TIME russia

Exclusive: Gorbachev Blames the U.S. for Provoking ‘New Cold War’

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin, Nov. 8, 2014.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin, Nov. 8, 2014. Sean Gallup—Getty Images

"It’s America calling the shots in everything!” the former Soviet leader tells TIME

In the offices of Mikhail Gorbachev, still sharp at 83 and plainspoken as ever, the walls are lined with photos from his travels as the leader of the Soviet Union and, in the years after its demise, as a living icon of the Cold War. One picture shows him with his late wife Raisa standing arm-in-arm with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. In another frame he wears a cowboy hat and jeans as he stands beside Ronald Reagan, the U.S. President who famously branded Gorbachev’s country an “evil empire” in 1983. These portraits, like many others in his Moscow office, betray Gorbachev’s affection for his former American adversaries.

But in the course of this year those feelings seem to have been subsumed in a rising sense of animosity, as Russia and the West enter what Gorbachev calls a new Cold War. “Are we in the middle of a new Cold War? Indeed we are,” he tells TIME in an interview last month at the Moscow branch of the Gorbachev Foundation, the international advocacy group he founded in 1991, when he was forced to resign from his post as President due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

MORE: Vladimir Putin, TIME Person of the Year runner-up

The elder statesman, who was named TIME’s Person of the Year in 1987 and ‘Man of the Decade’ two years later, is not the first to declare the start of a new Cold War this year. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March has caused officials and pundits around the world to warn that the West’s efforts to isolate Russia have opened a dangerous gulf between them. But the roots of the present standoff run deeper than this spring, says Gorbachev, and the blame for it lies with the Americans.

In the years that followed the Soviet collapse, the West “tried to turn us into some kind of backwater, a province,” he says. “Our nation could not let that pass. It’s not just about pride. It’s about a situation where people speak to you however they want, impose limitations, and so on. It’s America calling the shots in everything!”

For a country whose leaders remember the years when Russia was a superpower, the American dominance of global affairs has always been a taunting reality and a constant source of frustration. Instead of treating Russia as an equal partner, the West tried to “push us out of politics,” says Gorbachev, most recently during the revolution that brought a pro-Western government to power in Ukraine early this year. Vladimir Putin’s reaction to that uprising sought to claw back some of the influence Russia had lost, and for that the Russian President has earned Gorbachev’s admiration.

“Putin started acting on his own,” says Gorbachev, referring to the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. “And his position was in the interests of the majority.”

Even a year ago such praise would have been hard to imagine coming from Putin’s Soviet predecessor. In the spring of 2013, Gorbachev attacked Putin for persecuting opposition activists and silencing dissent. He called that year’s crackdown an “attack on the rights of citizens” during an interview with the BBC, and gave Putin the following advice: “For goodness sake, you shouldn’t be afraid of your own people…What people want and expect their president to do is to restore an open, direct dialogue with them.”

Such criticism has since vanished from Gorbachev’s public remarks, much as it has from the rhetoric of many of Putin’s former critics. The annexation of Crimea sent the President’s approval ratings soaring to record highs of well over 80% this year, driven upward by a jingoistic sense of pride even as Western sanctions eat into the value of the Russian currency and push its economy toward recession. Gorbachev now seems willing to forgive Putin for his authoritarian tendencies as long as he works to restore the “great power” status that Russia lost.

“There are still elements of autocracy, of authoritarianism” in Russia today, he tells TIME. “But I’ll say this. The manual control of authoritarianism was also needed to overcome the situation that our friends, our former friends and allies, created for Russia by pushing us out of geopolitics.”

MORE: Russia’s fifth column

The new East-West divide does evoke a sense of foreboding in Gorbachev. In particular Putin’s recent warnings that Russia is a “nuclear power,” and that foreigners would be wise “not to mess with us,” all feel like reminders of the arms race that kept the world on the edge of a catastrophic war as Gorbachev climbed the ladder of the Soviet Communist Party to become its last General Secretary. “People are talking again not only about a new Cold War but a hot one,” he says. “It’s as if a time of great troubles has arrived. The world is roiling.”

