16 February 2011
By Masha Karp
Unequal Sides of the Triangle
From 19th January to 9th February 2012 BBC2 broadcast a four-part documentary, ‘Putin, Russia and the West’ (series producer - Norma Percy, series director - Paul Mitchell, executive producer – Brian Lapping, BBC executive producer – Fiona Campbell). The film caused a great deal of controversy (see for example Vladimir Bukovsky and Masha Slonim [in Russian], and Victor Davidoff [in English], and comment in the UK press [see pieces by Luke Harding inThe Guardian and Peter Oborne in The Telegraph]).
Here Masha Karp reviews the third part of the documentary for Rights in Russia (her reviews of the other parts of the documentary can be read here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4)
The title sequence for all four episodes of 'Putin, Russia and the West' ends with a still of American and Russian leaders - American and Russian flags behind them - sitting at the top of a glass table, so that their reflections are visible too. In the first two parts we see Bush and Putin at the table. In the third, wittily, as if by an afterthought, they are suddenly joined by Medvedev. The fourth presents Obama, Medvedev and Putin, the latter two having swapped places in the friendly reshuffle. By the end of the final part, it becomes obvious that it is these people at the table that the film-makers are primarily fascinated by - they prefer seeing the world in the binary opposition between Russia and America (thus uncannily mirroring Russia’s own insistence on seeing American interference everywhere) and believe that there is nothing more interesting than top-level diplomacy.
In real life, of course, top-level diplomacy can be fascinating when real issues are at stake, and incredibly boring when there is just a lot of hot air. Part 3 of the series is an example of the first of these two, and Part 4 is an example of the second. This is what largely determines the impact of each of these two final parts of the documentary. [Read more]