PBS-TV’s ‘Frontline’ Misrepresents Russia’s Vladimir Putin

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Eric Zuesse, 18 Jan. 2015

On January 13th, the Public
Broadcasting System (PBS) telecast the FRONTLINE documentary, “Putin’s Way,” which purported to be a
biography of Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin.

The press release about this film states:
“Drawing on firsthand accounts from exiled Russian business tycoons,
writers and politicians, as well as the exhaustive research of scholar and
best-selling Putin’s Kleptocracy author Karen Dawisha, the film
examines troubling episodes in Putin’s past, from alleged money-laundering
activities and ties to organized crime, to a secret personal fortune said
to be in the billions. … These accounts portray a Russian leader who began
by professing hope and democracy but now is stoking nationalism, conflict
and authoritarianism.”

This documentary opens by
describing the corruption that pervaded post-Soviet Russia and the Presidential
Administration of Putin’s sponsor Boris Yeltsin during the transitional period
of ending communism and starting capitalism, which was the period of
privatization of the former Soviet Government’s assets. This film ignores the role that the U.S. and especially the then-World-Bank
President Lawrence Summers and his protege Andrei Shleifer and other members of
Harvard’s Economics Department played in planning and largely overseeing that
entire process
. Yeltsin brought that team in, to plan and oversee
the process, because he figured that Harvard would know how to set up
capitalism. On 10 February 2006, the Harvard Crimson headlined about the
result, “‘Tawdry Shleifer Affair’ Stokes
Faculty Anger Toward Summers,”
 and noted that the
affair was such an embarrassment to the University that, “Shleifer, the Jones
professor of economics, was found liable by a federal court in 2004
for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government while leading a
Harvard economic reform program in Russia as it transitioned to
capitalism in the 1990s. Shleifer settled the case for $2 million.”
An extensive article by David McClintick in Institutional Investor
magazine described the sleazy details of this affair, under the banner of “How Harvard Lost Russia.” However, this
FRONTLINE documentary ignores all of that history, and pretends that Yeltsin
established Russia’s crony-capitalism with no help or guidance from the U.S.,
the World Bank, and Harvard’s economists. Putin is instead portrayed as having
been, and as now being, just a continuation of Soviet-era corruption, not at
all as functioning in what was, to a significant extent, actually a U.S.-headed
transition into capitalism.

Then, the film presents Putin as
having first come to power in Russia on account of his attacking Chechnya after
several apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities were bombed and
Chechens were blamed for the bombings. This film fails to mention that Chechnya
was a part of Russia, rather than a foreign country, and that, as wikipedia
summarizes the origin of the Chechen war
:

With the impending
dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, an independence movement,
initially known as the Chechen National Congress, was formed and
led by ex-Soviet Air Force general and new
Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev that rallied for
the recognition of Chechnya as a separate nation. This movement was
ultimately opposed by Boris Yeltsin’s Russian Federation, which
firstly argued that Chechnya had not been an independent entity
within the Soviet Union—as the Baltic, Central Asian, and other
Caucasian States had—but was part of the Russian Soviet Federative
Socialist Republic and hence did not have a right under the
Soviet constitution to secede; secondly, that other republics of
Russia, such as Tatarstan, would consider seceding from the Russian
Federation if Chechnya were granted that right; and thirdly, that Chechnya
was a major hub in the oil infrastructure of the Federation and hence
its secession would hurt the country’s economy and energy access.”

The documentary mentions none of
that, but, instead:

NARRATOR: And Putin’s
invasion would be brutal.

CHECHEN CHILD:
[subtitles] It’s my grandpa lying there!

NARRATOR: The man who
waged it [Putin] was a new national hero.

It also notes that both Yeltsin and
Putin refused to allow those bombings to be officially investigated, and that a
possibility exists that the Russian Government itself had bombed the apartment
buildings and falsely blamed it on Chechen separatists in order to enable Putin
to win a popular election so as to succeed Yeltsin. 

