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By Robert A. Vella

After watching the concluding episode (part two) last night on PBS of the FRONTLINE documentary “Putin’s Revenge,” I came away with two very clear observations.  First, that the success of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s plan to undermine America’s already weakened democracy by meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election caught everyone by surprise including Putin himself.  Second, that all the players involved on all sides look terribly bad now in the aftermath for a variety of reasons.

This incident will have profound and long-lasting ramifications.  America’s post World War II role as the world’s champion of democracy is definitively over.  Its high-minded rhetoric will no longer be taken seriously, its credibility has been destroyed.  U.S. geopolitical activities will be seen for what they truly are and have been – as imperialistic pursuits and means to maintain its global hegemony.  If one cannot walk the walk, as they say, one cannot talk the talk.  Unless another champion steps forward, and I can see none on the horizon, democracy will be the biggest loser;  and, that is the saddest aspect of this story I can imagine.

Back to the documentary…

As the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign transpired, it was difficult for outside observers to contemporaneously see the cause-and-effect relationship between specific events and the tangible results which were produced.  Timing was key, and the film does an excellent job of revealing it.  Rather than citing examples, it would be more convincing for readers to watch both episodes of the documentary especially part two.  See also:

A ‘digital hit list’ and new DOJ findings offer the clearest evidence yet that Russia hacked the DNC

Unanswered questions in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation

Trump Impeachment Odds Surge Following First Mueller Indictments in Russia Investigation

Putin comes across as the scheming, vindictive Russian nationalist (Machiavellian, in my view) determined to make his image as an undemocratic authoritarian more palatable by helping to elect another undemocratic authoritarian (i.e. Trump) as leader of his principal rival (i.e. U.S.).  My biggest criticism of the film is the way it demonized Putin with close-up images of his stern eyes which suggested evil intent.  This was overly dramatic and unnecessary.

Donald Trump is portrayed as an unwitting buffoon, an egomaniac (megalomania, in my view) who’ll do or say anything if he thinks it will serve his purpose at any given moment.

The Republican Party establishment, and Trump’s campaign team, are exposed as willing to sacrifice U.S. national security interests in order to capture the White House.  They seem to hate Democrats more than they hate Putin.

President Obama is depicted as an over-thinking (à la JFK’s “whiz kids”), weak leader whose inaction gave Putin the political space needed to execute his plan.

Hillary Clinton is represented as headstrong and reckless in both her support of pro-democracy movements (e.g. the Arab Spring, the Ukraine) and in her opposition to Putin’s Russia.

The Democratic Party establishment (i.e. the Democratic National Committee) is castigated as incompetent, naive about internet security, and as actively biased against Clinton’s main challenger for the nomination – the progressive populist Bernie Sanders.

The mainstream news media is reproved as mindlessly chasing sensationalist stories, indifferent towards its journalistic responsibilities, and as even the purveyors of propaganda.

Indirectly, and to a lesser extent, capitalism is rebuked with references to the self-serving interests of financial oligarchs in relevant countries.

19 thoughts on “Documentary review: No one looks good in “Putin’s Revenge”

  1. You have presented an excellent synopsis Robert. Bravo!

    As you know, being a Texan and serious sports fan (for soccer!) but a Father of a very talented gifted son who wants to one day play baseball in the MLB… I was ‘commited’ to the World Series Game 7. 😛 However, due to the loathful game stoppages and non-stop commercial breaks due to video-reviews, middle-innings, and meeting after meeting on the pitcher’s mound 🤢 😴 , I would quicky switch over to PBS Frontline! Wooohooo, right!? 😁

    Here’s my round-about point. Mom (77 yrs old & from that post-WW2 generation) was watching the game more intently, but did not control the remote (hehehe). Once we watched 2-3 snipets of the documentary, she became quite frustrated, with exasperated huffs and puffs, and made it well-known to us she DID NOT care to watch “Putin’s Revenge.” I figured out why…

    As you’ve alluded Robert, the documentary (the parts we caught) clearly and accurately showed how the post-WW2 U.S. is no longer the world’s beacon for pure liberty and democracy — as Lady Liberty is supposed to symbolize. Mom is an extremely proud moderate Conservative. In elections she usually supports straight party-line voting, with few exceptions I know of. I’m pretty sure she did the same last November. Gullibly, she too got swept away in the Hillary-is-Evil campaigns; her level of education is only an Associates degree from a Dallas Community College in Secretarial Science which lead her to join the inception (1968-69) of Southwest Airlines, then Mobil Oil (now ExxonMobil). With those 3 background characterizations and resume, watching what our Cold War adversaries was doing to HER “great nation” was more than she could stomach. Rather than face the facts, she soon walked out of the room all together until the game was back on.

