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‘The Courier’: How friendship trumped Cold War politics

Political Theater, Episode 203

A member of the Ukrainian Parliament wears an anti-Vladimir Putin tie during a 2015 news conference in Washington with members of Congress on the possibility of arming the Ukrainians in their conflict against Russian-backed rebels.
A member of the Ukrainian Parliament wears an anti-Vladimir Putin tie during a 2015 news conference in Washington with members of Congress on the possibility of arming the Ukrainians in their conflict against Russian-backed rebels. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The United States and Russia have a tense political relationship. President Joe Biden has called Russian leader Vladimir Putin a “killer.” Putin replied that it takes one to know one.

The two countries are at odds over cyber hacking, election interference, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and scores of other issues, including Moscow’s strong backing for Belarus, which hijacked a commercial airliner so it could arrest a dissident journalist. That’s a lot of baggage for the upcoming summit between Biden and Putin on June 16 in Switzerland.

And yet, things have been worse. Consider the world’s close call when the U.S. and Soviet Union almost got into a nuclear war during the 1963 Cuban missile crisis. The politics of the time almost drove us to oblivion. But the very human relationship between two men, one a British businessman and one a high-ranking Soviet officer, helped avert catastrophe when the politics were making things worse.

That relationship is the subject of the new movie “The Courier,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne, an unlikely British liaison for Soviet Col. Oleg Penkovsky, who supplied him and the West with the intelligence needed for the U.S. to defuse the Cuban situation. Dominic Cooke, who directed and produced the movie, joins us on the latest episode of Political Theater to discuss the film, which is out in theaters and will be released on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming on June 1.

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