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tv   Frontline  PBS  April 12, 2022 10:00pm-11:00pm PDT

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♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> putin has no interest in backing down... >> narrator: he's been called the most dangerous man in the world... >> putin the great is what he wants to be. and one of the deeds that putin the great will have accomplished is reuniting russia with ukraine. >> what he has opened up with this invasion is unthinkable because he is back into a corner, it is now existential for him. that makes him also much more dangerous... >> narrator: now on frontline "putin's road to war"
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♪ ♪ >> vladimir putin is about to chair a meeting of the russian security council... >> vladimir putin will address his security council at a special session... >> narrator: it was three days before vladimir putin ordered the invasion of ukraine. >> (speaking russian) >> you have him striding his sort of cocky walk and sitting by himself. and his advisers, they're literally sitting, like, 30 feet away from putin. >> they're sitting in an array like schoolchildren. th looked more like something you would see in a royal court than you would see in a modern government. >> (speaking russian) >> it was unhinged.
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having his national security team, one by one, press him to invade ukraine. >> (speaking russian) >> they went up there and dutifully said what the master wanted them to say. >> (speaking russian) >> i think back to that security council meeting, and i realize how scared they must all be of him. it just felt like they were dancing bears performing for their master who is impossible to please. >> what was especially weird and creepy was the way he dressed down the head of his foreign intelligence service, naryshkin. naryshkin was sweating. he was stammering. >> (speaking russian) >> (speaking russian)
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>> (speaking russian) >> (speaking russian) >> (stammering) >> (speaking russian) >> (speaking russian) >> (speaking russian) >> (speaking russian) >> (speaking russian) >> (speaking russian) >> (speaking russian) >> he seemed to go off the rails, angry and berating his intelligence chief. it was such a strange and such an orchestrated performance, that that's the moment when i realized that putin was actually going to attack ukraine. >> (speaking russian)
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>> you see how this all went down. how much of it was driven just by one man, his deranged ideas, and everybody around him was too scared to say anything about it or to resist. >> narrator: the theatrics were over. russia would go to war. >> it seemed almost as if putin had drawn up a plan a long time in advance, and now he had finally decided to execute it. this was not the war of the russian people against the ukrainian people. this really is vladimir putin's war. >> ura! (russian national anthem playing) >> narrator: it was a war he'd been building up to for years. >> there are grave fears that this could be the beginning of the biggest land war here in europe. >> narrator: fueled by a lifetime of grievance. >> biggest war in europe since world war ii. >> war in ukraine has begun.
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>> narrator: determined to rebuild an empire. >> signaling the beginning of what the world has been fearing for months. >> narrator: and willing to stop at nothing. >> a huge russian military offensive is underway, with attacks by land, air, and sea. >> narrator: vladimir putin's road to war began decades earlier, as a young kgb officer, trained to see enemies and threats to the empire that was the soviet union. >> the kgb was a monopoly that produced violence. it was a monopoly that was responsible for political surveillance on everyday basis of soviet citizens. nothing could go without the
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kgb. >> narrator: putin's first assignment wasn't undercover espionage; they thought he was better suited to counterintelligence. >> and a counterintelligence officer, right, is somebody for whom conspiracy theories and the enemy within are the job, and rooting those out and carrying that kind of paranoid "everyone might actually always be out to get us." >> narrator: it was a disappointing but defining assignment. >> he's an unhappy man. he has wanted to be a secret agent all of his life, as long as he can remember. and then he gets posted to east germany, and not even to berl-- to dresden, which is just such a backwater. >> (cheering) >> narrator: while he was in east germany, the soviet union would collapse. >> mr. gorbachev, tear down
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this wall. >> this protest movement may now be reaching a critical moment. >> ...will be a year remembered for communism's loss of influence in the world. >> here the feeling is the end of the cold war is at hand. >> for many people, there is a defining moment in their history, when all things after that moment refer back to it in some way. >> from abc, this is "world news tonight"... >> narrator: for lieutenant colonel vladimir putin... >> ...reporting tonight from berlin. >> they are here in the thousands, they are here in the tens of thousands. >> narrator: ...the berlin wall coming down was such a moment. >> ...eastern europe continues... >> putin sees that this thing that had always seemed to be glued together well, seemed to be impervious, that had gone from generation to generation of change in the top party officials, seemed to be a rock.... >> battle in a nonviolent... >> it was starting to crumble before his eyes. >> 1989 will be a year remembered for communism's loss of influence...
