>> Vladimir Putin is as cold blooded as any foreign leader I have ever seen.
>> NARRATOR: An inside look at how five American Presidents confronted Putin.
>> President Putin simply speaks mistruth after mistruth and tries to misinform, but he does it as easily as he breathes.
>> NARRATOR: Leading to a dangerous new conflict with the West.
>> If Russia is allowed to get away with this, it affects the entire international order.
>> NARRATOR: Now on FRONTLINE "Putin and the Presidents."
>> A stunning retreat by Russia overnight... >> Humiliating losses on the battlefields of Kharkiv... >> Frankly, it's a sign that they are struggling badly on the Russian side.
>> NARRATOR: At St. George Hall in the Kremlin, in the midst of a crisis... >> Russian losses are beginning to spark criticism of the Russian leader.
>> NARRATOR: ...Russian officials packed the room.
They knew the war in Ukraine was going badly.
>> ...calling his actions "detrimental to Russia's and its citizens' future."
>> NARRATOR: Their leader was at a critical juncture.
>> (speaking Russian) (fanfare playing, audience applauding) >> NARRATOR: Vladimir Putin would make it clear what his intentions were and who the enemy really was.
>> (speaking Russian): >> Vladimir Putin needs to somehow justify the horrific sacrifices that Russians are making on his orders by broadening the aperture, making this about something bigger, into some kind of conflict with the United States, with the West, with NATO-- take your pick.
>> (speaking Russian): >> I think it's a very dangerous moment.
It's a dangerous moment for Ukraine.
I think it's a dangerous moment for Russia, because it's hard to see what the pathway forward is.
It's a dangerous time.
>> NARRATOR: It was a dramatic escalation, Putin leaving no doubt his war was against the United States and the West.
>> (chanting in Russian): >> NARRATOR: It is a war that he has been waging for years, confronting five American presidents on a path that has brought Russia and the United States to the brink.
>> NARRATOR: It began during the height of the Cold War... >> There is such change taking place in the communist world.
>> We must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.
>> NARRATOR: ...during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
>> ...Mr. Ronald Reagan.
(crowd cheering) >> Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
(crowd cheering) >> NARRATOR: At the time, Vladimir Putin was a young KGB officer stationed in Germany, trained to fight the United States.
>> He wasn't a professional politician.
He was in fact a professional agent for the KGB.
So he would have learned about the West in the frame of the adversary.
You know, the enemy, or at least, certainly, all of the reasons in which there would be to be suspicious about the West.
>> From ABC... >> NARRATOR: For Lieutenant Colonel Putin, the collapse of the Soviet Union, spurred on by an American president, was a defining moment.
>> ...in the thousands, they are here in the tens of thousands.
>> Here the feeling is the end of the Cold War is at hand.
>> You can only imagine what it must have been like as a young KGB officer.
Your country disappears, or is in the process of disappearing.
You're there on the front lines.
The Communist Party, obviously, will, will lose its raison d'être.
And so it must have been devastating.
And I think that must have been a severe blow.
>> As we celebrate Christmas, this day of peace and hope... >> NARRATOR: The humiliation at the hands of the U.S. continued, as the next American president, George H.W.
Bush, declared the end of the Soviet era a triumph.
>> Eastern Europe is free.
The Soviet Union itself is no more.
This is a victory for democracy and freedom.
It's a victory for the moral force of our values.
>> Vladimir Putin sees American talk of human rights, democracy, freedom as a cynical fig leaf, something that the U.S. uses to cover itself as it cynically pursues its interests across the globe, as it pushes its agenda across the globe.
(fanfare playing) >> Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
>> In Moscow today, an unprecedented peaceful passing of power... >> (speaking Russian) >> NARRATOR: As he ascended to the presidency, Vladimir Putin was determined to restore Russian strength and empire.
>> Russians are looking for a strong hand to lead their country.
Vladimir Putin, it appears, is their man.
>> He came to see himself as almost ordained to lead Russia at this moment and to lead Russia back to, to greatness.
>> (speaking Russian) >> If that is your ordained mission, then there aren't a lot of limits on the means you can use to achieve that goal.
>> President Clinton arrived in Moscow carrying a message of cooperation.
>> NARRATOR: As president, Putin carried his simmering grievance with the United States into his first meeting with President Bill Clinton.
>> Arriving at the Kremlin for their first presidential encounter, both leaders want... >> President Clinton wanted to get a little bit of a feel.
He wanted to meet him in the, in the Kremlin as president.