But that does not mean that Putin should back down in the face of Western sanctions. The man who pursued reforms at home and peace talks with the West in the late 1980s now feels it must be the Americans who learn a sense of humility toward Russia and stop resisting its rightful role as a global power. “It’s hard to belittle the Russians,” says Gorbachev. “We know our worth.” And if the U.S. does start to seek a new thaw in relations with Russia, he has a fresh bit of advice to offer Putin going forward: “I learned that you can listen to the Americans, but you cannot trust them,” he says. “When they get an idea to do something, they’ll turn the world onto a different axis to get it done.”

Still, as our interview winds down, Gorbachev seems to snap back into the mode of reconciliation that won him the Nobel Peace Prize a quarter century ago. “We have to return to dialogue. We have to stop this process,” he says warily. “We have to return to what we started with at the end of the Cold War.” But so far, he admits, the world is moving in the opposite direction.

Read next: Exclusive: Putin Cut Ukraine Criticism From Speech Ahead of Peace Talks

TIME person of the year

How International Leaders Are Doing in TIME’s Person of the Year Poll

Modi, Merkel, Putin and more

Vote Now for TIME’s Person of the Year.

This time last year, Narendra Modi was the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate. He was also among the world leaders and politicians featured in TIME’s Person of the Year readers’ poll for 2013, finishing at fourth place with 14% of the vote. This year, Modi, who got the top job after the BJP stormed to victory in India’s national elections in May, is leading the readers’ poll with over 10.7% of the votes cast as of Thursday afternoon.

With nine days to go until voting closes, here’s a look at the world leaders who fared best in the 2013 poll—and where they stand this year.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egyptian President

2013 rank: 1. Current rank in 2014 poll: 38th

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was still sporting a generals’ epaulettes on his shoulders when TIME readers crowned him the winner of the 2013 Person of the Year poll. By January, the general—who ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, last summer—had become a field marshal. And soon the uniform was replaced with a dark suit as al-Sisi ran for the presidency, eventually winning the May elections by a wide margin.

As we noted when he spoke to TIME in September, his rule has been widely criticized for crackdowns on Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood and on free speech and journalists. Talking about Morsi’s ouster in 2013, al-Sisi defended the military’s action, saying “it was the Egyptian people who demanded that change of identity.”

Should Abdel Fattah al-Sisi Be TIME’s Person of the Year? Vote Below for #TIMEPOY

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President

2013 rank: 2. Current rank in 2014 poll: 40th

When he finished second in the 2013 poll, Erdogan was Turkey’s Prime Minister, a job he would have had to give up next year because of term limits set by his ruling Justice and Development, or AK, party. And so, after over a decade as P.M., he contested what were the country’s first direct presidential elections, promising to add some executive heft to the largely ceremonial office. Voters responded in droves. Despite facing anti-government protests during his final term as Prime Minister, he comfortably swept to victory in August, cementing his position as the most powerful Turkish leader in decades. He has also found himself a new home: a sprawling palace four times the size of Louis XIV’s extravagant digs in Versailles and, according to reports, no less sumptuous, with green granite inlays and washrooms decked in silk wallpaper. Originally intended for the Prime Minister, it reportedly cost more than $600 million to erect.

Should Recep Tayyip Erdogan Be TIME’s Person of the Year? Vote Below for #TIMEPOY

Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister

2013 rank: 4. Current rank in 2014 poll: 1st

Modi was one of the strongest performers in the TIME readers’ poll last year. At the time, the controversial Indian politician was already widely tipped to lead his party to victory and unseat the ruling Congress Party-led coalition government in elections in May, 2014. Few, however, predicted the scale of his eventual triumph, with the BJP securing the first parliamentary majority for a single party in 30 years. Promising to revive India’s slowing economy, Modi tapped into disenchantment with the Congress, the grand old party of Indian independence which, by the end of its latest term in office, was mired in a series of high-profile corruption scandals and struggling to boost growth.