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>> mr. putin joined russian intelligence during their waning days, in the latter years of the cold war, when they really felt aggrieved and the much lesser power than the united states. so i think that just reinforced some of his feelings of insecurity. >> ...say they will never return to communism and promise free democratic elections. >> narrator: the protests spread to dresden. the angry crowds marched on the german secret police, the stasi headquarters, then putin's kgb building. it would be the first time putin confronted a group of protesters. >> he calls moscow, trying to understand what he is to do, trying to get orders. and moscow doesn't respond. >> narrator: a soviet military officer told him, "moscow is silent." >> and this is a massive, massive trauma for him, that this massive historical event is happening. soviet influence is collapsing before his eyes. and he calls home. he radios home, and home isn't there.
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>> freedom and democracy are coming to parts of eastern europe and a rusty iron curtain is beginning to come down. >> (cheering and whistling) >> narrator: by the time putin returned to russia, the ussr was falling apart. even in front of the kgb headquarters, the statues were coming down. >> for many people, this was in a time of great excitement and enablement and experimentation with democracy, and vladimir putin missed this. >> narrator: the american president, george h.w. bush, declared it a triumph. >> this is a victory for democracy and freedom. it's a victory for the moral force of our values. >> narrator: but to putin, the end of the soviet union was a humiliation. >> suddenly, the old empire was collapsing. everything he knew growing up was disappearing. and this was a moment that defined him and his life. from this moment on, you could argue that he would determine to
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re-establish in some ways what had been lost in his view. >> narrator: in the new russia, putin quickly began to climb to power, reinventing himself from kgb officer to political operative and bureaucratic fixer. >> he's a master bureaucrat. russia has always been a bureaucratic autocracy. this is how, for example, stalin became the general secretary. he was an amazing bureaucrat. he out-bureaucrated all the other bureaucrats. and putin does, too. he is very good at the bureaucracy of all of it. >> narrator: by the late '90s, he'd earned the confidence of russia's first president, boris yeltsin. they were an odd couple-- the former spy and a progressive politician who was trying to bring democracy to russia. >> boris yeltsin decided to break totalitarianism, to crush what was left of communism, with
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a simple idea, which is maximum freedofirst. >> narrator: before long, yeltsin promoted putin to lead the kgb's succsor, the fsb. >> he undertakes this remarkable rise, basically having nothing to do with the center of power in moscow to running its most important security agency, working in the kremlin. >> narrator: putin convinced yeltsin that he shared the president's democratic goals. >> he's a professional liar. to lie is what he was taught in the intelligence school. he was pretending that he was going to pursue the same development of russia as yeltsin did. but that's all is just one big lie. >> another major shakeup in the kremlin-- yeltsin firehis entire cabinet again. who's in charge?
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>> (speaking russian) >> narrator: putin rose to become yeltsin's prime minister, the second-most powerful man in russia. >> ...a new prime minist, vladimir putin, a man of little political experience but a... >> the biggest and the initial reaction when people heard his name being announced as acting prime minister on the 9th of august 1999 by president yeltsin, the first reaction was, "who is that?" most people had never heard of this guy. >> narrator: how putin would wield power would quickly become clear. >> just a few weeks, really, after he became prime minister, we had a very suspicious slate of apartment bombings across russia. >> a bomb destroyed an apartment building in moscow and it does appear... >> narrator: there were suspicions about who really set off the bombs. but the government claimed it was the work of separatists from the russian republic chechnya. >> everybody's home asleep in their beds. and these large apartment blocks just folded in on themselves, burying these people alive or
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dead, but burying everybody in the building. >> narrator: for putin, it was a chance to demonstrate russia's might. >> this prime minister that most people don't even remember his name, and suddenly he comes on television, he says, "we're going to hunt down the terrorists. and we're going to wipe them out in the outhouse." >> (translated): we'll be chasing the terrorists everywhere. at the airports or in the toilet. we'll waste them in an outhouse. end of story. >> when the apartment bombings happen, it gives him the excuse he needs to finally go after what has become a morass in chechnya and neighboring dagestan. >> narrator: putin struck chechnya with incredible force. >> (speaking russian) >> (translated): this was his decision. he was angry. and he wanted to punish the separatists. >> he is seen on tv as a doer, a
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man of action. he goes down there. he's talking to the troops. he is in command. >> narrator: as putin suited up for the cameras, his political fortunes were on the rise. ♪ ♪ and just a few months later, he was inaugurated as russia's new president. >> (translated): the powers of the head of state have been turned over to me today. >> narrator: putin's first promise to the russian people: strength. >> (translated): i assure you that there will be no vacuum of power, not for a minute. the war in chechnya insidee of russia's own borders. just as brutal as the horrors that we're seeing in ukraine today. again, against a part of his own country. they are willing to destroy the village in order to save it.