>> Two presidents, one near the end of his term, the other beginning a new era... >> NARRATOR: Putin was wary of the American president, who had championed the spread of liberalization and democracy in Russia.
>> Putin conveys a huge amount through body language.
He tries to show you that he's the alpha 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.
>> His first meeting with Clinton, he was a cold fish.
He had no interest in dealing with Clinton.
Clinton felt insulted and rebuffed.
Putin didn't want to have anything to do with Clinton.
>> 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 Putin's mentor, Boris Yeltsin.
And he issued a warning about the new Russian president.
>> 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, the expression that came over Yeltsin.
I think it really shook Yeltsin a bit.
>> ...Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
>> NARRATOR: But in front of the cameras, Clinton walked a careful line, not revealing his concerns about Putin.
>> If you want to know what my personal assessment is, I think he is fully capable of building a prosperous, strong Russia, while preserving freedom and pluralism and the rule of law.
It's a big challenge.
I think he's fully capable of doing it.
>> NARRATOR: But from the start, Clinton's private fears about Putin were being realized.
>> (echoing): Ura!
(crowd applauding) ("State Anthem of the Russian Federation" begins) (singing in Russian) >> From the very beginning, you saw in Putin somebody who didn't have the values of the West.
Piece by piece, he is dismantling the structures of democracy, fragile though they were, that had been put in place, and reconsolidating control in the Kremlin.
That's not a Westernizer.
That's not a democrat, small D. That's an old-fashioned Russian autocrat that we saw, and should have seen from the very beginning.
>> Literally, one of the closest elections in American history.
>> NARRATOR: It was the start of a new presidency in the U.S. >> ...electoral votes will go to George W. Bush, the governor of Texas.
>> NARRATOR: And the winner had expressed optimism about being able to get along with Putin.
>> ...big Texas howdy to the new president of the United States.
>> I look forward to working with, you know, Mr. Putin, and explaining my point of view, and my attitude about the post-Cold War era.
I'm going to look him right in the eye and say, "You're no longer the enemy.
"And we're not your enemy-- surely we can work together.
"We're a peaceful nation, and that we look forward to working together..." >> Putin saw in President Bush someone that he could do business with.
He was seeking a new great power relationship, that President Bush could be a leader who he could work with to redefine the international system.
>> NARRATOR: Putin's early moves consolidating power and his past as a KGB agent didn't deter the Bush team.
>> Didn't bother me that Putin was KGB.
In the KGB, you were taught to think for yourself.
So actually, that struck us as an opportunity.
I, I don't think anybody was looking at this through rose-colored glasses, but we thought, at the strategic level, there were real opportunities to work together.
>> President George Bush has called for a new approach... >> NARRATOR: The two presidents would size each other up... >> A meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin... >> NARRATOR: ...at a summit in the former communist state of Slovenia.
>> This is more about the president and Putin developing a personal relationship... >> Vladimir Putin, as someone who had, I'm sure, a very thick dossier on President Bush, was trying to find his weaknesses, appeal to his personality traits.
>> NARRATOR: Putin went for Bush's strong Christian faith.
>> President Putin told President Bush about the time his dacha burned down, and a religious medallion, which had belonged to his mother which had gotten lost, and he thought this was irretrievably gone, and then a fireman brought him this kind of almost like a holy relic.
It was a very affecting, emotional story and had some effect on President Bush.
>> Question to President Bush.
Is this a man that Americans can trust?
>> I'll answer the question: I looked the man in the eye.
I found him to be very straightforward.
I was able to, uh, get a sense of his soul.
He's a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.
>> And Bush gives that line, right?
That "I looked into his eyes and got a sense of his soul."
And we go, "Uh-oh."
And Condi does her version of not comfortable.
She just reacts, just for a second.
>> NARRATOR: For the moment, Putin had won over the American president.
>> He was trained not to reveal his, so to say, soul, if he has any.
His life experience didn't allow him to reveal any inner him, any true him, to any representative of the West.
West, for him, remains to be the enemy.
And United States, as the leader of the West, is the enemy number one.
>> The countdown to war, it appears, is now underway.
>> NARRATOR: And soon, more fuel for Putin's grievance with the U.S. >> ...U.S.-led attack on Iraq... >> NARRATOR: The Iraq War.
>> America at war-- tonight, shock and awe.
>> NARRATOR: Regime change at the hands of the Bush administration.
>> The Stars and Stripes have come to town.
Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is over.
>> The Iraq War was absolutely a turning point and a very significant moment of rupture in the relationship between Putin and President Bush.