Should Narendra Modi Be TIME’s Person of the Year? Vote Below for #TIMEPOY

Bashar al-Assad

2013 rank: 10. Current rank in 2014 poll: 25th

With the Syrian conflict now in its fourth year, Assad continues to hold on to power in Damascus, even as vast swathes of the country fall into the hands of extremist militants. On Wednesday, Russia reaffirmed it’s support for the Assad regime, with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying: “We share the view that the main factor driving the situation in the Middle East is the terrorist threat. Russia will continue supporting Syria … in countering this threat.”

Should Bashar al-Assad Be TIME’s Person of the Year? Vote Below for #TIMEPOY

Other leaders from the 2013 poll who also feature in this year’s survey include the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who came 11th last year and currently stands at 5th place, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who came 15th last year and current stands at 16th place.

Since 1927, TIME has named a person who for better or worse has most influenced the news and our lives in the past year.

The Person of the Year is selected by TIME’s editors, but readers are asked to weigh in by commenting on any TIME Facebook post that includes #TIMEPOY, tweeting your vote using #TIMEPOY, or by heading over to TIME.com’s Person of the Year voting hub, where Pinnion’s technology is recording, visualizing and analyzing results as they are received. Votes from Twitter, Facebook and TIME.com’s voting hub are pooled together to create the totals displayed on the site. You can see the results of the poll and vote on your choice for person of the year here.

TIME person of the year

Narendra Modi Leads TIME’s Person of the Year Poll

Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India waves to the crowd as he arrives to give a speech during a reception by the Indian community in honor of his visit to the United States at Madison Square Garden, Sept. 28, 2014, in New York. Jason DeCrow—AP

India's leader is well ahead of the Ferguson, Mo., protesters and Russia's Vladimir Putin

Vote Now for TIME’s Person of the Year.

Narendra Modi, the newly elected Indian prime minister, has a significant lead in TIME’s 2014 Person of the Year polls, with 11.1% of the vote as of Wednesday evening. The leader of the world’s largest democracy has raised hopes among Indians that he’ll invigorate the country’s economy and tear down the bureaucratic red tape that has slowed development.

Should Narendra Modi Be TIME’s Person of the Year? Vote Below for #TIMEPOY

The Ferguson, Mo., protesters now stand at 8.8% as of late Wednesday, edging out Russian President Vladimir Putin (5.9%), who was TIME’s Person of the Year in 2007, and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner ever, Malala Yousafzai (5%).

The earlier bump for the protesters came amid violent unrest in the St. Louis suburb and subsequent demonstrations that rippled across the U.S. Thousands expressed solidarity with slain 18-year-old Michael Brown’s family following the grand jury announcement not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for causing his death. Crowds from New York to Los Angeles gathered and chanted the rallying cry, “Black lives matter.”

Since 1927, TIME has named a person who for better or worse has most influenced the news and our lives in the past year.

The Person of the Year is selected by TIME’s editors, but readers are asked to weigh in by commenting on any TIME Facebook post that includes #TIMEPOY, tweeting your vote using #TIMEPOY, or by heading over to TIME.com’s Person of the Year voting hub, where Pinnion’s technology is recording, visualizing and analyzing results as they are received. Votes from Twitter, Facebook and TIME.com’s voting hub are pooled together to create the totals displayed on the site. You can see the results of the poll and vote on your choice for person of the year here.

TIME europe

German Chancellor Says Russia’s Actions Are Unjustifiable

Chancellor Angela Merkel in the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Nov. 26, 2014.
Chancellor Angela Merkel in the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Nov. 26, 2014. Stefanie Loos—Reuters

Angela Merkel appears to be taking a tougher stance against Vladimir Putin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday suggested she is prepared for a drawn-out confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine crisis

“We need patience and staying power to overcome the crisis,” Merkel told German lawmakers in a speech to Berlin’s parliament. She added that economic sanctions on Russia “remain unavoidable” as long as government forces continue to battle pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Bloomberg reports.

Merkel continued that while the crisis may have been triggered by Russia’s concerns over the impact of Ukraine’s free trade agreement with the European Union, “none of this justifies or excuses Russia’s annexation of Crimea.”

Russia’s actions, she said, interrupt “the peaceful international order and breach international law.”

