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Mikhail Gorbachev says DVD can help cool U.S.-Russia relations

May 2, 2012 | 10:23 am



NEW YORK -- Television images accelerated the end of the Cold War and social media toppled several Arab regimes. Can a DVD have a similar geopolitical influence?

Mikhail Gorbachev thinks so.

The former Russian premiere was at New York's Paley Center earlier this week, touting the home-video release of “Cold War,” the massive documentary about the epic conflict.

It’s been 14 years since the original aired on CNN, 24 46-minute episodes, each tackling a new chapter in Soviet-American relations. A Ted Turner passion project, the series (produced by British documentarian Jeremy Isaacs) takes few ideological positions but instead examines a range of perspectives from east and west, interviewing everyone in the Cold War from world leaders to foot soldiers.

Surprisingly, the series has never been available on DVD, but Warner Bros. Home Video decided to release it now, unedited, as a kind of super-film, as the Cold War is perhaps more at risk than ever of being forgotten.

Appearing on a panel with Turner and Isaacs, Gorbachev, seeming slower and heavier but still quick of mind, said he was particularly concerned about that kind of historical forgetfulness. He said the latest complicated chapter in American-Russian relations — with tensions between President Obama’s White House and Putin’s Kremlin continuing to bristle — could use a dose of the movie.

“We need to make sure this spiral does not reemerge, that we do not reignite another Cold War,” the dean of glasnost said. “And that's why this film is necessary.”

He continued, “We see that another arms race is possible. We see that nuclear weapons still exist in large numbers and they're regarded as real weapons of war.”

Scanning “Cold War” again,  one at first can’t help feeling like there’s something quaint about the whole thing; even amid the mushroom clouds and summit meetings, the stakes seem somehow smaller than we remember them. (The upcoming release of Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator," which makes good sport of the idea of tyranny, may also contribute to this feeling.) Then something like the Cuban Missile Crisis pops up, and it all comes rushing back.

Turner added that he, too, was worried about loose weapons material. “We are in a dangerous situation [because of the weapons]. Let's figure out how to resolve this.… The legacy of the Cold War is not over.” (In that sense, the release has a similar mission as “Countdown to Zero,” Oscar nominee Lucy Walker’s 2009 documentary about unaccounted-for nuclear material.)

Gorbachev also opened up about politics in general, making a curious plea that suggested he understood French voters who chose far-right candidate Marine Le Pen over Nicolas Sarkozy, who has had his share of personal crucibles.

"You saw how elections went in France. The first round gave 18% to a very right-wing lady, and that’s in a country that's very advanced in all respects,” he said. “Should we accuse all those who voted for her, should we accuse those who did not vote for the current people?” he continued. “[Voters] see who builds and who destroys … people see who takes and who steals."

As for his country, Gorbachev, who said he has undergone an ideological "evolution" and now considers himself a Social Democrat, said he believed the controversy in the recent reelection of Putin was overblown. “Even though there was some election fraud, I believe Putin won the election and most of the votes for him were real.”

Gorbachev then made a plea for understanding on behalf of his country's volatile politics. "The democracy you built in 200 years,” he said, “we cannot build in 200 days.”


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--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Nixon meets Mao in a scene from the new DVD of "Cold War." Credit: Warner Bros. Home Video