>> NARRATOR: For Putin, echoes of the final days of the Soviet Union.
>> The tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free.
And everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.
>> An adventure like the Iraq War shows him that, "Look, they'll, they'll just come in, "and they'll just take out a government, and think nothing of it."
And that's not the way he wanted the world to work.
>> And it is both our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom's fight.
(audience applauding) >> NARRATOR: Bush called it the Freedom Agenda, a plan to export American democracy around the world.
Putin saw it as a direct threat to his own plan to restore Russian greatness.
>> Vladimir Putin concluded that the United States, when possible, would use its power and leverage to depose leaders that it did not agree with.
And from Vladimir Putin's perspective, that was an existential threat.
>> The Bush Doctrine is spreading freedom around the world... >> NARRATOR: Under Bush, that threat was extending to Putin's own backyard.
>> ...possibility around the world to extend freedom... >> NARRATOR: Popular uprisings in former Soviet republics.
>> Bush really believes that democracy can be planted almost anywhere.
>> Americans respect your courageous choice for liberty.
The American people will stand with you.
>> 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.
>> NARRATOR: Putin had seen enough.
He would fight back.
>> Russian President Vladimir Putin is speaking at an international conference in Germany... >> NARRATOR: He'd do it in Munich, Germany, issuing a warning to America and the world.
>> (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 out, and he lists all these resentments.
>> (speaking Russian): >> My head snapped.
It was so searing and blunt, and I, I felt...
This was the real guy.
>> (speaking Russian): >> Putin echoed Cold War rhetoric by accusing the U.S. of making the world unsafe.
>> Premier Vladimir Putin left no doubt who he sees as responsible for the current global crisis... >> 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.
>> After that speech, we saw the first long-range nuclear bombers by Russia.
We saw the devastating cyber attack in Estonia in 2007.
We were starting to see steps taken that represented a Russian assertiveness that we had not seen.
We did not necessarily understand that 2007 is the date where he wanted to stop that democratic encroachment.
>> The leaders of NATO begin a two-day summit today... >> It's been six years since the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council... >> NARRATOR: But Bush ignored Putin's warning.
>> The decisions taken by this summit will affect the future of the alliance.
>> NARRATOR: Ratcheting up the conflict-- encouraging Georgia and Ukraine, two former Soviet republics, to join NATO.
>> I must make clear that NATO welcomes the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine for their membership in NATO.
(people calling out) >> The Russians were obviously very, very concerned that the Bush administration was moving towards allowing both Georgia and Ukraine to get into NATO.
Which was, for them, a huge red line.
>> NARRATOR: Putin rushed to Bucharest to confront Bush.
>> There's this amazing moment.
Putin shows up early and crashes the dinner with the NATO members.
He has basically shown up as the skunk in the garden and challenging them for, for what they've done.
>> NARRATOR: In a meeting later, Putin was adamant to Bush.
Georgia and especially Ukraine were in his sphere of influence.
>> He leaned over and said, "Ukraine is not a real country."
He had no respect for the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people.
We should have seen it earlier.
Maybe we didn't want to see it, but if we...
It was clear, if we wanted to see it, the direction that President Putin was going.
>> NARRATOR: Putin made it clear he wouldn't accept Bush's plan for Georgia and Ukraine.
>> It basically waved the red flag in front of the bull.
It was extremely provocative for Russia.
It provoked Russia and made Russia angry.
>> NARRATOR: Just four months later, Putin attacked Georgia.
>> Russian troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles... >> The Russians were prepared, and perhaps even eager, for a conflict with Georgia.
>> There appears to be little to stop the troops... >> And part of that was motivated by, "We're going to show the Georgians that getting too close to NATO has a price."
>> Russian planes again bombing... >> NARRATOR: Putin seized and held nearly 5,000 square miles of Georgian territory.
>> And another town is burning, more civilians have been killed... >> From Putin's point of view, this wasn't just about Georgia.
>> A fierce battle broke out today on the fringe... >> This was about Ukraine, this was about what he saw to be the West's interest in, you know, eventual expansion of NATO, potentially, to include Ukraine and Georgia.
>> Some of those Georgian soldiers were saying, "Where is the United States?"
>> NARRATOR: As the war broke out, Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush happened to be at the Olympics in Beijing.
>> Bush finds himself at the Olympics sitting in the same row as Putin.
He has his wife, Laura, and the king of Cambodia move aside so he can sit next to Putin and talk about it.
