On Oct. 25 & Nov. 1, FRONTLINE Tells the Epic, Inside Story of “Putin’s Revenge”
In "Putin's Revenge," FRONTLINE examines the Russian leader's rise, rule and motivations. (REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
A two-part documentary premiering on PBS and online:
Wednesday, October 25, 2017, at 10 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. CT
Wednesday, November 1, 2017, at 10 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. CT
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For months, reports of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have dominated the headlines.
Now, in a special, two-part documentary, Putin’s Revenge, FRONTLINE tells the epic, inside story of how Vladimir Putin came to see the United States as an enemy, how U.S. intelligence came to believe he targeted the 2016 presidential election, the fallout under President Obama and now in the Trump administration, and the implications for the future of American democracy.
“The Russians aren’t going to stop,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tells FRONTLINE. “Their experience in our 2016 election is going to embolden them to interfere in the future, maybe more aggressively.”
Clapper is one of three key officials, along with former CIA Director John Brennan and former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, to speak candidly in the film about failed efforts early on to try to convince President Obama and Congress to publicly call out Russia for its interference in the election: “In those briefings of Congress, some of the individuals expressed concern that this was motivated by partisan interests on the part of the administration. And I took offense to that, and told them that this is an intelligence assessment. This is an intelligence matter,” Brennan tells FRONTLINE.
Premiering October 25 and November 1, Putin’s Revenge draws on more than 60 interviews with heads of U.S. intelligence agencies, diplomats, Russian politicians, historians and journalists to trace how Putin went from low-ranking KGB agent to long-serving president of a newly assertive Russia with the ability to wage cyber-war in the U.S. and across the globe.
With in-depth reporting from Moscow and Washington, D.C., it’s a riveting and revealing documentary from FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk and the team behind The Choice 2016, Divided States of America and Bannon’s War that explores why Putin has sought to sow distrust in America’s democracy.
“Our new film connects the dots about where Putin’s deep-seated resentment of the U.S. came from, and how he set out to revive the old Cold War, with new weapons,” says Kirk.
Night one of Putin’s Revenge is a portrait of what makes the Russian leader tick, and the events that shaped his belief that the U.S. has sought to undermine Russia dating back to the fall of the Soviet Union. It explores how Putin came to power and then carefully constructed his image, cracking down on independent media outlets and opponents. It also traces key turning points in Putin’s relationship with the U.S. over the years, including how his fear of a U.S. policy of regime change intensified, and how he came to see Hillary Clinton in particular as an enemy trying to oust him – despite State Department insistence it was only promoting democracy, not trying to steer the outcome of Russia’s election.
“He said that it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who provided funds and means to the Russian opposition and made them to get out of the— on the streets,” Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats tells FRONTLINE.
Then, night two delves into the riveting story of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, and how and why the Obama administration struggled to confront Putin about both election interference and, before that, Putin’s actions in Ukraine.
“I remember being on the schoolyards of New Jersey, where I grew up, and bullies tried to intimidate,” former CIA Director Brennan tells FRONTLINE. “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.”
In revealing interviews, Brennan, Clapper and Johnson take viewers inside the closed-door political struggles in the Obama White House and in Congress over confronting Russia.
“It’s a moment when politics and partisan positioning appears to take precedence over national security,” Greg Miller of The Washington Post tells FRONTLINE. “In other words, they are so worried about each other, the Democrats and Republicans as adversaries, that they can’t get around the idea that there is a bigger adversary.”
Night two goes on to show Donald Trump’s repeated praise of Putin, how Russia is believed to have weaponized hacked emails to influence U.S. news cycles and exploit the gulf between Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ supporters, and how false stories picked up by Russian propaganda websites were then promoted by Russian trolls and bots on social media, and eventually found their way onto mainstream American news broadcasts.
“What Putin was trying to do was to show that everyone’s lying, everyone’s cheating. There is no objective truth. And there is no difference between what you hear from Western media, and what you hear in, say, Russia’s media,” former Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken tells FRONTLINE. “That was the line—and he became increasingly successful in blurring it for people, including in the United States and the West.”
Against the backdrop of investigations by the FBI and Congress into the role Russia played in the election, Putin’s Revenge is the must-watch, inside story of how we reached this point, what drives Putin, and what might happen next.
“He’s going to employ whatever means he can to undermine the United States,” Bill Burns, former U.S. deputy secretary of state, tells FRONTLINE.
In tandem with the premiere of Putin’s Revenge, and as part of its FRONTLINE Transparency Project, FRONTLINE is launching a extensive effort to open up its reporting and will publish a massive, searchable online library of extended video and text interviews with Burns, Brennan, Clapper and nearly 60 other sources interviewed for the film.
“We are trying to give people the deepest background possible to understand what drives Vladimir Putin and why he does what he does,” Kirk says.
Putin’s Revenge premieres Wednesday, October 25, and Wednesday, November 1, at 10 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. CT on PBS stations (check local listings) and online at pbs.org/frontline.
Putin’s Revenge is a FRONTLINE production with the Kirk Documentary Group. The director is Michael Kirk. The producers are Michael Kirk, Mike Wiser, Jim Gilmore, and Philip Bennett. The writers are Michael Kirk and Mike Wiser. The reporters are Jim Gilmore and David E. Hoffman. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.
FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 89 Emmy Awards and 20 Peabody Awards. Visit pbs.org/frontline and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Google+ to learn more. Founded in 1983, FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Ford Foundation, the Park Foundation, The John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.