If that possibility was the actual
explanation of the apartment-building bombings, then it was what’s called a
“false flag” incident (one set up so as to be falsely blamed on the opposite
side), such as the United States Government has often used. Two recent examples
of this tactic were the coup that overthrew Ukraine’s Russia-friendly
President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 (which was based
on sniper-fire that the U.S. blamed on Yanukovych’s Government but which really
came from U.S. paid mercenaries who were dressed to appear to be Yanukovych’s
people
), and also the subsequent downing of the Malaysian MH17
airliner by the Ukrainian Government on 17 July 2014 (which was based on firing that the U.S. and its new Government in
Ukraine claimed came from pro-Russian separatists but which actually came from
a Ukrainian Government attack-plane
). The first of those incidents was done by the Obama
Administration in order to enable Ukraine to be used as a base for NATO nuclear
missiles aimed against Russia
; and the second of them was done in
order to get the EU to hike its economic sanctions against Russia.

Whereas it’s likely that the 1999
Moscow apartment-building bombings were a false-flag operation, it’s
practically certain that the two recent events in Ukraine were false-flag
events — but they were perpetrated by our side, not by Russia, and so this
documentary ignores these Ukrainian incidents and pretends that whereas Putin
uses false-flag tactics, Obama and the U.S. do not.

Here
is the way that wikipedia
 describes the apartment-building
bombings (and the PBS documentary ignores all of this):

The Invasion of Dagestan
was the trigger for the Second Chechen War. In August and September
1999, Shamil Basayev (in association with the Saudi-born
Ibn al-Khattab, Commander of the Mujahedeen) led two armies of up to
2,000 Chechen, Dagestani, Arab and international mujahideen and Wahhabist
militants from Chechnya into the neighboring Republic of Dagestan.
This war saw the first (unconfirmed) use of aerial-delivered fuel air
explosives (FAE) in mountainous areas, notably in the village
of Tando.[39] By mid-September 1999, the militants were routed
from the villages and pushed back into Chechnya. At least several
hundred militants were killed in the fighting; the Federal side reported
279 servicemen killed and approximately 900 wounded.[18] …

Before the wake of the
Dagestani invasion had settled, a series of bombings took place in Russia
(in Moscow and in Volgodonsk) and in the Dagestani town of Buynaksk.
On 4 September 1999, 62 people died in an apartment
building housing members of families of Russian soldiers. Over the
next two weeks, the bombs targeted three other apartment
buildings and a mall; in total nearly 300 people were
killed. Khattab initially claimed responsibility for the bombings,
but later denied responsibility. This was followed by an anonymous
caller, who said he belonged to a group called the Liberation Army
of Dagestan.[40] There were no other calls or acts by
the Liberation Army of Dagestan.

The fact that the Chechen
separatist movement was supported by the Saudis and entailed “Wahhabist
militants from Chechnya” wasn’t even mentioned in the PBS documentary, though
it certainly is relevant to deciding whether Putin waged the second Chechen War
solely in order to win election to the Presidency and was doing something he
shouldn’t have been doing there.

The PBS documentary notes:

DAVID SATTER, Author,
Darkness at Dawn: Well, the apartment buildings saved the Yeltsin system.
They saved the corrupt division of property that took place after the fall
of the Soviet Union. They cost thousands of innocent lives, both Russian
and Chechnyan, by starting a new war. They brought to power someone from
the security services — and that’s Putin — who, of course, had no interest
in democracy.

NARRATOR: His first act
as president was to grant his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, immunity from
prosecution. But Putin’s administration would quickly ensure his
own safety, too. Case number 144-128, that corruption investigation in St.
Petersburg, quietly went away.

Nothing is said about U.S.
President Barack Obama’s having done the same thing with respect to his
predecessor, George W. Bush, who had lied his country into invading Iraq in
2003, and also about Obama’s having protected from criminal prosecution the
megabank chiefs who grew rich from mortgage-backed-securites frauds that
brought down America’s economy in 2008, and whose Administration covered up
much else besides. The pretense is instead put forth that Putin is evil in ways
that today’s American Presidents are not.

Then, Russia’s richest man, whom
Putin had placed in prison for tax-evasion, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is
interviewed and says that all he was really trying to do was to fight against
corruption and against dictatorship, and for capitalism and democracy.

Then, the liberal political leaders
Tony Blair from UK and Gerhard Schroeder from Germany are described as having
been corrupt for having supported Putin’s policies.

EDWARD LUCAS: Putin was
trained in the KGB to deceive foreigners. He has a very sharp eye for
human weakness. He’s good at persuading people and intimidating them, and
he’s been doing this with Western leaders, sometimes with charm, sometimes
with threats. But boy, does he do it.