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>> narrator: as president, he wasn't just presenting himself as the strongman. he commissioned film and photo shoots. >> he is a man who is obsessed with tv. he watches tapes of the evening news over and over and over again to see how he's portrayed, to see how he looks. >> (speaking russian) (camera shutter clicks) (speaking russian) >> (speaking russian) >> (chuckles) >> he wears very good suits, like any other western leader, he speaks fluent german, and he understands english. >> narrator: in those early years, he continued to publicly cultivate the image of a reformer. >> russian narrative was the victory of democracy, the triumph of popular will, that sort of thing, so a young guy who speaks a foreign language fits into that narrative, as long as you ignore everything else about him.
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>> narrator: putin learned how to sell himself withhe help of his public relationguru. >> (speaking russian) (translated): he began to think th everything can be manipulated. any kind of press, any tv program, is all about manipulation. it was decided what tv channels would show what news. >> narrator: they made sure a dynamic, vital, and charismatic putin was on display for all hhealy,s yog, he's virile, he casts himself as a savior. temperamentally, and in style, he is the anti-yeltsin. he is bringing back a kind of dignity and strength to the russian presidency that had been missing under boris yeltsin. >> president clinton arrived in moscow carrying a message of cooperation... >> narrator: putin's first test with the united states, a visit from the american president. bill clinton had come to the evaluate putin for
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>> president clinton wanted to get a little bit of a feel. he wanted to meet him in the kremlin as president. >> two presidents, one near the end of his term, the other... >> narrator: putin seemed indifferent to the american president who had championed yeltsin and liberalization, and expanded nato. through body language.amount he tries to show you that he's the pha male in the room through the way he spreads his legs, through the way he slouches a bit in his chair, through the way that he will look at people and kind of give them a dismissive hand wave. >> putin doesn't have much time for him. and this is not what clinton was used to when it came to russia. he was used to having somebody he could relate to, and putin is a cold fish, and clinton didn't respond well to him. >> if mr. clinton was hoping for a foreign policy triumph, he won't get it here. >> narrator: later that day, clinton received a warmer reception from boris yeltsin.
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and issued a warning about putin. >> bill clinton looked hard into yeltsin's eyes, and said, "i'm a little bit concerned about this young man that you have turned over the presidency to. he doesn't have democracy in his heart." and he reached over and poked him in his heart. and i will never forget the fa, the expression that came over yeltsin. >> narrator: yeltsin's confidants say by the end of his life, he would come to agree with clinton. >> before boris yeltsin died, he told intimates that it was a great mistake for him to have selected putin as his successor. >> narrator: the signs were
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there from the beginning. putin moved to consolidate power. one of his first targets: television. >> one of the first things he did was take control of television, because more than 90% of russians got all their news from television. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: during the yeltsin years, independent television channels, like ntv, flourished, even as they ridiculed political figures. >> ntv has a comic show called "kukly"-- "puppets." and when putin comes to rise in public life, it features a putin puppet, as well, and he's never portrayed very flatteringly. >> (straining) >> putin apparently was driven to madness by this show, and by the way he was portrayed on it, the way he was mocked on it. >> narrator: ntv and its owner, vladimir gusinsky, came into the crosshairs of putin's government.
