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Looking back: Werner Herzog on Putin and Russia

Encore Political Theater Podcast

Werner Herzog is seen during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2022 in Toronto.
Werner Herzog is seen during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2022 in Toronto. (Getty Images)

When I spoke with Werner Herzog in 2019 for the Political Theater podcast, he had just released his documentary “Meeting Gorbachev,” about Mikhail Gorbachev, an elegiac look at the last president of the Soviet Union and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. A lot has changed since then.

Herzog admired Gorbachev, particularly as a politician who worked with U.S. President Ronald Reagan to de-escalate nuclear tensions and help end the Cold War. But in 2019, amid increased U.S.-Russia tensions, the topic of current Russian leader Vladimir Putin was unavoidable. Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine by force in 2014, interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections and supported Syrian President Bashaar al-Assad in that country’s civil war, among other contentious international moves.

“I think it would be a good moment for the West, and I’m not just speaking of America, the West in general, and Russia to look beyond the horizon again,” Herzog said, referring to Gorbachev’s recalling how he and Reagan focused on the future as they navigated a dangerous present. He then stated: “The dangers, the real dangers, are not coming from Russia.”

Fast-forward to 2023 and Russia and Putin now find themselves bogged down in a war of Putin’s choosing after invading Ukraine. Gorbachev died in August of last year. Herzog, now 80, continues to produce compelling movies, including recent documentaries about the human brain and volcanoes. He’s even been on “The Mandalorian,” portraying a baddie called simply The Client.

In light of all that has transpired since May 2019, particularly with Russia turning international politics on its head, I thought it a good time in this recess week to revisit this podcast. Enjoy the encore!

Show Notes:

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