rid the world of nuclear weapons. To begin the process he needed Russian help. So he set out to reset relations with Russia. Ignoring Putin, whom many considered still in charge, he concentrated on Medvedev. Top officials on both sides take viewers deep inside the negotiations. They describe how a phone call between the two young lawyer-presidents finally clinched the agreement - which cut their countries’ nuclear arsenals in half. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says: ‘No previous treaty between our Countries has ever been directly negotiated by our Presidents. But inside Russia, Medvedev has a harder time. He responded to the 2008 global financial crisis by setting out to make Russia into a modern democratic economy. He made little progress. He told Obama that Russia's most famous dissident, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, would get a fair trial. It did not happen. In the end, Medvedev stepped aside and nominated Putin to be their party’s presidential candidate for the 2012 election. Top Kremlin insiders, including Medvedev and Putin, tell the how the deal was done – and how it set in train a process that made Vladimir Putin look vulnerable for the first time.
Series Producer: Norma Percy
Executive Producer: Brian Lapping
Series Director: Paul Mitchell
Producer/Directors: Wanda Koscia (programme 2), David Alter (programme 3)
A Brook Lapping Production for the BBC in association with National Geographic Channel US, France Télévisions, MDR (Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk), SBS-TV Australia, NHK, SVT, SRC/CBC, DRTV, VPRO, NRK, TVP, YLE, with the support of the MEDIA Programme of the European Union.
The following was originally published in The Times on 6/3/12 (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/article3339865.ece - Login required)
IS THIS A BRAVE NEW GLASNOST OR JUST WINDOW DRESSING?
Paul Mitchell and Norma Percy
When we set out to tell the truth about Putin’s Russia, we never expected our series to air on TV thereA week ago last Saturday in her dacha outside Moscow, our Russian producer, Masha Slonim, disentangled herself from one of her 13 dogs, lit another cigarette and settled in front of her television set. Our BBC series Putin, Russia & The West was about to begin on Russian TV.
The contract of sale said that all four episodes had to be broadcast as we made them — and the Russian translations must be approved by us. The translated script for the first arrived only two days beforehand and Masha had found more than a dozen errors and omissions. They could have been genuine mistakes, but they could also have been attempts to make it more Putin-friendly. Masha corrected the scripts and sent them back.
It was only now that she would discover whether the Russian channel had honoured the agreement. About ten minutes in came a crucial passage. A line describing Putin’s brutal policy in Chechnya had been omitted in NTV’s first draft. Had they reinstated the line?
Broadcasting the series was something of a barometer of whether anything was changing in Putin’s Russia. It was not easy when we began making this documentary, which tried to get inside his Kremlin, in 2009. Early on we got in touch with an old friend at a state-owned TV network — let’s call him “Sasha” — who had always been sensitive to Moscow’s political climate.
We wanted to buy his network’s old news footage. Sasha asked: “Is there going to be anything dangerous in it?” In Putin’s Russia, that’s an easily understood question. Dozens of topics and people have been erased from television. We told him that we had interviews with former Putin ministers who were now in opposition, and with the Presidents of Georgia and Ukraine, whom Putin had tried to topple. We would cover the murders of journalists and “Putin enemies”. Sasha said sorry, his channel couldn’t help us. Others were just as reluctant.
But once the series was finished NTV, Russia’s biggest commercial channel, owned by the state oil company Gazprom, asked if it could buy it. What had happened? Had media freedom suddenly returned?
Not exactly. What had arrived in Russia, altogether unexpectedly, was dissent. When we started two years earlier, television was off limits to Putin’s critics. The oligarchs who had owned the free media had been driven abroad or forced to toe the party line. Putin’s most serious opponent, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was in prison.
Of course, some stalwarts did keep fighting for human rights. Grey hair poked out from the fur hats of the few demonstrators who braved the cold and the police to listen to Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the venerated dissident. But average, middle-class Russians were more interested in making — and spending — the money that was flooding into the country.
Then last December the demonstrations erupted. The State, caught on the back foot for the first time, had to do something. What it did was try to make the Presidential election at least seem democratic. State TV began televising the demos, and even allowed some of the opposition on air. It was at this moment that NTV approached the BBC, saying that they wanted to broadcast our series.
So what happened when it went out? The line on Putin’s brutal Chechnya policy was back in. The Russian people saw the programmes just as we made them. Masha poured herself a whisky and the dogs got a sausage.
Viewing figures were extraordinary: the sort of numbers NTV would expect for a popular soap And the critics? The liberal Kommersant newspaper said that the film “tells many sharp stories that have long been censored — details that Russians could only find on the internet, not on mainstream TV”.
And from Twitter: “The series is several hours of incrimination of Putin. Has the world turned upside down? Am I dreaming?” Another tweet read: “The head of NTV is a hero for allowing this broadcast. I can’t see why NTV did it.”
We think we can. Putin likes the series. An NTV chap told us: “He thinks it shows him as a strong leader.” What liberals saw as a revelation of Putin’s brutal suppression of dissent, his supporters saw as the strongman standing up to Western enemies or greedy oligarchs.
Across newspapers, blogs and Twitter, genuine debate was unfolding. The first trickle of a Russian Spring? Perhaps. But NTV, at least, was betting that the window will close again. It insisted on broadcasting before yesterday’s election. Vladimir Putin still calls the shots. And if all goes to his plan, by today he will no longer have to worry about public opinion.