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an unnerving insight into the mind of the Russian leader

“Boris, I don’t mean to offend you, but with a rocket it only takes a minute.” Not the words of the Bond villain, but the words of Vladimir Putin in a telephone conversation with Boris Johnson on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine. This was one of the many insider moments revealed Putin vs. the West (BBC Two), billed as the story of how Putin deceived the West in the decade leading up to the war.

Award-winning filmmaker Norma Percy specializes in heavy-handed political documentaries featuring the people who make important decisions, from world leaders to special advisors. Not surprisingly, Vladimir Zelensky has appeared, but Putin has not. From the British side appeared David Cameron, Theresa May and Johnson. The series serves as a reminder that Johnson can be a serious politician as long as he doesn’t rob in front of the cameras and use his high school Latin, though he was the only talking head here to address the camera, at one point with his hand in his pants pocket. .

News reports about the events covered here – the G20 summit, bilateral meetings, telephone conversations – gave us only brief official remarks. The documentary showed the behind-the-scenes life of those present, and it was fascinating. We got a real sense of the personalities involved. The British Foreign Policy Adviser read his note on what Putin had said to Cameron in Downing Street: “I know you are a great country with a great history. You all think that I am not democratic like you. I will not argue with you – I am a former KGB officer, I am evil and scary with claws and teeth, and you are all so well-mannered and so educated. But do you remember Abu Ghraib, David? Have you seen these pictures? What happened there was medieval.”

This speech provided more information about Putin’s views on the West than any number of comments by political correspondents in the nightly news bulletins.

What makes Percy’s documentaries so compelling is the combination of small details and big truths. Last: the unwillingness of some countries to maintain sanctions against Russia. Johnson spoke of “the magnetic attraction of Putin and Russian influence even in the EU.” First: Putin admiringly looks at the portrait of Margaret Thatcher and mutters: “Oh, she really was an iron lady.” And a French diplomat, describing the feeling of looking into the “completely empty eyes” of a portrait of Putin: “Suddenly you say:“ If I were in the basement tied to a chair in front of him, I would really be scared of this guy. .’”

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