Then, others are interviewed who
similarly describe Putin as being corrupt in ways that America isn’t, such as:

KAREN DAWISHA, Author,
Putin’s Kleptocracy: So the system is a system of mutual support and
tribute. It’s a pay-to-play system. If you are on a list of possible
people who might be approached to be a member of the Duma, for example,
you have to pay for your seat. Once you’re in there, then you can turn
around and charge businessmen to have line items in the budget. Same thing
all across all sectors.

Then, Putin is described as being
like an unpopular Middle Eastern tyrant.

NARRATOR: The Arab spring
surged out of Tunisia into Tahrir Square and on to Tripoli. For Putin,
these mass demonstrations overthrowing powerful dictators must have been
worrying.

STANISLAV BELKOVSKY: It
was the first stage of his coming to understanding that he could never
quit the post because the destiny of Gadhafi could be waiting for him.

NARRATOR: In 2011, when
Vladimir Putin announced he would run again for Russia’s presidency, the
response was mass demonstrations in Moscow’s streets, protests which had
to be put down by police.

Actually, however, Putin’s entire time in public office since becoming
President in 2000 has ranged between 60%-85% approval-ratings, though
propagandists in and for America have constantly been saying such things as
“There is no doubt that Putin’s popularity is falling.”
 (His
approval-rating currently is above 80%.) 

This documentary assumes, unquestioningly, the U.S.-propaganda line,
that Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, and that the economic sanctions against
Russia are punishment for that, and also punishment for Russia’s supposed guilt
in the shooting down of the MH17 airliner.

NARRATOR: Putin has
invaded Crimea and redrawn the map of Ukraine, claiming he is protecting
ethnic Russians. According to his spokesman, it is a justifiable response
to Western encroachment on territories the Soviet Union once held. …

The United States was
calling for strong sanctions against Russia. But in the capitals of
Europe, there was reluctance.

EDWARD LUCAS: We keep on
trying to bring Mr. Putin in. We invite him to our summit meetings. We try
and treat Russia as a normal country. And we think we’re trying to calm
things down, but in fact, what we’re doing is we’re stoking things. We’re
giving Mr. Putin the impression that we’re not to be taken seriously, and
he continues to push us harder and harder and harder, and that’s extremely
dangerous.

NARRATOR: But then in
July 2014, one violent act would transform the political landscape.
Malaysian passenger plane MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine by what
was widely believed to have been a Russian-supplied weapon. Two hundred
and ninety-eight people were killed. Suddenly, the West was galvanized.

TONY ABBOTT, Prime
Minister of Australia: I demand that Russia fully cooperate with the
criminal investigation into the downing of MH17.

STEPHEN HARPER, Prime
Minister of Canada: It’s necessary to make it clear it will not be
business as usual.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: We’re
opposing Russia aggression against Ukraine, which is a threat to the
world, as we saw in the appalling shootdown of MH17.

However, actually, Russia didn’t
“invade” Crimea, but instead there was a coup on 22 February 2014, which
installed a new Ukrainian Government, which wanted to oust from Crimea Russia’s
Black Sea Fleet, which had been stationed there since 1783, and Crimeans
immediately demonstrated against that coup-Government, and they held a
referendum on rejoining Russia, of which Crimea had been a part until
1954. 96% voted to rejoin Russia.

Gallup polls taken in Crimea both before and after that
referendum showed similar majorities wanting to rejoin Russia
. What
was illegal wasn’t Crimea rejoining Russia; it was instead the coup that precipitated
Crimea’s rejoining Russia. But this documentary doesn’t even mention that coup,
at all, nor the ethnic cleansing that has followed it.
Russia’s accepting Crimea back into Russia was legal, and it was also essential
for Russian national security. It was the right thing to do. The coup, however,
and the Obama-demanded ethnic cleansing of Ukraine’s Donbass region —
the area that had
voted 90% for the Ukrainian President whom Obama overthrew
— were
violent U.S.-backed actions to impose upon all of Ukraine a far-right, rabidly anti-Russian, Government,
which authentically constitutes a national security threat against Russia.

———-

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse
is the author, most recently, of They’re
Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010
,
and of  CHRIST’S
VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity
.

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