Vladimir Putin’s Russia is looking more and more like the old Soviet Union. This is to be expected given that Putin cut his teeth as a Communist apparatchik working for the KGB back in the day.
But in Russia, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Recently, HBO broadcast the emotionally gripping account of what happened during the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The series Chernobyl, which ended a few days ago, depicted the stupidity, negligence, bureaucratic bungling, heroism, and the conspiracy of silence from the government that kept the true cost in lives and rubles of the disaster secret for decades. The series was a huge hit — even in Russia.
But the portrayal in the series of Soviet government culpability in keeping vital information from the operators at the power plant and the KGB efforts to hush the whole thing up apparently didn’t sit well with Putin’s regime. The Cultural Ministry is funding a film of the disaster that tells a much different story.
Russian television broadcaster NTV announced that it had commissioned the series, and principal photography has already begun in Belarus under director Alexei Muradov.
In response to the HBO series’ depiction of Soviet bureaucrats bungling the response both during and after the 1986 nuclear accident in the Ukrainian SSR, the Russian version plans to tell the tale of a heroic KGB agent trying to thwart a supposed CIA sabotage plot.
The premise is ludicrous because the seeds of the reactor’s destruction were sown before the plant was even built. There was a fatal flaw in the RBMK reactor design that led directly to the explosion of the reactor core. Inadequately trained plant personnel, who were conducting a safety test at the time of the explosion, were also a major contributing factor.
But in Putin’s Russia, up is down, black is white, and, when in doubt, always blame America and the CIA:
‘One theory holds that Americans had infiltrated the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and many historians do not deny that, on the day of the explosion, an agent of the enemy’s intelligence services was present at the station,’ Muradov explained to the Moscow Times.
This is true. There is a theory that the CIA had penetrated the plant’s personnel and sabotaged the reactor. But the only people who believe that nonsense also believe that Elvis is still alive.
If you get a chance to watch the entire five-episode series you should definitely invest the time. For some, the disaster is a warning about the dangers of nuclear power plants — despite the fact that the design of the Chernobyl plant, which uses graphite as a moderator and does not have a containment building around the reactor, is found nowhere else in the industrialized world.
But for most of us, what happened at Chernobyl should be a warning about how a socialist government works. Everything was done for the “good of the people” — including withholding vital information and covering up negligence. It is a mindset that brooks no opposition, and does not encourage personal responsibility. In the film, buck-passing is routine.
These are not “bugs” in the system. It is a feature. As a cautionary tale of what could happen here, Chernobyl is very revealing.