    I believe thousands or millions of American moderate Conservatives like her and her “Greatest Generation” — many of which could never afford university or world travel during the Cold War years — either buried their osterich heads in the sand regarding these debacles, conspiracies, and covert threats, or are today just no longer savvy enough to recognize and distinguish manufactured, alt-motivated disinformation/rhetoric from probable, plausible causes and facts and reliable sources of integrity. No surprise, she’s a fan of FOX News. Go figure, huh? :/

    But she’s Mom and I love her. LOL 🙄😄

    Liked by 4 people

  2. In reference to the Democratic National Committee — this was noted in an email I got from Justice Democrats:

    [F]ormer DNC chair Donna Brazile confirmed publicly that establishment insiders rigged the Democratic Party primary against Bernie Sanders. Brazile admitted the DNC’s financial entanglement with the Clinton campaign was “unethical.”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Very interesting documentary. Some of my impressions were slightly different from yours, Robert.

    Regarding HRC, I thought “Putin’s Revenge” painted her as strong and righteous. The documentary could almost be a sequel to Clinton’s book “What Happened.” It’s as though the viewer is meant to conclude, “Oh my God! Hillary should be President!” (Trump is illegitimate!)

    Which I agree with almost totally. Hillary (or Bernie) should be President!

    To me, the doc has a decided propagandist flavor to it. Putin is portrayed as an utterly paranoid but incredibly able revenge artist. While the U.S. is pictured as innocent of any international interference, ever, except when needed to protect democracy. The doc does explain Putin’s growing paranoia towards the U.S., but implies it was a mistake in his judgement.

    The significance of the content of the DNC emails leaked by Russia is not examined. Ironically, the leaked content reveals our own American elections are not so very democratic.

    Ironically, on top of that, Clinton did win the popular vote. I suppose the winner-take-all electoral system played right into Putin’s hands.

    But despite Putin’s interfering revenge, there would have been even less impact on the 2016 election outcome — if our democracy was strong and healthy. Democracy can’t operate with the DNC rigging nominations, the Republics suppressing voter rights, and a corporate sponsored news media.

    The major political parties want so badly to control who is nominated/elected that they, themselves, create methods to tilt the scale. Once those methods are in place, (other) bad actors may manipulate them. Enter Putin.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Perspectives always matter in reviews, and it certainly does for this documentary. I simply didn’t see some of what you saw, and still don’t. Hillary’s assertive actions as Secretary of State regarding the Arab Spring, Ukraine, and elsewhere weren’t portrayed – in my opinion – as altruistically pro-democratic, but as opportunistically geopolitical. The overthrowing of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, for example, triggered great regional turmoil that spread tragically to Syria and reignited cold war animosities. It was, and has been widely assessed, as a great blunder of American foreign policy which FRONTLINE has previously covered in detail. The walkout of Sanders delegates during the Democratic National Convention was highlighted in response to the hacked DNC emails which exposed pro-Hillary bias and collusion, so its significance was examined in the documentary. Also, the documentary – in my view – depicted Putin’s hostility towards the U.S. (“paranoia” in your words) not as a “mistake in judgement,” but as the psychology of a former KGB agent and Cold War antagonist.

      However, we do agree that American elections are not very democratic, that the Democratic candidate should have won the election, and that Putin’s meddling would have achieved little had not the U.S. political system been in such bad shape.

      I do appreciate your very thoughtful commentary. Our somewhat differing reviews only reveal the highly subjective nature of human perspectives. “Vive la différence,” as they say! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, we absorbed some different things from the documentary. To me, Brazille’s confirmation that the Democratic Primary was absolutely rigged, confirms our nation’s problems are bigger and closer to home than Putin — although, he certainly did weaponize our weaknesses.

        Liked by 1 person

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