MORE: Russia wants a “100% guarantee” that Ukraine won’t join NATO

The German chancellor’s speech to parliament follows an address Merkel made in Australia Monday, during which more openly critical of Putin than in the past, suggesting her patience with Putin is running out after months of negotiations. Merkel and Putin met during the G20 conference, but that reportedly did not go well for either leader.

[Bloomberg]

TIME russia

Russia’s Lackluster Economy Means Putin Simply Can’t Afford a New Cold War

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to toast with ambassadors in the Alexander Hall after a ceremony of presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. Alexander Zemlianichenko—AP

Moscow needs the West

One of the axioms of global geopolitics is that a country can project power only as far as its economic might allows. There is good reason why the United States, by far the world’s largest economy, has been the dominant force in all things political and military for the past 60 years. And we can see China now rising to superpower status on the back of its spectacular economic ascent.

Vladimir Putin should take note. As Russia’s president attempts to reassert his nation’s clout in Europe, he is doing so on an ever shakier economic foundation. The question for Putin going forward is whether his stumbling economy can support his geopolitical ambitions. The answer is anything but clear.

Russia’s economy was struggling even before Putin’s adventurous foray into Ukraine. The country had been one of the high-fliers of the developing world, so much so that Goldman Sachs included Russia in its BRICs — the emerging economies that would shape the economic future — along with Brazil, India and China. But a feeble investment climate, endemic corruption and excessive dependence on natural resource exports eventually laid Russia low. Growth last year sunk to only 1.3%, down from the 7% to 8% rates experienced a decade ago.

Since Putin’s intervention in Ukraine, Russia’s economic situation has worsened severely. GDP inched upwards only 0.7% in the third quarter from a year earlier, and the International Monetary Fund is forecasting mere 0.2% growth for all of 2014. Sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European Union in the wake of Putin’s intervention in Ukraine have blocked some major Russian banks and companies from accessing financing in the West, starving them of much-needed foreign capital. As a result, the value of the Russian currency, the ruble, has deteriorated by 30% against the dollar so far this year, routinely hitting new record lows along the way.

In a recently released study, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development predicted that Western sanctions would help push Russia into a mild recession in 2015. Sanctions, the bank noted, “negatively affected business confidence, limited the ability of companies and banks to access international debt markets and contributed to an increase in private capital outflow.”

Meanwhile, Putin’s countermeasures have made matters worse. His decision to ban the import of some foodstuffs from the West has caused prices for fresh produce and other necessities to rise. Combined with the weakening ruble, that’s pushing up inflation, which bites into the pocketbook of the average Russian family. Moscow’s economy minister recently said that he expects inflation to exceed 9% by early 2015. The nasty mixture of a depreciating currency and escalating prices have forced the central bank to hike interest rates, which will act as a further drag on growth.

Headwinds from the global economy are making matters even worse. Tumbling oil prices spell bad news, both for overall growth and the financial position of the government, which is reliant on tax revenues from its energy industry to fund the budget. In 2013, oil and gas accounted for 68% of Russia’s total exports, while duties on those exports, combined with taxes on mining, accounted for 50% of the federal government’s revenue.

Putin so far hasn’t flinched. Instead, he has been scrambling to evade Western sanctions and find new sources of exports and investment in Asia. On the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, held in Beijing this month, Russia agreed to a deal to supply even more natural gas to China, on top of a $400 billion pact inked earlier this year.

That “pivot” to Asia will take time to bear fruit, however. Right now, none of the negative factors damaging Russia’s economic prospects look likely to turn positive any time soon. “We expect the stagnation trend to continue and potentially accelerate next year, exacerbated by lower oil prices, tighter monetary policy and continued uncertainty on the geopolitical front,” noted Barclays economist Eldar Vakhitov in a recent report.

Still, Putin’s economic woes haven’t yet translated into political problems. The Russian public appears to be patriotically rallying around Putin’s aggressive foreign policy and setting aside concerns about the economic fallout. In the latest poll conducted by the Levada Center, a Moscow-based independent research organization, an amazing 60% of the respondents said they believed that Russia was heading in the right direction, up significantly from 40% a year earlier. Putin’s approval rating stands at an even more astronomical 88%.

