Last Night's Viewing: Putin, Russia and the West, BBC2
Mad Dogs, Sky1

 

"I looked in his eyes and I was able to get a sense of his soul," said President Bush about Vladimir Putin, when he was ambushed at a summit press conference with a question about whether he trusted the Russian President. In the footage of the event, Putin looked genuinely gratified to have passed the test, but in Norma Percy's Putin, Russia and the West, the moment was offered less as evidence of Putin's bona fides than as an example of Bush's naivety. Colin Powell, not an obvious knee-jerk hawk, was a bit more wary. "I look in his eyes and I still see KGB," he remonstrated with the President afterwards. "There's a reason he speaks fluent German." The reason was that Putin had been a chief for the KGB in East Germany, not to mention head of the FSB, one of the agencies that replaced it. Percy's series is about the transformation of that career intelligence officer into the most powerful man in Russia.

Percy's stock in trade is history that gets inside the room. She has an unequalled track record when it comes to persuading the chief actors in contemporary events to give their versions of what happened behind closed doors, all the while keeping a beady eye on the fact that their version is bound to be highly partial. But the nature of Russian politics means that there are some occasions that still elude full disclosure. We got Putin's version of the meeting with Yeltsin in late 1999 when power was handed over, but Yeltsin isn't around to fill out the details. "I have decided to resign," Putin recalled him saying, leaving floating the highly salient question of what exactly had prompted that decision. You got the sense that he was made an offer he couldn't refuse.

In fact, some of the most gripping moments in the film were passages of opacity, such as Putin's confrontation with the oligarchs – an assembly of the capo di tutti capi at which he made it plain that the rules were about to change. "It's like when two dogs fight. First, they sniff each other. That was the sniffing," said one participant. Eyes flickered backwards and forwards as everyone present tried to feel how the ice was shifting beneath their feet, and work out which floe to jump to. Incidentally, if you've ever wondered why there have been so many Russians on the ski-lift in recent years, the revelation that the Russian income-tax rate is only 13 per cent might offer one answer. Tellingly, cutting the rate to that and then actually getting people to pay it resulted in an increase in the state's revenues

There were intriguing passages about Putin's solidarity with the Americans after 9/11 and an odd anecdote about Yeltsin's Minister of Defence playing hooky from a state function with Condoleezza Rice (a "spontaneous" gesture that just happened to have been recorded by an official camera crew). But the really interesting stuff lay in Putin's confrontation with the oligarchs, and in particular Mikhail Khodorkovsky's dangerous decision to tell the truth (or at least a version of it) when reporting on state corruption. Again, you had the footage of the critical moment, as Putin absorbed the fact that his power had just been openly challenged. Khodorkovsky looked nervous, Putin looked bored, and everyone else in the room tried to look as if they weren't there at all. Unfortunately, Khodorkovsky wasn't available to offer a commentary on this dramatic moment. Even Norma Percy can't get into a Soviet jail.

Mad Dogs is back – to see whether it can pull off the trick of re-engineering a really good end-stop drama into a continuing series. The lads had laundry problems in this first episode, with the tricky business of getting a fortune in €500 notes into spendable denominations. The explosion in the final frames may also have left them in need of clean underwear.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk