The dramatic intensity of the scene would make it stand out in any movie or piece of fiction, but it’s not fiction – it happened on Monday. Since then, all the world has seen the video of what took place. Russian President Vladimir Putin brings together his security council and asks each of its members whether they support the decision to recognize the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, located in southeastern Ukraine. It’s the turn of Sergey Naryshkin, head of the SVR foreign intelligence service, who breaks from the script and suggests that the West be given one last chance to return to the Minsk agreements, the series of international pacts signed between Russia and Ukraine to avoid war in the Donbas region of Ukraine. He suggests this could be done by giving the West a short-term ultimatum.
Putin interrupts him dryly: “What does that mean? Are you suggesting we start negotiations or recognize sovereignty?” And that’s when the moment comes. Naryshkin starts to stutter, he doesn’t know what to say, he mumbles “yes” then “no,” and his face turns white for seconds that seem to last an eternity. “Speak clearly,” Putin interjects. Feeling the pressure, the spy chief does a U-turn and goes one step further: he says he supports the annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk into the Russian Federation. But he is again called out by Putin: “We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about recognizing their independence or not. Yes or no?” So the nervous Naryshkin takes back what he said once again: yes, yes, he supports it. “Thanks, you can take your seat.”
The video was released by the Kremlin as a fake live stream – someone spotted that the clocks did not correspond to the time – meaning there was no effort to hide the humiliation of a high-ranking chief at the hands of the Russian president. And you feel for Naryshkin, even though you don’t know the back story, because who hasn’t been put on the spot by their boss at one point in time.
In the Spanish television program El Intermedio, comedian Dani Mateo examines the video, highlighting Putin’s ability to make tense situations even tenser. “I’ve seen documentaries on Channel 2 where crocodiles eat wildebeest with more delicacy [than Putin chewed out Naryshkin],” he joked.
If a screenwriter was behind the Kremlin’s videos, all the biggest streaming platforms – HBO, Netflix, Disney and Amazon Prime Video – would be fighting to have them on their team. From the dramatic The West Wing and the stately Danish show Borgen, to the bloody House of Cards and Spain’s Venga Juan, there are many series that explore the secret underbelly of the political elite. These mysteries always take place in imperfect democracies. But while these internal battles, party infighting and disputes between lawmakers can be resolved, a large-scale armed conflict in Europe cannot. One only has to watch Occupied again, a show in which a neo-imperial Russia invades Norway while the rest of Europe turns a blind eye. The worst thing of all is that what is happening is not fiction.