Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Putin Stones the West - Part II (Oliver Stone's Putin Interviews Documentary)

Vladimir Putin and Oliver Stone in Putin's Moscow Chapel

One important detail I forgot to mention in my Part I review was, during their discussion comparing the finances of the US and Russia, Putin made the colossal point that, with this year's US Defense Budget projected to be 600 billion (versus Russia's yearly defense budget of 40 billion), the US now has a defense budget greater than all the other countries in the world combined.  This is a huge point and should stop US citizens in their tracks...were they allowed to hear it.  The point was further made that this discrepancy was not even brought up as an issue during the last US election. Putin insisted that, despite the huge discrepancy in the two defense budgets, Russia was equivalent to the US in the "balance" of power.  Putin smiled as he concluded:  "We're just not as pretty about it...our response will be somewhat cruder" or words to that effect.

In episode two...Stone and Putin exchanged glimpses into their own cultures...American and Russian.  First, Oliver Stone provided a special screening of "Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb" which he was surprised to learn that Putin had never seen.  The cameras caught their facial expressions as they watched the movie with Russian sub-titles.  Putin did not find it as hilarious as Stone....or as I do (it's one of my favourite movies).  I guess you have to be western to enjoy that particular form of "black humour".  The only time Putin's face broke into a small smile was at the very end when the US Pilot played by Slim Pickens, waving his cowboy hat on, goes down, riding the bomb, shouting Yipeeeeee!  Stone asks Putin what he thought of the movie and Putin offers that it does make the good point that nobody is going to win the "arms race".  Stone then gives Putin an empty DVD container...that he thought contained a copy of the movie.  Putin opens the container, smiles and responds: "A typical American Gift!"  Smiling bigger than he did throughout the movie.

Then Putin takes Stone to his Dacha, 30 miles outside of Moscow, where Putin tells him he spends half his time...the other half being at the Kremlin.  We don't get to see much of the home (for obvious security reasons) just part of the external façade--and then what appears to be the front hall.  Putin tells Stone he is going to have dinner with his daughters, their husbands and his grandchild(ren).  Again, Putin is very secretive about his family...answering questions with simple "yes" or "no".  So different from America where the "first family" is put on display.  I believe this privacy is for cultural as well as security reasons.  The Family is NOT part of the package a Russian leader brings with him to office.

Suddenly, Putin and Stone are seen walking around in what appears to be an ornate Eastern Orthodox chapel...the walls covered with religious icons.  It is not explained whether this chapel is part of Putin's Dacha or a separate location.  Stone seems woefully ignorant of the details of the Eastern Orthodox Church...asking where they "sit" or "kneel"...not knowing that in the Eastern Orthodox religion, just like in the Islam religion...the worshippers stand throughout the service.  In their discussion of religion in Russia...Stone tries to make the point that Putin "brought" religion back to Russia after the death of Communism.  Putin insists that "the people" brought it back, because there was a "vacuum" in Russian spiritual/cultural life after atheistic Communism was gone.  Well, this is an interesting debate. Putin has actively supported the Eastern Orthodox Church's re-engagement with Russian society to a far greater extent than mere tolerance.  I have always believed that this is one of his shrewder order to unify the Russians spiritually, ethically and culturally.  Religion has served this political purpose throughout the ages.

Putin takes Stone to a hockey game where he [Putin] is one of the players.  Putin tells Stone that he took up hockey just four years previous, before which he didn't even know how to skate.  Putin appears to be enjoying himself in sports as much as he enjoys talking government bureaucracy and finance. He is in his element.  He also takes Stone to his judo studio, where Stone asks him if he has a teacher.  Putin smiles and says that he [Putin] doesn't need a teacher because he is a "Master".  I guess nobody told Stone that Putin has several degrees of black belt in Judo.

Here is where I finally get to learn something new about Putin.  He gets up at 7 a.m. each morning and does a regular physical fitness routine every single day of the week.  Stone is well he should be--by looking at his [Stone's] physique.  Putin does gym, Judo and swimming every day.  Trump should take a page out of Putin's book on this score.  Putin, in conclusion, is one of the most disciplined leaders in obvious reason for his longevity as a leader.

Stone, however, continues to return to one of his favourite topics:  When is Putin going to retire?  Putin keeps trying to evade the answer.  The obvious reason for this is that Putin does not want to render himself into a political "lame duck"...which is what happens as soon as a leader has an "expiry date" to his tenure.  Throughout Part II, there is a continual theme of Putin being in "power too long" and there being insufficient support of opposition parties in formally democratic Russia.  Stone is very strong on this point and does win some of the debates...with Putin looking uncomfortably cornered by his appearance of "clinging to office".

I am sure the West would love to see Putin retire [or by any other means] leave office. But they defeat their own goals when they maintain continual global crises that threaten Russia.  The more the West hems Russia in militarily, economically, technologically and geopolitically...the more the people of Russia [if they are wise] will cling to their greatest asset--the impeccably dressed, physically and mentally disciplined, geopolitical genius...Vladimir Putin.  Stay tuned for Part III tonight.

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