Putin vs the West, BBC review: World leaders seem rightly shamefaced about how they got taken for a ride by the Russian president

Putin vs. the West The Great Norma is Percy’s latest series, and the three-parter contains everything you’d expect from the veteran documentarian – the right mix of revelation, anecdote, history, drama, forensic analysis and storytelling. It’s Putin, the Ukraine war and how the West messed up, all understandable. It’s amazing, and you have to see it to understand how we got to where we are now.

It’s so clever, in fact, that you find yourself in the unexpected position of being on the edge of your seat listening to testimony from half-forgotten dullards – such as former French president Francois Hollande; Former President of the European Commission, José Manuel Brosso; Cathy Ashton, once a surrogate EU foreign minister; And many other former therapists, advisers, politicians and ambassadors — who have had the usually painful experience of dealing with Vladimir Putin first-hand over the years.

In the hands of the program makers, stock archive footage of ministers coming and going at EU summits and conferences in Brussels and Minsk takes on the quality of a tense thriller, as they are interspersed by revelations about what was going on behind the scenes. . One episode deals with the events leading up to the first Russian invasion of 2014, when they took Crimea and the eastern Donbass region, with minimal Western opposition and punishment, and maximally Western dissent and unrest. The Russians grumbled and made their way to victory. When Putin arrives at a major conference and the Ukrainians confront him with hard evidence that they have captured many Russian soldiers on their territory, such as ID tags and warrants, Putin makes a series of Pythonesque excuses. Come with: Ukrainians make it; The Russians were “on vacation”; Or they “lost their way” along the border.

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On another occasion, when Putin denied that countless Russian troops had invaded and occupied eastern Ukraine, Merkel told him not to be so stupid, according to one witness. However, she still won’t push the Russians too far, fearing escalation and loss of gas supplies. The EU was completely divided, as was NATO. Elsewhere, Barack Obama deliberately referred to Russia as a “regional power”, which was particularly offensive to Putin – and hardened his stance. Obama talked tough on sanctions, but, like Germany, the Americans were not about to send military aid and risk war. This is something we learn from Obama’s closest advisers at the time. Merkel and Obama did not grant any interviews for the series, which is understandable since they come off so badly.

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They were provoked by Putin. “Denials and lies” was and is the standard Russian approach, and the only Western leader who seems able to cope with it is Boris Johnson. Funny, that. To his credit, he took no notice of Putin’s gleeful threat to target him with a cruise missile.

Cameron, Hollande, Barroso and the rest of the naïve heads most effectively look like fronted bookcases or ornately decorated palaces. Juxtaposed with bombed-out Ukrainian schools or tanks rolling through the streets of Crimea, it makes them look different from the bloody reality they caused to happen.

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They at least seem rightly ashamed of how they were taken for a ride. Somehow, they apparently only did what they believed to be politically convenient, and Putin was never taken at his word when he talked about how he wanted to take back control of Ukraine. Barroso, for example, recounts how he listened, open-mouthed, as Putin told him that Ukraine was a creation of the CIA and the European Commission. He believes that the European divisions encouraged Putin to push and shove.

Hollande almost, but not quite, came to apologize: “Europe is still facing this threat to its unity. When we do not punish harshly first, we are forced to punish harshly later. And that is what is happening today.” There is no dispute about it. We can only hope it’s not too late, and that the next Norma Percy series isn’t titled “How Putin Beat the West.”


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