But he knows the cameras are on him.
So he's trying not to make it a big visible confrontation.
But he's telling Putin, "What are you doing here?
This is not right-- you can't be doing this."
And Putin is basically telling him to butt out.
>> NARRATOR: The president who had looked into Putin's soul had now reached a different conclusion about just who Vladimir Putin was.
>> I remember the president saying, you know, "I don't know how, but we've lost him."
Putin was going in a different direction.
And there was little that the administration, in President Bush's mind, could do to put Putin back on that course.
>> NARRATOR: Nearing the end of his presidency, Bush would leave the increasing conflict with Putin to his successor.
>> They let Vladimir Putin, arguably, get away with it in Georgia.
One message that Putin clearly takes from that in hindsight is that he is able to use the military as a tool of achieving his political ends outside the borders of Russia, and that the West will complain and lecture, but basically will let him get away with it.
That's a terrible message, and I think it is the prologue for the Ukraine disaster.
>> All Americans can celebrate, red or blue, Black or White... >> ...first African American president of the United States... >> President Obama is set to land in Russia... >> NARRATOR: Less than a year later, Vladimir Putin would meet newly elected Barack Obama face to face.
>> President Obama has a big meeting ahead... >> NARRATOR: Sizing up his third American president.
>> Shadows of the Cold War will loom over his summit... >> I remember their first meeting in July of 2009 at Putin's dacha, you know, just outside Moscow.
They're much different personalities.
President Obama's initial question, about ten seconds, led to a 45-minute, you know, monologue by Putin.
>> Putin is extraordinarily calm, matter-of-fact.
He doesn't get ruffled.
He may say hard things, but he says them in a very calm, almost matter-of-fact way.
Unfortunately, President Putin simply speaks mistruth after mistruth and tries to misinform.
But he does it as easily as he breathes.
>> Putin obviously did not respect him.
Putin looked at the United States, and I think it surprised him that a Black man would be elected president of the United States.
I think that was a, that was a surprise to him.
And, who knows, I think there well could be just an element of flat-out racism.
That he somehow thought Obama was not his equal.
That Obama did not deserve to be treated as his equal.
>> Clearly the relationship is not quite as warm as maybe he has with other... >> NARRATOR: Leaving Russia, the new president had another way to deal with the problem of Vladimir Putin.
>> Putin gave him an hourlong lecture, and I don't think Obama likes to be lectured.
That was a real clash of the egos there.
>> President Obama has gotten to Moscow, and Putin is not buying it, and Putin is still in charge.
>> NARRATOR: He gave the Putin file to his vice president, Joe Biden.
>> Biden sometimes joked that his job as vice president was to do the things that Obama didn't want to do, and that does include the subject of Russia.
And here's Joe Biden, who's been talking about Russian issues since 1973, and they said, "All right, Joe Biden, this is your issue."
>> NARRATOR: A senator over four decades and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Biden, like Putin, had been shaped by the Cold War.
>> Speaking for myself, I don't trust the Soviets.
I don't trust them to do anything short of what they can get away with.
>> The paradigm through which he saw Putin was similar to the paradigm through which he viewed the other authoritarian leaders.
He saw them as thugs.
>> I caution against being excessively optimistic about Mr. Putin and his intentions.
>> NARRATOR: Now as vice president, Biden traveled to Moscow to meet with Putin.
The two men smiled for the cameras, but later, things were different.
>> It's a seminal meeting in part because of the mythology that is created out of it.
It's kind of like a marker being put down, I think, between two men who ultimately would find themselves in this great clash that we're in today.
>> NARRATOR: Biden would write about the moment in his autobiography.
>> It was long and contentious.
Putin was ice-cold calm throughout, but argumentative from the start to finish.
>> Well, I was there with, with then-Vice President Biden.
The message that, that he's sending is, um... "Let's not, um, we're not here to kid each other.
We need to speak clearly, we need to speak directly."
>> "I'm looking into your eyes," I told him, smiling.
"I don't think you have a soul."
He looked at me for a second and smiled back.
"We understand each other," he said.
And we did.
>> When Biden said that to me, I hadn't heard it before, and my immediate reaction was, "This sounds like a movie line.
Is that what really happened?"
And he said, "Absolutely, positively.
That's who this guy is."
>> NARRATOR: And Biden wasn't done.
In front of students, he urged the Russian people to stand up to Putin's regime.
So, I urge all you students here, don't compromise on the basic elements of democracy.
You need not make that Faustian bargain.