What the future may hold is another issue. A good part of Putin’s political success has been based on his record of improving people’s welfare, but with no relief in sight for Russia’s economic troubles, it may only be a matter a time before the general populace begins to feel the pinch more sharply. Nor can Putin ignore his economy’s need for foreign investment and technology to upgrade industry and create jobs. He may eventually find himself facing a critical choice — maintaining his foreign policy goals or softening his stance towards the West out of economic necessity.

Recall that the Soviet Union collapsed, after all, because its economy could not sustain its international policies. Putin has to watch that history doesn’t repeat itself.

TIME russia

Putin’s Loss of German Trust Seals the West’s Isolation of Russia

President Putin gives press conference following G20 Summit
Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on at a press conference following the G20 Leaders' Summit in Brisbane, Australia. Klimentyev Mikhail—EPA

After a night spent debating the Ukraine crisis with the Russian President, German Chancellor Angela Merkel came out more determined than ever to push the Kremlin out of Eastern Europe

Vladimir Putin has long had a soft spot for Germany. As an officer of the KGB in the late 1980s, he was stationed in the East German city of Dresden, where he developed a love of the language and, according to his memoirs, for the enormous steins of pilsner he drank at a beer hall in the town of Radeberg with friends.

As President, Putin’s foreign and economic policies have always looked to Germany as a pivotal ally, a vital partner in trade and a sympathetic ear for Russian interests. He seemed to feel that no matter what political headwinds came his way, the German sense of pragmatism would prevail in keeping Berlin on his side. That illusion has just been shattered.

During a speech on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel predicted a drawn-out confrontation with Moscow. Breaking from her normally subdued political style, she even invoked the worst years of the 20th century in describing the West’s conflict with Russia over Ukraine. “After the horrors of two world wars and the end of the Cold War, this challenges the peaceful order in Europe,” she said, referring to what she called Putin’s “old-thinking” view of Eastern Europe as Russia’s stomping ground. “I am convinced this won’t succeed,” she said. In the end, the West would win out against the challenge emanating from Russia, “even if the path will be long and hard and full of setbacks,” Merkel told a conference in Brisbane, Australia.

It was in many ways the low point for Putin’s deepening estrangement from the West. During the G20 summit of world leaders held in Brisbane over the weekend, the Russian leader was broadly ostracized by the most powerful figures at the table, and some of them were far less diplomatic toward Putin than Merkel has been. In greeting Putin on Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly said, “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.”

Later that day, Merkel came to the Hilton Hotel in central Brisbane for an unscheduled meeting with Putin that reportedly lasted almost six hours, running well into Sunday morning. The subject was the conflict in Ukraine, and according to the Kremlin, Putin did his best to “clarify in detail the Russian approach to this situation.” But his efforts to win Merkel’s sympathy – or at least her understanding – appear to have done the opposite. He emerged from their encounter apparently so exhausted that he decided to leave the summit early, saying he needed to get some sleep.

The letdown seemed all the more painful considering his recent attempt to reach out to the German public. A few days before the G20 summit began, Putin decided to give a rare one-on-one interview to the national German television network ARD, whose correspondent grilled him on Russia’s support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Putin tried to sound conciliatory. “Of course we expect the situation to change for the better,” he said. “Of course we expect the Ukrainian crisis to end. Of course we want to have normal relations with our partners, including in the United States and Europe.”

Particularly for Germany, he argued, it is important to work things out with Russia, because their economies are so closely intertwined. Trade with Russia accounts for as many as 300,000 German jobs, Putin said, and by going along with the sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia, Berlin risks hurting its own economic growth. “Sooner or later,” he said, “it will begin to affect you as much as us.”

The warning, more plaintive than defiant in its tone, was aimed as much at the political elites in Germany as its powerful business interests, which rely on Russia for natural resources and a huge consumer market. Last year the trade between the two countries was worth more than $100 billion, compared to less than $40 billion between the U.S. and Russia. To fuel its energy-intensive industrial base, Germany also gets a third of its oil and gas from Russia, and 14% of everything that Russia imports is made in Germany.