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>> he sent out operatives from the prosecutor general's service, so the tax police, to raid the offices of media- most, the parent company of ntv, which was at the time the largest independent media holding in russia. >> gusinsky is imprisoned, and while he's in jail, one of putin's lieutenants comes to visit him in jail and says, "you know, you could get out of this mess if you sign over ntv." gusinsky eventually does that, hands over ntv to a kremlin-friendly oligarch. >> doing that, putin made clear the broadcast media, which is how most russians get their news, was no longer going to be outsourced. this was going to be a state-run operation, and it's remained that way throughout putin's term. >> narrator: putin was now well on his way to dismantling russian democracy, pursuing his vision of a restored russian empire. >> he came to see himself as almost ordained to lead russia
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back to greatness. if that is your ordained mission, then there aren't a lot of limits on the means you can use to achieve that goal. >> narrator: and in those years, another warning of how far putin was willing to go. it began with a tragedy in the small town of beslan. >> men and women wearing explosive belts attacked a school... >> ...the worst hostage tragedy that russia has ever seen. >> narrator: terrorists seizing a school. >> (speaking russian) (translated): and the plan was that putin would either capitulate, or he wod lose his image, his reputation. this was a serious crisis, this was a really serious crisis. >> (speaking on radio) >> narrato putin wouldn't back down. he ordered his army in. tanks and troops encircled the
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school. (explosion bangs) and then, an explosion. (sirens blaring) and chaos. (explosions echo) >> the army shelled the schooll. they fired at it from tanks. >> narrator: putin's troops were armed with rockets, grenade launchers, and flamethrowers. >> a lot of the children who burned alive burned alive because of a fire that raged. >> it turns into this debacle, and the end result is corpses of little children, stacked like firewood. >> more than 320 people were killed, half of them children, in the tragedy in the town of beslan in north ossetia. >> narrator: putin seized on the tragedy to expand his power and control. >> he's demanded a radical shakeup of security and greater powers for the kremlin. >> narrator: he canceled elections throughout the country. >> a stark message: governors and leaders of russia's... >> narrator: and new rules
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forced out the most outspoken members of the parliament. >> and it was a cynical move, but at the same time, it also expresses, the way to reond to extreme violence and to extreme disorder is to create more dictatorial powers. >> he's demanded a radical shakeup of security and greater powers... >> (speaking russian) (translated): after beslan, the kremlin had full power. the government did not matter much any longer. (speaking russian) (translated): this kremlin, the power these days is always in singular. it doesn't matter where it is. it belongs to the president, it comes from the president, flows out of the president. >> the attack on the school in beslan was a signature moment of relation about who is vladimir putin. what kind of brutality would
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use the tragedy of piles and piles of dead bodies of kids to eliminate democracy? and now we're seeing vladimir putin use dead ukrainian children to eliminate democracy and its vestiges inside of russia. and that domestic crackdown goes hand in hand with putin's war-- those are one and the same phenomen. >> narrator: as he cemented ative years, he had tong those contend with another dangerous challenge: popular uprisings in former soviet republics. >> (cheering and chanting) >> people in the seets is a really frightening sight to putin. people in the streets can make all sorts of things happen. >> (chanting) >> narrator: they were called the color revolutions, and he saw in them a threat from the united states.
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>> putin concluded that these were efforts by the united states and our intelligence services to in fact install in these neighboring countries regimes that would be anti-russian. >> because you acted, georgia is today both sovereign and f and a beacon of liberty for this region and the world. >> putin is convinced that people don't just come out into the streets. they have to be driven by somebody. there has to be a puppet master. somebody's funding them, and it's probably the united states. >> americans respect your courageous choice for liberty. the american people will stand with you. >> narrator: georgiara and kyrgyzstan. putin feared russia was next. >> i think this makes him sit up and pay attention. "could that happen to me? and if it does, not only do i
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lose a job that i like, what else do i lose? do i lose my freedom? do i lose my life?" >> he perceives them through his fuzzy history of conspiracy-minded paranoia as the work of the west. and it's all of a piece with this years-long war, in effect, that he believes he's been waging with the americans and the c.i.a., who in his mind are trying to push him out of power. >> russian president vladimir putin is speaking at an international... >> narrator: in february 2007, putin's simmering grievances and his ambitions came into full view in munich, at a conference of western leaders. >> (speaking german) >> and so he comes to the security conference in munich and says, basically, "i don't have to mince words, do i? i can say what's on my mind." and then he, he just lashes t, and he lists all these resentments. >> (translated): first and
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foremost, the united states has overstepped its national borders in the economic, political, and humanitarian spheres it imposes on other nations. well, who would like this? who would like this? >> my head snapped. it was so searing and blunt, and i, i felt... this was the real guy. >> (speaking russian) (translated): this is, of course, extremely dangerous. it results in the fact that no one feels safe. i want to emphasize this-- no one feels safe. >> americans were pissed, frantic, angry. >> i was four rows back, and you could almost feel the humidity from the spittle that was spewing. yeah, it was, it was pretty shocking, because it was pretty aggressive. >> putin echoed cold war rhetoric by accusing the u.s. of making the world unsafe.