>> For Putin to see an American vice president go talk to students and encourage democracy, he sees it as a threat.
"Who are you to come here and foment trouble in my backyard?"
It's aggravating and offensive to Putin to see that kind of action.
>> NARRATOR: And later that year, protesters right outside the Kremlin.
It looked like what Biden had been calling for.
>> Tens of thousands came out on the streets to tell Vladimir Putin they've had enough.
>> Those hundreds of thousands of people who were marching in the streets of Moscow shouting, "Down with Putin"... >> (shouting in Russian) >> For him, it was like, it could, it couldn't be so.
It couldn't happen.
>> (shouting in Russian) >> He was thrown by the protests.
He was taken aback by the passion of the opposition, and had to look for a place to point the finger.
He pointed it at us.
>> NARRATOR: Putin cracked down.
>> The Russian police have arrested about 200... >> The arrests appear to be part of a broad and deliberate crackdown.
>> ...questions about justice in Vladimir Putin's Russia... >> (speaking Russian) >> The most repressive Russian regime to... >> NARRATOR: Many of Putin's opponents inside Russia fled the country.
>> ...forced into exile into England after... >> ...opponent saying, "I'm scared that Putin will kill me..." >> NARRATOR: Others died mysterious deaths.
>> ...Putin aide discovered dead in a D.C. hotel room... >> NARRATOR: One who nearly died twice from poisoning was Vladimir Kara-Murza.
>> Bad things often happen to... >> 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, opposition activists, opposition leaders.
Many people have died, some in strange and unexplained deaths, others in just straight-out assassinations.
>> NARRATOR: Putin extended his offensive beyond Russia.
>> Ukraine is stuck very much in the middle.
>> NARRATOR: In the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.
>> ...armed Russian troops arrived in the Crimea region.
>> NARRATOR: His campaign began with the arrival of unmarked Russian soldiers.
>> 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.
>> Russian forces in the thousands seizing territory... >> That invasion, sending these little green men... >> More Russian soldiers have reportedly arrived in Crimea.
>> ...sending these Russian soldiers without insignia into a neighboring country, into Crimea, was such a shock.
This hadn't happened since World War II.
>> ...occupying sovereign territory that belongs to Ukraine.
>> NARRATOR: He seized Crimea and said it was now part of Russia.
And he didn't stop there.
He opened another front in Ukraine's East.
>> He used another form of deception, which was to send in irregular forces, mercenaries who had been recruited.
Putin claimed, "There are no Russian forces in this war."
But, in fact, he was organizing the whole thing behind the scenes.
>> Ukraine crisis looks pretty similar to World War II... >> We are seeing a very gross violation of international law... >> NARRATOR: It was just the start of what would become an unrelenting focus on finally taking Ukraine.
>> The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is getting worse and worse.
>> Frightened residents have been warned to stay indoors.
>> He felt emboldened, and felt he had been able to make his move in Georgia, and nobody tried to do anything about it.
>> An average of 36 people a day were killed in the conflict... >> And in Ukraine, he gambles that the West isn't really going to do anything about it.
>> ...chaos and carnage to mourning, with questions of what's next for the country.
>> The West is going to complain about it, but they're not really going to do anything to stop it.
>> ...40 children perished as the result... >> ...and rekindled fears about Russia's intentions in regard to its neighbors.
>> A sovereign nation is invaded by another country.
That kind of aggression is not something we should tolerate anywhere in the world.
>> NARRATOR: At the White House, President Obama was struggling to respond.
>> How do you deter behavior when the other side is basically denying that it's even taking place?
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: On the phone, Obama confronted Putin about his forces in Ukraine.
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: Inside the administration, Vice President Biden urged a tough response.
>> Joe Biden knew that in this case, Vladimir Putin was acting like a playground bully and would continue to act like a bully.
>> NARRATOR: C.I.A.
director John Brennan also wanted to get tough.
>> Bullies try to intimidate, and they keep moving forward unless they get their, their nose bloodied a little bit.
Mr. Putin really needed to get his nose bloodied.
>> NARRATOR: Officials at the Pentagon and State Department joined with Biden.
They advocated arming Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missiles.
>> They're all saying, "You should give "military assistance to Ukraine.
"You need to step up what you're doing "against Russia.
Putin is getting the wrong message from us."
And Obama wouldn't do it.
>> NARRATOR: Biden lost.
Instead of weapons, Obama went with sanctions.
>> From Obama's perspective, nobody had elected him to the White House to be focused on Russia and Ukraine.