But Putin, for all his appeals to German pragmatism, was wrong to hope that Russia’s isolation could boomerang back on the German economy, or on Merkel’s popularity. Even as the sanctions war choked off trade between Russia and the West, Germany’s total exports reached an all-time high in September. At the same time, Russia’s reputation among the German public has been scraping bottom. In a nationwide survey conducted in August, a German pollster reportedly found that 82% of Germans do not believe that Russia can be trusted, while 70% called for tougher sanctions against the Russian economy.

“So it seems clear that Putin has miscalculated,” says Joerg Forbrig, an expert on Eastern Europe at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “Certainly when it comes to Germany.”

This is a costly mistake. In trying to sway Berlin, Putin pursued his best, and perhaps only, chance of breaking the West’s resolve against him. The business lobby in Germany is both more powerful and more sympathetic toward Russia than any major European state, and the German electorate has generally favored a neutral stance on foreign policy.

Just a few weeks after Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March, nearly half of Germans said that their government should not take sides in the conflict, while 35% urged their leaders to seek an understanding with Moscow. This core of German Russophiles now looks to have evaporated, and with it Putin loses the only Western partner that could have stopped the isolation of his country.

Many in Moscow have watched that turn in German feelings with surprise. “Even during the Cold War, we were laying [oil and gas] pipelines to Germany,” says Leonid Kalashnikov, vice chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament. “Back then nobody seemed to mind.”

Under Putin, those energy links have been vastly expanded. In 2011, he launched the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline to pump fuel from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. (In a sign of just how well-connected Putin was in Berlin at the time, Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, took a job as chairman of that pipeline project after his term as chancellor ran out in 2005.) But at the end of September, Merkel said the European Union may need to break its addiction to Russian fuel in the long term, especially if the Kremlin’s expansionist policies continue to violate “basic principles.”

But even the threat of losing the European market – disastrous as that would be for the Russian economy – is not likely to make the Kremlin yield. “There’s one thing the West just doesn’t understand,” says Kalashnikov. “They can use sanctions to coerce a small country. But Russia is not one of them. We will not get on our knees and do as we’re told.”

Thanks largely to his own anti-Western bluster, Putin’s support in Russia now relies more than ever on his defiance toward the West, and he will sooner accept the role of a pariah abroad than weakling at home. “We’re just not going to chastise him into changing his tune,” says Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Much more likely, the West’s ostracism will “foreclose” any remaining channels for swaying Putin through dialogue, adds Rojansky. But if Putin was searching for such a channel during his night of debating with Merkel, he has come up empty-handed. It’s not clear if he has anywhere else in the West to turn.

Read next: Russia to Create Its Own ‘Alternative Wikipedia’

TIME movies

Review: Red Army: Much More Than Just a Hockey Doc

Red Army from Sony Pictures Classics Sony Pictures Classics

Ex-Soviet rink star Slava Fetisov brandishes his rough charisma in Gabe Polsky's playful, poignant profile

In America, ice hockey lags a distant fourth among professional team sports, far behind football, baseball and basketball. Men push a tiny puck across a skating rink, collide with one another and, all too rarely, score a goal. But even those who don’t know or don’t like hockey can appreciate the pure, complicated synergy of the game, especially as it was played by the Red Army team in its dominant decades, before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gabe Polsky’s Red Army, focusing on defenseman Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, brims with male camaraderie: high spirits and some robust verbal sparring.

Most forms of filmmaking demand star quality, but none more than the documentary, in which an attractive personality can drive home the political or human message. Polsky found his star in Fetisov, part of the legendary Green Line of the U.S.S.R. ice hockey team. During his 13 seasons, the Red Army squad won seven World Championships (out of a possible 10) and two Olympic gold medals, losing only in 1980 to the U.S. team in the “Miracle on Ice” semifinal game. Defying the Soviet hierarchy, Fetisov left Russia for North America to play for the National Hockey League, spurring an exodus of other Soviet and European stars to the NHL. Many of his fellow Russians joined him on the Detroit Red Wings, which in 1997 and 1998 won the Stanley Cup.

Those are Fetisov’s statistics. The man is even more impressive: a dominant presence off the ice and in front of Polsky’s camera, whether declaring his political independence, misting up at the memory of his first coach or, when the mood strikes him, giving his director a middle-finger salute. So charismatic is Fetisov that this exuberant, affecting film portrait could escape the niche of documentaries and become a popular attraction on the order of Searching for Sugar Man. The film has similar heart, humor and unbelievable-but-true narrative twists.

In the NHL, star players often skate freely toward the goal, a one-man show. In Soviet hockey, “The man with the puck is the servant of the other skaters.” Their coaches stressed teamwork, as developed in a decade of junior-league training, until the intricate weaving of the Green Line skaters approached the choreography of the Bolshoi Ballet or the chess mastery of Garry Kasparov. (One NHL announcer calls them “the Soviet Symphony.”) The long years of excruciating practice forged a comradeship, in the best sense, of Fetisov and his mates. Surviving the 1980 Lake Placid humiliation, and weathering disagreements that seemed like betrayals, the Green Liners were a band of brothers. Some of them reunited with Fetisov in the NHL years later, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Fetisov, who speaks excellent English from his many years in North America, is still a Russian at heart. He returned there, and at the urging of Vladimir Putin served as Minister of Sport from 2002 to 2008. Fetisov deflects some of Polsky’s questions by saying, “I’m a politician now.” As a Soviet skater, he was also a political and social force: he and his team lifted the U.S.S.R. at a time when the West was the best at everything but hockey. As one Russian commentator notes, “The story of hockey is the story of our country.”

Ice hockey is not exactly America’s story, and at the moment Russia is not the most popular foreign power. But this playful, poignant film presents a human story that transcends decades, borders and ideologies.

TIME russia

Russia to Create Its Own ‘Alternative Wikipedia’

Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to journalist Hubert Seipel of the German TV channel ARD on Nov. 13, 2014 in Russia.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to journalist Hubert Seipel of the German TV channel ARD on Nov. 13, 2014 in Russia. Klimentyev Mikhail—Corbis

Putin has previously called the Internet a "CIA Special project"

Russia will create its own version of Wikipedia in order to give people access to “detailed and reliable” information, Russia’s presidential library announced Friday.

“Analysis of this resource showed that it is not capable of providing information about the region and life of the country in a detailed or sufficient way,” the library said, Reuters reports.

The creation of an “alternative” has already begun, using more than 50,000 books from 27 libraries, according to the announcement. It is unclear if access to the original Wikipedia will be affected or how freely citizens will be able to edit the pages.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously called the Internet a “CIA Special project.” Russian authorities have had the power to block access to websites without a court order since February, and two of the first websites banned were pages critical of the government.

[Reuters]

TIME Foreign Policy

All the Presidents’ Looks: 9 Pictures of Commanders-in-Costume

It’s not every day when the pageantry of leading the free world looks so specifically like an actual pageant. But indeed, when Presidents of the United States don the traditional garb of the country they’re visiting, just about anything can happen.

From the hilariously uncomfortable (Putin, Bush, ponchos) to the kind-of-awesome (Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s colorful threads in Ghana), here’s photographic evidence that sometimes diplomacy requires more wardrobe changes than a Cher concert.

TIME russia

CNN to Stop Broadcasting in Russia

A new law puts limits on media companies' foreign ownership

CNN will cease broadcasting in Russia following the recent passage of a law that puts limits on media companies’ foreign ownership.

In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law requiring foreign-owned media companies in Russia to cut non-Russian ownership to 20 percent by the end of 2016, Bloomberg reports.

“Turner International is assessing its distribution options for CNN in Russia in light of recent changes in Russian media legislation,” Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting division said in a statement. “We are bringing our existing distribution relationships to an end while we do that. We hope to re-enter the market in due course, and will notify our partners of any update about resuming these services.”

CNN’s bureau in Moscow is unaffected by the change.

[Bloomberg]

 

 

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