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>> premier vladimir putin left no doubt who he sees is responsible for the current global crisis. >> narrator: the speech was a turning point. >> putin clearly in this speech was drawing a line and saying, "we're not going to try anymore. we're just giving up on you. and we're going to make our own world in which we are the master." >> it's one of putin's harshest attacks on america in his seven-year term. >> that speech in 2007 is the anchor point, at which he tells us the europe he wants and thinternational order he wants, and he has worked towards it since then. >> narrator: he had set russia on a course towards conflict and war. >> he sees himself as restoring russia to absolute greatness in the world, and reassembling, basically, the russian empire. >> ...tracking this very serious
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development in the arab world. >> narrator: it wouldn't be long before putin would face another threat. >> (chanting) >> narrator: as with the color revolutions, cries for democracy in the middle east-- tunisia, syria, egypt. >> vladimir putin looks at what's happening in the arab world, and he sees it as dresden all over again. sees it as the american meddling in other countries' affairs to the detriment of mother russia. >> the sound of freedom. >> president hosni mubarak has stepped down. >> narrator: one of the first to fall: egyptian president hosni mubarak. >> i think that particularly for putin, what happened iegypt was something that really went right to his heart. >> narrator: especially after the president of the united states weighed in. >> the united states will continue to stand up for democracy in egypt and around the world. >> they'd like to spread "american-style democracy," suorted with the help of money
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from abroad, with the help of intelligence service, with the help of diplomatic service. and even in some cases, with the help of pentagon. >> the political mutiny that began in tunisia spread to egypt and beyond, and has reached libya. >> narrator: for putin, the peril of the arab spring exploded into sharp relief in libya, where rebel forces backed by the u.s. captured his ally, libyan dictator muammar gaddafi. (people shouting, horns honking) >> vladimir putin talked about the fall of libya over and over again. he would talk about the scene of muammar gaddafi, the great lion of libya, reduced to a man hiding in a drainage pipe, cowering with his own gun in his hand, where he was dragged out by his people and was killed. >> (shouting) >> putin watches that tape over and over and over again.
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it's all he can talk about for quite some time. >> (speaking russian) >> (cheeng) >> tens of thousands came out on the streets to tell prime minister vladimir putin they'd had enough. n,he fervor reached moscow-- protests at his seat of power, the kremlin. >> more than 100,000 people came out to say, "no, enough. we are fed up with this." this was the largest demonstration held in russia, in moscowsince the democratic revolution of august 1991. >> narrator: the protests had been sparked by claims that putin's party had rigged the parliamentary election.tis ofrad for the first time on cell phone videos. >> (translated): they took their smart phones and they recorded everything. and they immediately uploaded that on the internet. and the whole country could see it. so the social networks have played a huge role in those protests.
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>> (speaking russian) >> narrator: they saw ballot boxes being stuffed even before the polls opened. >> (speaking russian) >> ballot-stuffing-- suddenly people saw this evidence with their own eyes. and there was no explaining it away. >> (speaking russian) >> narrator: ballots hidden in the bathroom. campaign officials filling out ballots. the pens at one polling place filled with erasable ink. >> the russian people reacted to that by going out into the streets with signs that said literally, "president putin must go." >> narrator: putin responded with force. he ordered a crackdown on protesters and dissidents. >> (speaking russian) (translated): they started enacting searches, arrests, detentio, actions against opposition leaders, persecution in the mass media.
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and they launched individual persecution that applied to tens of hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the country. >> (shouting in russian) >> this was a clear message that it's over. "you've had your fun. it's done. it's over. the election's over. i'm the president. you are not toppling me. i am the law." >> bad things often happen to opponents... >> he was forced into exile in england after... >> narrator: many of putin's opponents inside russia fled the country. others had died mysterious deaths. >> vladimir putin's top opponent saying, "i am scared that putin will kill me." >> death of a former vladimir >> narrator: one, who nearly died twice from poisoning, was vladimir kara-murza. >> ...kremlin, so very close to vladimir putin's office... >> there's been a very high mortality rate in the last several years among the people who have crossed the path of vladimir putin's kremlin-- independent journalists, anti-corruption campaigners,
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opposition activists, opposition leaders. some in strange and unexplained deaths, others in just straight- out assassinations. >> narrator: having demonstrated his power at home, putin turned his attention to projecting russia as a global superpower. >> sochi, rossiiskaya federatsia... >> we'll give you a live look now at sochi-- today's opening ceremony takes place in... >> it cost russia close to 50 billion euros... >> narrator: in 2014, he commanded the world stage. >> ...vladimir putin. >> for putin, hostinthe olympics is the crescendo of his campaign to revive russian greatness. >> it was the kind of pageantry which putin and russians in general loved. he was riding very high. this was, you know, a moment of personal and natiol triumph
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from his point of view. >> (speaking russian) (cheers and applause) >> sochi was a huge moment for vladimir putin, and it was meant to be his validation and crowning moment of acceptance on the world stage as, you know, sort of the new russian tsar. >> narrator: but it was at this moment of glory that ukraine would begin to emerge as the ultimate test for putin's vision for russia. >> ukraine is stuck very much in the middle, both geographically... ...with the protests in neighboring ukraine, what is russian president... >> narrator: again, protests. calls for change. resistance to russian dominance. >> protests first flared back in november... >> to have a democratic ukraine, a ukraine that cared more about being in nato than it did being in moscow's orbit, that's a huge
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threat to vladimir putin. that was something that was simply unacceptable. >> he has a special thing about ukraine. he believes ukraine really is part of russia. and he is determined to reverse this geopolitical catastrophe that separated ukraine from russia. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: putin was determined to act. his response came in the ukrainian territory of crimea. >> they moved in with what the ukrainians called "little green men." and they were clearly, by the way they handled themselves and their weapons, professional military. wearing russian-style combat uniforms, but no insignia. >> ...forces in the thousands seizing territory. >> narrator: putin denied the troops were his, and soon, crimea was in russian control. >> ...reportedly arrived in crimea. >> i think it was a tactically impressive move that he was able
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to basically invade a huge chunk of a neighboring country... >> a tug-of-war in ukraine... >> ...and do it in a way that made it difficult to figure out exactly what was going on until it was too late. >> narrator: putin didn't stop there. he supported a separatist war in ukraine's east. >> he is going to make clear to the world that, "no, russia is not weak anymore. russia cannot be pushed around anymore. and i'm going to go into ukraine if i want to because ukraine is part of russia, it is not an independent state." >> narrator: in washington, the american government was struggling to devise a response to putin's actions. >> how do you deter behavior when the other side is basically denying that it's even taking when the other side is saying, "i don't even know what you're talking about, we're not involved"? >> president obama says he's deeply concerned about that... >> narrator: in several phone calls, president barack obama confronted putin about the
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"little green men." tony blinken was in the oval office for those calls. >> putin denied their presence. and it was striking, and flat-out lying, about russia's presence in ukraine. and obama would say to him, "vladimir, we're not blind. we have eyes. we can see." and putin would just move on, as if nothing had happened. >> narrator: at the pentagon, some believed putin only understood one thing: military force. >> the most important thing that we could do was to deter russia. and the best way to do that, we thought in my office, was to make the russians afraid that they would have to pay a higher price for their military intervention. the higher price would be a price in russian lives, that if we had anti-tank weapons, the russian tanks coming at the ukrainians would get hit and russian soldiers would die. >> narrator: the c.i.a. director agreed that tough action was needed. >> i remember being on the schoolyards of new jersey when i grew up, and, you know, bullies, and, tried to
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intimidate. and they keep moving forward unless they get their, their nose bloodied a little bit. and i felt as though mr. putin really needed to get his nose bloodied. and i think it would have caused him to back off, because, like most bullies, he knows that he can't stand up to others. it's a lot of bluster. >> narrator: but the president was reluctant to be drawn into a conflict with russia. he would not approve providing weapons to the ukrainians. >> obama responds to ukraine by imposing sanctions. and they begin to penalize russian businesses and russian individuals that they blame for being part of this. >> narrator: some who had dealt with putin worried sanctions would not stop him. >> i think that putin successfully calculated that the hammer would not come down on him in a critically painful way if he did things deniably, stealthily, if he probed and if he sort of boiled the frog
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hotter and hotter and hotter rather than attacking directly. and he was right. >> narrator: putin had extended russian power, tested u.s. resolve. now it was time to retaliate. he would strike at the heart of american democracy. >> you have to understand that 2016 attack on the u.s. presidential election as putin's revenge and retaliation for what he considered to be, essentially, hostile acts by the west. >> narrator: the attack was aimed at washington, d.c., with a breach of computer servers belonging to the democratic national committee. then, email leaks designed to undermine hillary clinton's campaign. >> this was the most aggressive and most direct and most assertive campaign that the russians ever mounted in the history of our elections.
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and what characterized this were the variety and intensity of the techniques that they employed. >> narrator: a campaign of misinformation, fake users designed to look like americans, trolls supporting the kremlin, an army of automated bots on twitter, and targeted advertisements on facebook and google. all calculated to hurt hillary clinton and help her rival, donald trump. >> president putin's view of trump was a penchant for authoritarianism, of backing off of human rights, and talking about wanting to have a more positive relationship with russia. what's not to like if you're vladimir putin? it sort of sounds like, "he's one of us." >> narrator: in moscow, putin denied being behind the hacking. >> everybody started to talk about russia. some questions were asked.
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vladimir putin clearly enjoyed himself when he was asked these questions in the beginning of september. he gave some, well, conventional answers with some wink, but that was all. >> (speaking russian) (chuckles) (translated): i don't know anything about that. you know, there are so many hackers today. and they act so delicately and precisely, then they can leave their trace in the necessary time and place or even someone else's trace. >> there's always plausible deniability built into the system. so a lot of the hackers that are working for the russian government, they're not necessarily wearing, you know, epaulets and uniforms. they're not necessarily sitting in g.r.u. bunkers in moscow or somewhere in russia. a lot of them are freelancers. >> (speaking russian) (translated): does it even matter who hacked this data from the campaign headquarters of mrs. clinton? is that really important? the important thing is the
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content that has been given to the public. >> putin believes the west is inherently weak, and can be pushed to a certain point. and he pushes to that point. reaction, he pushes some more. >> narrator: and on election day, the question: would putin's attack pay off? >> it's hard to imagine that many people in moscow thought that donald trump was going to win... >> (speaking russian) >> ...since nobody else did. they read the same things that we read and see the same polls and the same pundits. >> (speaking russian) >> narrator: as the upset became clear... >> eto unbe-(bleep)-lievable. >> cause of jubilation. everybody was so happy because it was such a big surprise. >> (cheering) ♪ we are the champions of the world ♪ >> everybody believed that there is a special agreement, secret agreement, between the elites to get clinton elected.
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>> narrator: behind the scenes at the duma... >> (speaking russian) >> narrator: ...some russian legislators collectively raised a champagne toast. >> they didn't expect trump to win. they just thought they were going to bloody clinton's nose. they didn't expect to break her neck. >> narrator: trump's election was seen as a sign of strength for putin. >> it did demonstrate to ordinary russians putin is deciding the fate of american elections. it is taken as a sign of putin's greatness and of russia's greatness, as well. >> from putin's point of view, he won. not only did the candidate he favored come out on top, he has disrupted americans' faith in their own democracy. so that we're all turning on each other and we're busy fighting with each other, and, in his mind, hopefully too distracted to pose a threat to him on the world stage.
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>> with tensions between the u.s. and russia at the highest levels since the cold war... >> president trump's helsinki summit with president vladimir putin... >> narrator: as they held their first summit... >> ...long-anticipated meeting between donald trump and vladimir putin... >> narrator: was clear that in trump, putin had a very different american president. >> all of a sudden, there's this president of the united states who is a putin groupie. he's a putin fanboy. >> the things president trump said about his admiration for vladimir putin, the way he called nato's mutual defense pledge into question... >> it's great to be with you. >> ...must have seemed like an amazing gift to vladimir putin. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: in their first joint press conference, trump surprised everyone. >> president putin denied having anything to do with the election
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interference in 2016. every u.s. intelligence agency has concluded that russia did. my first question for you, sir, is, who do you believe? >> "who do you believe?" that's the starkest possible way to put that question to the president. >> my people came to me, dan coates came to me and some others. they said they think it's russia. i have president putin. he just said it's not russia. i will say this: i don't see any reason why it would be. >> that is such a win for putin. it is such a, you know, it's like watching your enemy shoot himself in both feet, both hands. >> i will tell you that president putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did... >> it's your enemy admitting that you are better. i mean, it's everything he's ever wanted-- it's for the u.s. to admit that the u.s. is stupid and weak and bad, and that russia is good and strong and
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powerful. >> extraordinary moment in american history, something i thought i would never see. >> narrator: in moscow, putin was emboldened. >> as long as trump was president, i think putin felt he had a free hand, essentially. putin felt unbound and unconstrained. >> narrator: continuing to tighten his hold on russia. >> (screaming) >> he is building up his own power at home. he is smothering out opposition. >> police in russia arrested one of the country's most prominent opposition leaders. anti-corruption activist alexei navalny was detained... >> he does what he can to smother it in the crib. >> narrator: overseas, audacious operations designed to send a signal. >> ...of a spy and his daughter apparently poisoned... >> britain's foreign minister accused putin of ordering the poisoning. >> he's gotten away with everything so far, so why not push it a little step further?