And now you have your vice president bending your ear about the need to draw a bright line and say that Russian aggression cannot stand.
I think there was a piece of Obama that looked at this and said, "Sorry, this is...
This is just not a top priority for us."
♪ ♪ >> Putin takes a lesson from Ukraine when he's able to invade a country and our reaction is minimal, right?
And so of course he takes a lesson from that.
The lesson that he takes from that is this kind of thing can work if we gin it up properly.
And that's not the message that we really wanted to be sending at the time.
>> The 2016 presidential race is underway.
>> NARRATOR: Having tested the United States' resolve, Putin would go even further.
>> ...candidates are once again... >> NARRATOR: Striking at the heart of American democracy.
>> ...candidates make a final push to shore up... >> NARRATOR: Interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
>> There's two goals there-- discredit our election and also to discredit the presidency, to neutralize the United States, an adversary, to really tarnish U.S. leadership as, you know, the leader of the democratic world, the free world, the West.
>> NARRATOR: Putin's attack was aimed at Washington, D.C.-- Russian hackers breaching Democratic Party computer servers, email leaks designed to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
>> This was the most aggressive and most direct and most assertive campaign that the Russians ever mounted in the history of our elections.
And what characterized this were the variety and intensity of the techniques that they employed.
>> NARRATOR: 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, calculated to hurt Clinton and help her rival, Donald Trump.
>> President Putin's view of Trump was a penchant for authoritarianism, a 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.
(chuckles) >> Well, Donald Trump pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in American... >> NARRATOR: On Election Night, a victory for Trump and for Putin.
>> In a stunning upset, Donald Trump is elected the 45th president... >> Donald Trump shocking the nation and the world.
>> President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election.
>> 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.
>> President Trump's Helsinki summit with President Vladimir Putin... >> NARRATOR: For the fourth time, Vladimir Putin would confront a new American president.
>> ...urging the president to confront Putin about Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
>> Vladimir Putin is as clear-eyed and cold-blooded as any foreign leader I have ever seen.
He knows exactly what he thinks Russia's national interest is and he pursues it unrelentingly.
>> We get the first images of President Trump and Vladimir Putin sitting down next to each other.
And President Trump is sitting up in his chair, looking as though he really, really wants to get something out of this meeting.
>> Well, first of all, Mr. President, I'd like to congratulate you on a really great World Cup.
>> And Vladimir Putin is kind of slumped in his chair, not smiling, doesn't look like he's having a good time.
>> Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.
>> NARRATOR: It was clear that in Trump, Putin had a very different American president.
>> Confronted with Donald Trump, this is like an open field in front of a football player carrying the football.
Trump never understood that, never understood what the nature of Putin's game was.
I think Putin thought Trump was a fool and easily manipulable.
>> NARRATOR: The cameras were sent away.
For two hours, they met privately without any aides.
>> Putin didn't need the KGB psychological profilers to hand him a dossier on how to play Donald Trump.
He was able to read Trump.
He had a very good understanding of how to flatter him.
He knew how to play Trump like a violin.
>> NARRATOR: Afterwards, when they faced the press, a shocking statement.
>> President Putin denied having anything to do with the election 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, question to the president.
>> My people came to me.
Dan Coats 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.
>> I felt frozen to my chair.
Like everybody else in the room, we couldn't believe it.
>> I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today, and what he did... >> Everybody who was in the room with them just saw how masterfully Putin manipulated Trump.
He saw him as gullible, and stupid, and easily manipulatable.
And that he was just, you know, the Russian expression, that he was just making ropes out of him, just braiding him like a braid.
>> Extraordinary moment in American history, something I thought I would never see... >> ...a disgraceful play by the president of the United States as he stood by Vladimir Putin.
>> NARRATOR: Back in Washington... >> Concern continues to grow about what they said to each other behind closed doors.
>> NARRATOR: ...they were calling it a bromance.
>> There's been some sort of bromance.
>> A Putin-Trump bromance.
>> Trump acted, in some ways, as an arm of Putin's foreign policy in this period of time.
>> President Trump on the attack, asking, "What good is NATO?"
>> Once again questioning the entire point to one of America's oldest alliances.
>> NARRATOR: And Trump was echoing Putin's talking points on the key battleground of Ukraine.
>> The president told leaders that "Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in the world."
>> He would say, "Ukraine is a really corrupt country."
>> The president is saying that Crimea probably should belong to Russia, because everyone there speaks Russian.
>> "Crimea is Russian, everybody there speaks Russian, and wants to be part of Russia."
