According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the disintegration of the Soviet Union has been the biggest political disaster of the twentieth century. And in this he is not alone. Many Russians long for the security of the Soviet Union and the territories that belong to it. They want Russia to revert to the world stage. The annexation of the Crimea in February 2014 therefore increased Putin’s popularity in his own country.
But what brought triumph in Russia led to fear in neighboring countries. These are countries that often have a long history of domination by Russia or the Soviet Union. Or countries that, like Ukraine, have a large Russian-speaking minority. Ever since Roman times, they form the border between Europe and Russia, and have been under the boot of both sides. For these countries, it is a challenge to get closer to Europe without waking up the wrath of Russia. The future will indicate whether that is possible.
The Russian annexation of the Crimea is the main geopolitical development in Europe after the fall of the Wall. The question is what the consequences will be. Are we heading to a new cold war? Or will it be a hot war in which Russia will expand to the West? How are the relationships between mighty Russia and the former Soviet countries? Is Russia really such an aggressive country and does Putin in the former Soviet countries control the pro-Russian groups he supports with money and sometimes with weapons? What do they think in the surrounding countries of recent developments? How do you deal with the Russian minorities in their country? What image do the Russians and their neighbors have in each other?
Jelle Brandt Corstius sheds light on these questions and goes into eight episodes on research into the current situation in the border between Europe and Russia. In a journey from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and east to the steppes of Kazakhstan, Jelle talks to residents about what they see as their truth- or reality.
Part 1: Misty Land
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. No wonder all young people are leaving the country in search of work. The Moldavians who are left must survive with the money they receive from abroad. Here too, Russia’s pressure is huge, and the dependence also: most of the country’s gas comes from Russia. Jelle visits the Transnistrian region, which fought in the 1990s a bloody war with Moldova and now wants to join Russia.
Part 2: Polite People
Jelle goes to Russia to see where the wave of nationalism comes from. What do the Russians want exactly? And how far do they want to go? Through a store selling Putin T-shirts and a visit to Siberian separatists, Jelle tries to find out who are the forces behind Putin’s drive towards expansion?
Part 3: The Backyard
Kazakhstan is as big as Western Europe, yet few people have heard of it. We visit the city of Semipalatinsk, with a sad legacy of Soviet time: a total of 456 atomic bombs were detonated here. The locals still struggle with health problems. The inheritance of a Soviet Union that some people fear will return.
Part 4: Below the Surface
In Russia, Jelle looks at the news selection, which plays a crucial role in the conflict in Ukraine. Russian journalists are murdered, independent media is barely there, a large scale self-censorship is committed. But then what do the Russians watch? And how are they brainwashed? Jelle Brandt Corstius dives into the world of the First Channel, the Kremlin propaganda channel. Is it a mouthpiece of Putin, as critics claim? Or are we, in the West, perhaps too one-sided as well?
Part 5: A Clear Dictatorship
Belarus is often called the last dictatorship of Europe. But is that true? This country is located on the main route between Russia and Europe. The focus has always been on Russia, but that seems to be changing. And: more than half of this country was radioactively contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster. How does the country deal with this?
Part 6: The Bunker
In the Baltic countries, the rule of the Soviet Union is still fresh in memory. Although Latvia is a NATO country, the fear for the Russians can be felt. Jelle goes to visit a Latvian Partisan, who fought the Soviets from the dense forests for years. And he visits the city of Daugavpils, where ninety percent of the population is Russian. How do they see Putin?
Part 7: The Wild East
For more than a year, a dirty battle has been going on in the ‘Donbass’; an area rich in coal and industry in eastern Ukraine. More than six thousand victims have been fallen. Jelle talks with Russian rebels at the front, what kind of people are they? He also visits the opera of Donetsk where every day is a performance, war or no war.
Part 8: Brother Nation
Ukraine is an almost bankrupt country that has been ruled by corrupt politicians since the fall of the wall, and is now being torn by a civil war. Does this country even have the right to exist? Or was it, in fact, the war that united the Ukraine people? Jelle talks with refugees, and visits the KGB archives that have recently been opened to the public. We also visit the trenches, where volunteers are risking their lives to defend their country.