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>> narrator: deploying his brutal way of war. >> u.n. investigators just linked russia to a possible war crime in syria. >> he's using the battlefields of syria as ways to improve his own military's operational performance. to show that russia is a kingmaker beyond russia's so-called near abroad in central asia. even risking direct confrontation with american military forces a couple of times in skirmishes in syria. >> (chanting): we the people! >> narrator: and in the divi and disarray he'd helped sow in his long-time adversary, an opportunity. >> he correctly sees america as a nation so divided that it's paralyzed. that it is a nation at each other's throats that can't agree on anything. >> (screaming) >> then afghanistan happens. the message that sends to putin
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is that america has no more appetite for war. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: putin was now poised to make his boldest move yet. >> he wants to be a great historical figure for russia. it's putin the great is what he wants to be. and one of the deeds that putin the great will have accomplished is reuniting russia with ukraine. >> russia without ukraine is a country. russia with ukraine is an empire. and that's where putin seems to be headed. that means a lot of wars and a lot of dead people. (air raid siren blaring) (speaking russian): (explosions booming) >> narrator: putin's war had begun.
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(air raid siren blaring) (explosions roaring) >> he has gambled his entire time in office on this one decision. >> (screaming) >> this is what he will be remembered for. not anything else he did in the prior 22 years. and he decided to put everything on this. >> apocalyptic scenes on the outskirts of the capital... >> a nonstop onslaught over the last 24 hours, with mass casualties. >> tens of thousands of civilians trapped in cities under near-constant russian shell fire. >> vladimir putin is going to rank up there as one of the worst and most brutal killers of the 21st century. and his career in power has been marked by a willingness to use extreme force and violence and war as a tool of his repression. >> narrator: in ukraine, europe,
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the consequences of his war. >> war in ukraine creating a flood of refugees pouring across european borders. >> it is the fastest-growi humanitarian crisis on the continent since world war ii. >> narrator: now, putin's war is the world's. >> we are already at a tipping point risking world war iii. >> could the ukraine-russia war cause a world war or even a nuclear war? >> he is more dangerous than he has ever been at any point in the last 22 years. he will not lose. he will grind the country down to a fine, fine ash. >> vladimir putin signals he has no intention of stopping his campaign. >> putin has no interest in backing down. >> and it doesn't matter how many russian soldiers die in the process, how many ukrainian soldiers and civilians die in the process. he will not be humiliated, and that makes him also much more dangerous. >> vladimir putin is getting
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more unpredictable and more dangerous as the war goes on. >> the question everyone is asking is, what do we do about vladimir putin? >> the russian leader sees this as a war he cannot afford to lose. ♪ ♪ >> go to for more on russia's war in ukraine, including our project with the associated press documenting potential war crimes. and explore expanded interviews from putin's road to war. >> everybody around him thought it was a terrible idea but was too scared to say anything about it. >> he seemed to go off the rails... >> i think it's putin the great is what he wants to be. >> connect with frontline on facebook, instagram and twitter, and stream anytime on the pbs video app, youtube or >> did big oil knowingly spread disinformation? >> narrator: an epic three-part series... >> they said that climate science was uncertain that action wasn't required...
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>> our job was to fight back against the progressive agenda. >> we concluded that none of these technologies were going to be competitive against oil. >> big money had infiltrated the halls of congress. >> there's an urgency to the situation that is not being answered. >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. additional support is provided by the abrams foundation, committed to excellence in journalism... the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more at park foundation dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues... the heising simons foundation: unlocking knowledge, opportunity and possibilities.
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more at and by the frontline journalism fund, with major support from john and jo ann hagler. and additional support from the damon f. and sarah brown trust. captioned by media access group at wgbh >> for more on this and other frontline programs visit our website at ♪ ♪ frontline's "putin's road to war" is available on on amazon prime video.
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♪♪ you're watching pbs. ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪
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- [narrator] this is a production of wedu pbs, tampa, st. petersburg, sarasota. support for this program was generously provided by: regis bank, ian black real estate, manatee community foundation, tidewell foundation, pinellas community foundation, gulf coast jfcs, the barry alpert family, the alan bomstein family, the richard dobkin family, the sam samelson family, the elizabeth sembler family, the geoff simon family, the jennifer williams family, jewish federation of florida's gulf coast, jewish federation of sarasota manatee, and tampa jewish community centers & federation. ha crimes are escalating globally


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