>> Donald Trump parroting Vladimir Putin, saying that Ukraine is not even a real country.
>> Where did he hear these things?
He heard them from Putin.
And he would just echo them.
>> Trump is actually helping Putin reconstitute the Soviet Union.
>> It, it was just too easy.
>> Trump suggested it's pointless to continue punishing Russia.
>> He's getting pretty much everything he needs from President Trump.
He's getting a smackdown of NATO.
(chuckling): The humiliation of our best allies.
I mean, the list goes on and on and on.
And so, Putin was probably betting on a second term of President Trump and hoping that he could get his way on many things, whether it's NATO, whether it's Ukraine, without using the instrument of war.
>> NARRATOR: But Trump did not get a second term.
>> The Fox News Decision Desk can now project that former Vice President Joe Biden... >> NARRATOR: And with a new president... >> ...President-elect Joseph Robinette Biden... >> Frankly, we did win this election.
We did win this election.
(crowd cheers and applauds) >> NARRATOR: ...an escalation of the chaos in America that Putin helped foment.
>> The president showing no signs that he's prepared to concede this election... >> NARRATOR: Division.
>> This is a contested election.
Many people are nervous.
>> NARRATOR: Violence.
>> (shouting) >> NARRATOR: Insurrection.
>> (chanting) >> Nobody loved January 6 more than the Russians did.
Trump gave them four years, which was one big gift, but January 6 was like the wrapping, the beautiful wrapping, you know, the package.
January 6, apart from anything else, leads directly to the war in Ukraine.
Because it looks like America is not just morally discredited, it looks like America is weak.
>> Historic meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin... >> NARRATOR: Soon, in Geneva, Vladimir Putin faced his old nemesis... >> President Biden and Vladimir Putin are facing... >> NARRATOR: ...now the president of the United States.
>> For neither of them is this their first rodeo.
>> Tensions seem to be a bit high.
>> Putin is looking at Biden and saying, "This is a weak American president.
"He doesn't have the overwhelming support "of his public.
"His people are so divided, just months earlier, they'd had an attack on the Capitol."
And all he needs to do is hold Biden off long enough so that he can continue to assemble the plan that he's been putting together.
>> They're children of the Cold War and they see each other and their, their countries through the Cold War.
Biden saw Putin for what he is, a KGB revanchist who wants to, to remake the Russian empire.
>> I just remember the body language and them sitting in that room together, and it's, it's icy.
I mean, these are two people who do not like each other.
>> NARRATOR: Antony Blinken, now secretary of State, was once again in the room.
>> The tone of the conversation was professional.
It was direct.
But it was very clear where we had our differences.
President Biden made very clear where we saw things differently.
And so did, so did President Putin.
>> ...try to determine where we have mutual interests.
>> NARRATOR: A top priority for Biden: deterring Putin in Ukraine.
>> President Biden made clear in the meeting to President Putin our commitment to Ukraine, our commitment to its sovereignty, to its independence, to its territorial integrity.
(camera shutters clicking) >> They wanted to park Putin, but he didn't want to be parked.
He wanted to be the number-one problem of everybody in the whole world, but especially the number-one priority, the number-one threat, the number-one problem that the White House was dealing with.
>> (speaking Russian) >> NARRATOR: Putin began laying the groundwork for the invasion of Ukraine.
>> And 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine's border are fueling fears of a Russian... >> Russia's forces start moving back toward Ukraine's borders.
>> ...heavy military equipment, clearly taking an aggressive posture.
>> Not just the eastern border, but no, the... All three borders.
>> Russian troops have been surrounding Ukraine for days now.
>> The Ukraine border with Belarus, Ukraine border with Russia, Ukraine border with occupied Crimea.
>> Satellite images show an increase in Russian forces on the Ukraine border... >> NARRATOR: At the White House... >> Tensions nearing a tipping point... >> NARRATOR: ...an emergency presidential briefing-- secret information about Putin's plans.
>> And it was in that moment when the combination of seeing the forces deployed and then having, from the information we'd gotten, real visibility on what Russia was actually thinking and what they were planning, that's when we really saw the storm rising and heading in Ukraine's direction.
>> NARRATOR: Once again, an American president was facing a critical decision about how to deal with Putin.
>> If Russia is allowed to get away with this, if Russia stomps all over Ukraine and takes it over, it affects the entire international order that we've been living under since World War II.
The stakes were pretty high and they continue to be very high.
>> NARRATOR: In a video conference with Putin, Biden warned him to pull back from the brink.
>> He's saying, "First of all, we see what you're doing, "what you're planning, what you're plotting.
"And if you go ahead with what we're seeing, "you need to understand the costs and consequences "to Russia will be severe, and you need to know that I mean what I say."
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Putin's response was familiar: denial.
>> They're denying.
They're denying any imminent aggression against Ukraine.
They're saying that "That's not what we're doing."
But because we had such extraordinary visibility and extraordinary information, we knew in real time when Putin was saying something that was in contradiction with what was actually happening.
>> NARRATOR: Putin ignored Biden and pushed forward with the invasion.
>> Vladimir Putin understands the Western ability to make decisive steps pretty well.
He knew that when President Biden said, "Don't do this, or, you know, there will be consequences," he knew that there were not going to be any consequences.
>> NARRATOR: For two decades, Vladimir Putin had defied American presidents.
Interfering in a presidential election... And he wasn't stopping now.
>> He made a calculation that Biden would not be able to lead an international group of countries to support Ukraine.
And that there wouldn't be the will to support Ukraine.
And even if it was there in the beginning, it would not continue.
>> NARRATOR: 30 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin was now pursuing an all-out war to rebuild the Russian empire.
(air raid siren blaring) >> (speaking Russian): (explosions pounding in distance) >> ...apocalyptic scenes on the outskirts of the capital city... >> A nonstop onslaught over the last 24 hours, with massive casualties... >> Tens of thousands of civilians trapped in cities under near-constant Russian shellfire.
>> Putin wants Ukraine.
He wants this pan-Slavic superstate with Moscow as the capital.
He wants Ukraine.
He doesn't think it's a real country.
I don't know how you compromise with somebody who just wants Ukraine.
That's not something you could build a bridge across.
>> Ukraine is calling this a full-scale invasion... >> The biggest war in Europe since World War II.
>> The world is waiting to see just how far Putin's 190,000 troops will go into the country of Ukraine.
Will he stop?
>> NARRATOR: With the battle for Ukraine underway, Biden went further than any president before, delivering weapons and intelligence to the front lines to help fight Putin.
>> The United States has opted in to the fight.
The amount and scale of the military support for Ukraine's defense of itself against Russian aggression is enormous, it's staggering.
Clearly something that Vladimir Putin did not expect.
>> The U.S. and NATO allies are working quickly to arm Ukraine.
>> Russian forces caught off guard, apparently in disarray.
>> Russia thought the invasion would be over swiftly.
That was before their jets were plummeting from Ukrainian skies.
>> He clearly miscalculated the capabilities of the Russian military, the capabilities of the Ukrainian military, the willingness of the Ukrainian people to fight for their independence.
This was a miscalculation of Napoleonic magnitude.
>> Ukraine's president remains defiant.
>> Ukraine's resolve has shocked the world and frustrated the Russians.
>> Putin is facing the embarrassment of this offensive not necessarily being pulled off as smoothly... >> NARRATOR: But even as his army was pushed back, Putin was doubling down.
>> Coming out of Russia, where Vladimir Putin is preparing for a longer and more intense war on Ukraine.
>> NARRATOR: Mobilizing more troops.
>> President Putin suddenly announcing he would call up 300,000 men for military service.
>> NARRATOR: Waging economic warfare.
>> No gas, no oil-- nothing, he said, over a long winter.
>> NARRATOR: Raising the specter of nuclear annihilation.
>> Now threatening to use nuclear weapons and Putin says, "I'm not bluffing."
>> It's all very concerning, because what we saw was Vladimir Putin doubling and tripling down on the aggression with the mobilization, with the purported annexation of Ukrainian territory, with the loose talk about nuclear weapons.
It's evidence that unfortunately, tragically, this is likely to continue for some time.
>> NARRATOR: Vladimir Putin, the former KGB agent, hellbent on rebuilding the Russian empire, now a dangerous pariah on the world stage, staring down yet another American president to see how far he will go.
>> Putin is escalating it into a war with the West more broadly, cutting off energy, threatening nuclear weapons.
And part of the reason is to undercut Western resolve and to make the West eager to get this over with.
>> ...ahead of a looming energy crisis this winter, as Vladimir Putin cuts off the continent's natural gas supply.
>> He's hoping that he can put pressure on the West to back off.
>> Putin is counting on the fact that the Western powers are just going to lose interest in Ukraine... >> How much longer the United States can continue to help bankroll this war... >> Will Ukraine ultimately be left to fight this war on its own?