Showtime carried Oliver Stone’s interviews of Vladimir Putin this week. I watched parts of the Wednesday and Thursday sections. (I didn’t see the judo or hockey sessions.) Showtime subscribers can watch on line. No, I did not watch the Megyn Kelly interview.
The interviews aired on the same week of anti-corruption protest rallies staged in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities and towns.
Stone spoke English, Putin spoke Russian. An interpreter, who at times looked like a younger Costa Ronin of The Americans, translated for Stone, who seems to be fluent in Russian. Putin’s words were subtitled throughout even when he spoke English.
In case you wonder, Stone did not catch Putin breaking a little girl’s bicycle, unlike his friend Hugo Chávez,
On the one hand, Oliver is a big fan of Chávez, the Castros, and, of course, of Putin, and it shows: Rolling Stone reports that the series is set to air on Russia’s state-run Channel One in its entirety later this month,
In an appearance on The Late Show on Monday night, Stone sang the praises of Putin, to the point where a taken-aback Stephen Colbert asked, “Anything negative that you found? Anything? Or does he have your dog in a cage someplace?”
On the other hand, Putin never reveals anything accidentally or under pressure; never has, never will.
It was entirely predictable, so why did I watch?
For starters, I wanted to see what and how much was shown. There were three of Putin’s offices, a staged situation room (as in war command room with live calls from the military – think of it as Skype calls from the jet bombers), a patio with Pottery-Barn-style outdoor furniture, innumerable mile-long hallways, and a very large, traditional ballroom with elaborate carpet.
Through it all, Putin was completely in charge, poised, wearing a business suit and necktie, self-assured, and at-ease-while-fully-alert yet not quite relaxed. As Leonid Bershidsky puts it, in his interviews, “Putin has never once relaxed or relinquished control,” and he’s not about to start. This bears repeating because it is the underlying aspect of the persona I was watching on TV.
Bershidsky explains that Putin has one invariable message (emphasis added):
The message he has for foreign leaders hasn’t changed in 17 years: “Russia is a sovereign power with a set of historic interests that it will pursue no matter what; Western powers can’t tell Russia what to do.”
Putin makes it clear at every moment that he will do what is necessary to bring about what he sees as being in Russia’s best interest.
That, and that alone, is the most important takeaway from the interviews. Everything else is theater.
Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes in U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog.