Russian dissidents and ex-pats have accused the BBC of being far too favourable towards Vladimir Putin in its current series Putin, Russia and the West, which concludes next week.
The series, which tells the story of Putin’s reign as President and the often stormy relationship he has had with the rest of Europe has been accused of pandering to the Russian leader and “failing to understand Russia’s recent history”. The series’ producer, Norma Percy, and the BBC have rejected the allegations and Percy says the documentary is “truly objective” and “multi-sided”.
“We didn’t set out to make a pro- or anti-Putin film,” she said before explaining that the series had aimed to focus on Putin’s foreign policy and not his controversial domestic record.
After becoming Russian President in January 2000, Putin served two terms before becoming the country’s Prime Minister and placing his ally Dimitry Medvedev in the top job. It’s widely assumed that the ex-KGB chief is pulling the strings behind the scenes and will seek a third non-consecutive term as President soon, thus circumnavigating the Russian constitution. The recent elections have also been widely criticised in Russia and abroad for vote-rigging.
Renowned Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky – who now lives in Cambridge, but spent 12 years in Russian prisons – criticised the first episode strongly on his blog.
“It is nothing less than a party political broadcast for Putin and his United Russia party”, he alleged. “The documentary makes no attempt to illuminate events critically. It turns out to be an utter apology for Putin and his regime. Putin appears as a solid public figure, who keeps all his promises (to his western partners and to Russia’s electorate) … If Putin had asked his propagandists to come up with a film they couldn’t have done better.”
Others have slammed the series for failing to feature Russia’s opposition and glossing over Putin’s heavy-handed tactics in Chechnya. Masha Karp, a former editor at the BBC Russian service, believes there were “glaring gaps” in the series and also accuses the programme-makers of Soviet ignorance.
“The contrast between the high level of professionalism in the film-making and the lack of understanding of Russia’s recent history is striking” she said. “There are dozens of … deviations from the historical truth, or rather slight distortions … Taken together these steadily add up to create an image of Putin that will by no means be unpleasant to him, and will be quite useful to those in the west who would like to justify their support for him.”