documentaries, latest, Putin Myth & Reality

WATCH: The Unknown Putin part 1

This two-part Russian documentary is pretty tabloid & makes no attempt at objectivity. It’s also not easy to follow since a single female translator is used for both sides of every conversation and for the voice over, so you need to concentrate in order to follow what’s going on. But with these caveats in mind it’s worth persevering for its take on the ruthless Western exploitation and infiltration of Russian oil assets in the 1990s, an outrageous abuse that doesn’t get a lot of coverage. What at a first glance may appear as the slightly hysterical claims made in the documentary are, in fact, pretty much correct.

More on the Product Sharing Agreement (PSA) that Russia signed with “foreign nations” in the immediate post-Soviet era, for the extraction and sale of its oil and gas reserves, can be found in The Sakhalin II PSA –a Production ‘Non-Sharing’ Agreement, a PDF document from 2004 by Dr Ian Rutledge. It largely confirms what is alleged in the program – that Russia was cheated of vast amounts of potential income. The Russian government under Putin has, famously, re-nationlised large sections of the gas and oil industry.

The other claims in the program — for example the harassment by Mikhail Khodorkovsky of the woman who alleges her apartment was ransacked by his “thugs” — we haven’t looked into and don’t vouch for in any way.


  1. Pained Scientist says

    “Matt” on January 27 about Vladimir Putin:

    He’s a crook

    “Matt “ on January 28 about Vladimir Putin:

    I don’t believe he is personally corrupt

    So… everyone got that? Putin is one of those personally incorruptible crooks we hear so much about. You have it straight from that geopolitical genius , “Matt”.

  2. Franziska says

    I agree there is a lot of stupid nonsense talked about Putin, but we do also have some facts that point to the kind of man who is currently in the Kremlin.

    1) He was a colonel in the KGB. To be a serving officer in the KGB you also had to be a party member. So at that time he was a Communist or was happy to say he was a Communist to get ahead.

    Stationed as he was in Soviet borders the his unit would have run covert agents and also been on the lookout for western agents. What was his job? Did he personally run the deep cover people infiltrating the west? Did he interrogate or punish dissidents?

    His role in the KGB would tell us much about him, but we only know the possibilities not the details.

    We know he was an officer in charge in 1989 when the people of Dresden tried to storm the KGB HQ. He told the crowds there were armed men inside with permission to shoot illegal entrants. It deterred them. If it hadn’t worked would he have been prepared to shoot unarmed invaders?

    2) In St. Petersburg running the Mayor’s office as Sobchak’s éminence grise Putin was accused of misappropriating funds by a persistent lady – Salye – who is still making the accusation until she died. Most say Salye is a bit of a nut who has personal grudges or is obsessed with being right. Some say not.

    Is there substance to her accusation? I say probably not as why would this man have one instant of corruption and no other? If he had been like the rest and taking bribes home in paper sacks every day the West would have told us all every small detail by now. But this is the only story

    3) On the good side he is said by many, even those who do not like him, to be loyal and this is borne out by the way he helped Sobchak escape the country in 1996 when Yeltsin family were after him. I would call this a plus, though many i the West do not.

    4) His private life is complete mystery, and this also makes it hard to assess him as a man. Why did his marriage end so strangely? Was he unfaithful?

    Is he a Berlusconi? Doubtful as even the Kremlin would probably find it impossible to cover up that sort of philandering and the western press would make a meal of it to humiliate him. Don’t they do all they can to mock him with the seemingly baseless stories about Kabaeva, which Putin specifically denied years ago and quite angrily (personally I believed that denial because it seemed so visceral and he seemed genuinely disgusted at the suggestion). I think Kabaeva might be deliberately teasing the press to keep the story alive for her own publicity but currently I highly doubt there is any truth in it, but then what do I know?

    Is he a lonely and isolated and sexually repressed, latent gay man as Belkovsky claims? Well perhaps but his evidence is purely negative, as in there is no evidence of a new wife or a girlfriend, but what is that worth? Belkovsky does in fact know men who know Putin. He worked closely with Boris Abramovich if that can be a recommendation for believing him? He most certainly will know the Kremlin inner circle rumors and stories which we do not hear. But he doesn’t name any of them as a source, just “Kremlin sources” told him things. But I could say that here. A “Kremlin source” told me Belkovsky is a charlatan. There. That easy.

    Still…Belkovsky is closer in terms of degrees of separation to the real Putin than any of us so…again who knows

    If we knew for sure he was a serial adulterer or a faithful and once happily married husband whose wife outgrew him or a latent gay man who can not find words for his state, it would help us know what perspective to use in assessing his public actions. But we don’t know any of that.

    If we knew he had been a committed Communist before becoming a “believer in welfare capitalism” that would help us understand, but we don’t know.

    If we knew what he had done in the KGB that would help us know his public and private morality, but we don’t know.

    Still I say there are implications, potentials to be discussed more usefully than the empty silly discussion in Western (and some Russian) media.

    • Seamus Padraig says

      3.) The interesting thing in this case is that Sobchak’s own daughter, Ksenia, is now running against him for president. (Some, though, have speculated that she’s actually doing this to help Putin by drawing votes away from more serious presidential contenders.)

      4.) The story I heard is that he left his wife of many years for a gymnast. But the real question here is: so what? Why is Putin’s marital life any of our business? It’s his own family’s business and nobody else’s.

      • Marcus says

        I disagree. The details of a man’s private life are his own – unless he is running for office – when they become a matter of public concern to an extent because a man’s private ethics and morality have an influence on his public morality. We all have a certain right to know in broad form what such a powerful man is like, because ultimately just as with the POTUS our lives may depend on it.

        There are limits obviously, beyond which it becomes prurient and nasty. But as I say in broad terms it matters what the private man is like. Yeltsin’s alcoholism was not just a private problem. Clinton’s sexual predation wasn’t either. Whether Putin is a stable married man, a serial philanderer or a lonely – whatever the OP said – matters because it will or may spill over into other aspects of his personality and his decision making.

      • Franziska says

        Hello Seamus – I find your second comment to be very enlightening. You say:

        The story I heard is that he left his wife of many years for a gymnast

        That is a story. Not the story. It is a story all over western media and in some Russian media especially liberal media. But there is no evidence at all for it being true. This ‘gymnast’ is the Kabaeva I mentioned in my post. She is very famous in Russia and in long ago 2008 her name was linked with Vladimir Vladimirovich. But at the time he very strenuously and angrily denied it in a way I personally found to be very convincing.

        It would be quite stupid to deny something explicitly in Russia if you are later going to have to admit it. The culture does not forgive being lied to as easily as the West does. It is more traditional and respectful and holds leaders to some standards of decency and honesty. I would expect more obliqueness in denying something that was true. Especially from a man as clever as Putin. But that is just me.

        Now her looks and fame are dwindling Kabaeva is perhaps some say making a new living being “caught” in public wearing mysterious rings that might be wedding rings and dropping heavy hints about “someone” she is with. But it is looking increasingly like publicity stunt and not much else.

        What is most interesting is that you have without knowing accepted a western media story designed to make fun of Putin and to cheapen him in the eyes of traditional Russians. Traditional Russians would not think it was nothing for a man to run away with a woman the age of his daughter. That is in part why the story keeps reviving.

        Of course it may be true but if I have to guess I would say Belkovsky’s silly story still has more leg as far as what we know now.

      • Franziska says

        I should add that Ksenia Anatolyevna is in my humble opinion and in that of many far too silly a person to have any plan beyond having her silly face in media everywhere. Sometimes stupid is just stupid. If she has a provocateur is is likely somewhere in Эхо Москвы or somewhere playing its own twisty game

      • Why is Putin’s marital life any of our business? It’s his own family’s business and nobody else’s.

        This is a bit OT but I want to take that question and apply it more generally to all politicians/ would-be-leaders. We have been encouraged for a long time to say “so what?” about the 1%’s moral compass – both personal and private. It’s second nature for us in the West now. But is that completely healthy? Is it maybe a bit of brainwashing we have all succumbed to so we won’t complain when we occasionally get a glimpse of the cess pit some of our great and good live in.

        If we are entrusting someone to run the country, paying them a lot of money, giving them the keys to our collective future are we really ok with not having any idea who he/she is?

        When does it become our business? Only when they break the law? What if the person has lied and cheated his/her whole life? What if they verbally abuse their spouse? What if they are a non-practising pedo? What if they enjoy watching torture porn? What if they have sleazy serial affairs with barely legal and vulnerable people?

        Is this really none of our business?

        Really NOT suggesting any of this applies to Putin by the way – before anyone gets offended.

        • BigB says

          Catte: if I may – is it not a bit of brainwashing to assume we have to have a heirarchical superstructure of unrepresentative representatives at all? A free society could be organised around the participatory cooperation of equals? No heirarchy, no dominance of power, no corruption by power, no disenfranchisement from power by a (possibly) criminal elite …no problem!

          • We DO have a hierarchical superstructure of unrepresentative representatives.

            We shouldn’t – but we do.

            Your way is a great idea, but it takes steps to get there. One way of trying to make these people more accountable is surely to demand some transparency and maybe even decency in their private and public lives. The erosion of that requirement is not helping anyone but them

            • BigB says

              Agreed: but the state superstructure (where in theory we have some accountability …but in practice have little) in turn supports the superstate superstructure (e.g. the EU) which is faceless, bureaucratic, and unaccountable. Then there is at least another level of supranational stateless power wielded by the unaccountable financial elite, corporate CEOs. The result of globalisation is a participatory democracy …in which we, the people, no longer participate?

              Who was Gavin Williamson representing when he said the Russians are going to kill “thousands and thousands and thousands” of us?

              How do we create a democratised supply chain of decency and transparency all the way to the top?

        • Matt says

          “Really NOT suggesting any of this applies to Putin by the way – before anyone gets offended.”

          Why shouldn’t this apply to Putin? Read this in-depth investigation and tell me why anyone should be “offended” due to demands that Putin be more transparent:

          He’s a crook, and naive, gullible “anti-imperialists” mistakenly think of him as their saviour, due to their reliance on RT for information.

          • We have been looking for solid evidence of Putin’s corruption. Please post any such information that you have. But please be clear we need evidence not claims based on someone’s unsubstantiated allegations. There’s no point in posting those. We have seen them all. We are looking for facts not rumour or speculation.

            And maximum of two links per post please, since we will have to verify them and we are very busy.

            • Jen says

              “We have been looking for solid evidence of Putin’s corruption …”

              I’m betting so have all 17 of the US intelligence agencies, searching hard for Putin’s billions …

              • Exactly! Absence of evidence could be evidence of absence in this case.

            • Matt says

              If that Reuters investigation I posted is not evidence enough, then there’s nothing else that will be enough. What more is expected? The standard of evidence is too high, compared to when an accusation is made against the CIA or something.

              His son-in-law profited due to his relationship. That’s evidence of patronage.

              • The only evidence posted in the Reuters piece is that Nikolay Shamalov is an oligarch whose sons have been appointed to influential positions. We are looking for evidence of Putin’s personal corruption and illegal appropriation of funds, not for evidence that billionaires’ sons get cushy jobs.

                • Matt says

                  I ask that you explain why my comments are being deleted manually and why you lied to me about why my comments didn’t show up in the Ulfkotte thread.

                  • Anyone who reads your comment history is aware you have abused this open forum repeatedly. The fact you are still free to post at all is tribute to our determination to give everyone a chance. the fact you see that as carte blanche to be even more disruptive, dishonest and abusive is the best evidence for your agenda. Carry on as long as you like, we’ll continue to tolerate you.

                    • Matt says

                      I have never “abused” this forum. And if anything I’ve said or done means that I did, then I’m sorry. But you will have to show me where and how exactly I “abused” this website. My intentions are pure and I come only for debate. That said, I can’t know what I’m doing wrong if you don’t explain to me what’s wrong. And deleting my comments without warning doesn’t help either. If you have even a single piece of evidence of me “abusing” this forum, then I will gladly leave and never come back.

                      Indeed, my opinions are different than others, just like your opinions were different than the Guardian authors. Yet, when folks like you were banned there, and falsely labelled “trolls”, you protested the treatment. It’s the same with me here.

                      I think Russia lied about MH17. I think they launched a disinformation campaign after the Ukrainian crisis in early 2014, using the well-known paid trolls in St. Petersburg. I think their MFA lies about certain things. And lastly, I think that the alternative media relies too much on RT and other pro-Kremlin websites for their views about MH17, Ukraine, Russia, the U.S, etc. leading to base anti-Americanism and them believing anti-American conspiracy theories. That’s where I disagree with everyone else here. Other than that, I agree with most things with the folks here. That is my agenda, laid out as transparently as possible.

                    • You know how you have abused this site. You were caught using multiple IDs, proxy IPs and multiple email addresses to post often abusive and duplicate material on numerous threads. This is trolling. We didn’t automatically ban you as most sites would, we called you on it and asked you to stop. You said you would stick to one ID and address. You have not done this. You are now posting repeat comments of no relevance to the threads and attacking this site – seemingly designed only to disrupt conversations.

                      This is disruptive, discourteous and won’t be permitted to continue. If you want to comment here please post informative and/or relevant opinions and fact – not empty abuse and accusations designed to stop useful discussion BTL.

                    • Yet, when folks like you were banned [on the Guardian], and falsely labelled “trolls”, you protested the treatment. It’s the same with me here.

                      The rather important difference between OffG and the Guardian is that you’re still posting here.

                      If you had tried – just once – to post under multiple IDs there you would have been IP banned. If you had argued with the Mods you would have been banned. If you’d accused the mods of “lying” you would have been banned. If you’d posted opinions consistently against the editorial line you would have been banned.

                      For the final time – the only posts of yours we have removed have been your duplicate spam about being “censored.”

                      You posted about five of these in rapid succession. We let two remain and deleted the rest.

                      We also took time to explain your situation to you – repeatedly. You have showed zero appreciation for our efforts. But never mind.

                      Do not disrupt this site any further with baseless accusations and complaints.

                • Jen says

                  “Matt” was called out for doing exactly the same over at The Kremlin Stooge: posting comments that were abusive, immature, duplicitous and designed to disrupt conversation threads with material sourced from links whose biases agreed with his own.

                  This is only my guess but the troll who attacked Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley in comments that you later removed may be linked to him.

          • PeterK says

            Matt – dude – Just top of thread here you said this article was a good study by a person who had personal experience of Putin – now you’re screaming about Putin being a crook.

            What happened man? Did Putin just call up and insult your Mom?

            • Matt says

              I do think the article is a good one and I don’t believe that Putin himself is corrupt. But there is no doubt that many of his childhood friends, and the relationships he made in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, and his close family members, have all benefited from his power and received lucrative jobs, contracts, shares, etc.

              In my opinion, this is a reasonable line of thinking.

          • Franziska says

            @Matt – Your hate of Russians is getting in the way of your reading skills. Here is what Catte said:

            What if the person has lied and cheated his/her whole life? What if they verbally abuse their spouse? What if they are a non-practising pedo? What if they enjoy watching torture porn? What if they have sleazy serial affairs with barely legal and vulnerable people?

            So when she says “NOT suggesting any of this applies to Putin” she is clearly meaning she DOESN’T suggest Putin is closet pedo who abused his wife and likes torture porn or had affairs with barely legal teens.

            You think it is unreasonable to excuse our poor President of even these crimes?

            • Matt says

              Hmm, you’re right. I didn’t read what Catte said properly. I’m sorry for that.

              However, don’t say that I hate Russians. That’s completely false, considering I have several friends who are Russian, from all sides of the political spectrum.

          • I don’t see anything in the article you re quoting that says Putin or Shamalov did anything illegal. What’s the point you are making? I’m not saying Putin isn’t a crook, but what’s described in the article isn’t a description of a crook or anything crooked. So, you know, show me the money?

      • Jen says

        4) My understanding is that Putin did not leave his wife for Alina Kabaeva. (And Kabaeva did not have his baby in Switzerland in the last couple of years.) The Putins divorced in 2014 because they had drifted apart as many couples do when work separates them (Putin in politics, his wife in translation work) and they no longer had much in common.

        I agree that Putin’s private life is his own business but as with any major political leader who seems so completely different from the politicians we are used to seeing – Putin is an introvert while most other politicians carry on with “connecting” to people – and who has presided over a country that has defied the odds and lifted itself from would-be post-industrial wreck into a virtual renaissance, he has become an object of fascination and rumour; in short, a celebrity in his own right.

    • Marcus says

      Thank you, this is very balanced and I wish it was expanded and above the line as being the sort of open and yet informed discussion about this hugely important world figure we simply never get. One question though from a Westerner (I’m assuming you are Russian), who is ‘Boris Abramovich’?

      • Jen says

        The surname of “Boris Abramovich” is Berezovsky.

    • Matt says

      I also found this article about Putin’s son-in-law:

      [link removed as it has already been posted on this page by this commenter]

  3. I delight in a little known incident in the life of baby Vovo. Apparently the father was a stalwart Communist Atheist while Vovo’s mother was a devout Orthodox Christian. I like to imagine Vovo’s father lurking in the shadows among the pillars of the church, lest the Comrades have him denounced for attending a Christening.

  4. Matt says

    It’s a Pravda doc. What else can I say?

    There’s no evidence that America was ever responsible for the corruption in Russia in the ’90s. Sure, a few American citizens tried exploiting the chaos, but even the documentary fails to prove the U.S. government had a role in this.

    At the end of the day, it was Russians who ended the Soviet Union. It was Russians who looted other Russians. Any role the West played in all this was minimal.

    On that note, here’s a good article proving that regulating lobbying, as in the U.S., can be better than leaving it unregulated:

      • Matt says

        I know, right?

        Founded by a bunch of journalists who were either fired or quit after the respective independent media outlets they worked at were sold to an oligarch or had a pro-Kremlin editor installed. Totally untrustworthy. Probably CIA agents or sumting, rite?

        • Franziska says

          You have the western disease of seeing all in black and white like a spy movie. Evil Kremlin does everything evil. All Russians work under the Kremlin spell. Everyone who is anti-Kremlin is a hero in a halo. This is fun for you but not the real world.

          Not all Russian oligarchs work with Putin or even like him much. Not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Not all the Russian media love Putin. Not everything is a grand conspiracy.

          Meduza is Latvian and set up by people who feel angry at Lenta for being fired. And they are sympathetic to the anti-Russian people in Kiev. You will not get unbiased truth from Meduza any more than from Lenta .

          Lenta is not run from the Kremlin you know. The owner was a Yeltsin friend not so much a Putin friend.

          I know you will not pay attention to me but I have said it. 🙂

    • mathiasalexander says

      Shall we supose that these American citizens actrd without the approval of the US government?

      • Matt says

        Of course. They were punished for what they did (IIRC, Putin even pointed this out and credited the U.S. justice system), and the money they stole was very, very, minimal compared to the amounts stolen by the would-be Russian oligarchs.

      • Matt says

        I’m not denying that. But that is different than blaming the U.S. for Russia being looted in the 1990s. It was Russians who stole from other Russians, without help from the U.S.

        • Franziska says

          You think the US state was so stupid it saw its old enemy fall apart and didn’t move in right away to see all the secrets and to make sure what was fallen couldn’t rise again?

          You would not make a very good military man or politician. The US was smarter than you. Here are the words, not of Putin or of conspiracy theorists but the Deputy Director of PNAC in 2001

          America wanted Russia to fall on her knees and never rise from the again. It saw the fall of the SU as a chance for America to enforce a pax American and rule the world. It did the smart things to make sure of this. Read the link. Even an American liberal must bury his head very deep indeed to pretend this didn’t happen.

          Congratulations on how far your head is in the sand 🙂

        • bevin says

          If you are not denying that the US interfered to ensure the election of Yeltsin, who pursued policies that favoured US interests and employed US economic advisors, then you are admitting the very thing that you are denying when you assert:
          “there’s no evidence that America was ever responsible for the corruption in Russia in the ’90s. Sure, a few American citizens tried exploiting the chaos, but even the documentary fails to prove the U.S. government had a role in this.”
          Rule 1 for Trolls is “Keep your story straight.”

  5. Sceptic Tank says

    I am completely unconvinced by the long tale of the lady whose flat has been ransacked (allegedly) by Khodorkovsky’s goons. Any other evidence for it from a reliable source?

    I was quite shocked though about the rancid level of corruption an exploitation by the west of Russia’s oil. Truly disgusting.

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