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tv   CNN Special Report  CNN  August 25, 2018 12:00am-1:00am PDT

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the following is a cnn special report. ♪ winston churchill famously said of russia, it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, in an enigma. winston churchill, meet have lat mere putin. >> he is really very much the leader. he's done an amazing job. so smart. >> he's a kgb agent by definition. he doesn't have a soul.
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>> vladimir putin is a thug and a murderer and a killer. >> he's the richest man in the world. >> hundreds of billions of dollars. >> what does he want from donald trump? >> putin is going to eat him like a sandwich. >> he'd rather have a puppet as president. >> you're a puppet. >> just how powerful is he? >> putin has authority. >> i don't see checks on his power. >> so powerful, he apparently tried to rig the american election. >> of course putin wanted hillary clinton to lose. he despised hillary clinton. >> putin is not a friend to democracy. he is a crook. >> after the strange summit
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between vladimir putin and donald trump in helsinki, americans are asking what did putin get and what more does he want? and is he really "the most powerful man in the world"? december 5th, 1989. it was a cold night in east germany. and it would change the course of putin's life. the berlin wall had just fallen. all over east germany, angry crowds roam the streets, lashing out at symbols of communist rule. that night in dresden, they found a target. the local kgb headquarters.
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a mob surrounded the building, as the hour grew later, the crowd grew larger. inside, peering through the curtains was a young kgb lieutenant colonel named vladimir putin. >> he was terrified that they were going to storm the building. >> putin was a junior officer, but the boss was away. he was in charge. >> the berlin wall had come down, and he called for instructions. >> desperate for help, putin dialed kgb headquarters in moscow, over and over again. finally, one official told him, simply, moscow is silent. >> and i think it felt like a deep betrayal to him. >> vladimir putin was on his own. he went down into the bowels of the building and fired up the
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furnace. >> he finds himself in the basement, at a furnace, shoveling documents, as he hears demonstrations out on the street. >> they are burning the secret files so fast that the furnace is blowing up. >> putin torched thousands of pages of kgb documents and secrets, as the crowd closed in. with the fire still raging, putin went outside and faced the mob. by himself. there are armed guards inside, he told them. they will shoot you. >> and he's able to bluff his way out and tell the crowd, don't try it here. you're going to get hurt. >> putin's threat worked. the mob dispersed. >> this is the drama that stays with putin all the time. the fear of popular uprising.
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>> vladimir putin quells that fear with absolute control. this is what control looks like. in one of the world's busiest cities, the streets are emptied for vladimir putin's motorcade. 12 million people simply disappear on putin's inauguration day. ♪ >> vladimir putin!
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>> in may, with his usual grandiosity, putin assumed the presidency of russia for the fourth time. he won the way he always does, overwhelmingly. putin's chief opponent was otherwise occupied. opposition leader alexei navali was arrested while leading protests against the russian president. much of this was not seen on russian television. ♪ >> for 94% of russia, their main source of news is television. if it didn't happen on television, it didn't happen. >> putin controls television. >> there's absolutely no critical words about vladimir putin on the russian airwaves -- none, not one word. >> putin controls everything in russia. >> putin has an untrammeled
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authority. >> i don't see any checks on his power. >> he is able to make singular, rapid decisions. the absolutism there is unlike anything i've ever seen in russia. >> all that power is propped up by an astonishing approval rating, over 80%. and that's according to american pollsters. >> donald trump wins the presidency. >> but when the united states elected a new president, it looked like russia had fallen for a new leader. there were toasts all over moscow. at the parliament, known as the duma. on talk shows. and at bars. [ laughter ]
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♪ we are the champions ♪ of the world >> but one man seemed utterly unsurprised by trump's victory. >> he's happy to take credit. and that means that he won the u.s. election. the man who is simultaneously president of russia and in charge of the united states. >> at the heart of all this are some deadly serious questions. does vladimir putin have some kind of hold over donald trump? we simply don't know. but one reality is now crystal clear -- american intelligence has established that putin interfered with our election in order to help donald trump. mr. putin did not agree to
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answer questions about this. but his closest aide, dmity peskov, did. >> the answer is, no. you're humiliating yourselves saying that a country can intervene in your election process. america, a huge country, a country -- the most powerful country in the world, this is simply impossible. >> we will get at the truth of all this. but to do that, we need to go back, to the final days of the country vladimir putin loved. >> i think that down deep in putin there is this sense of extraordinary humiliation over the collapse of the soviet union. because it wasn't just the soviet union. it was the russian empire. >> putin returned home from his kgb posting in 1990 to a country
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he did not recognize. the ussr had been transformed by mikhail gorbachev and his policy of openness, known as glasnost. >> a lot of things happened very quickly. >> coca-cola, coca-cola. >> a romance with things western. >> freedom came fast, and it exposed the rock at the heart of soviet communism. across the soviet union, hundreds of thousands of people began demanding democracy and national independence. it was once again what putin feared most. the people.
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rising up. and finally, the people won. >> tonight in moscow at the kremlin, the red flag of the failed soviet union at last came down, and the flag of russia rose. >> 300 years of history erased. >> soviet institutions like the kgb simply ceased to exist. vladimir putin views the breakup of the soviet union as he said himself, to be the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. >> it was a traumatic time. and it sparked a profound change in vladimir putin. he became a politician, deputy mayor in his hometown of st. petersburg. it was not a big job, but putin clearly had big dreams.
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he commissioned this rarely-seen documentary, about himself. presenting vladimir putin, the credits read, in power. weirdly, the soundtrack is from the broadway show "cats." the ambitious putin may have already been looking toward moscow, because the russian people were desperate for strong leadership. under president boris yeltsin, the new democracy was a mess. >> the entire soviet system, it just collapsed. >> the oligarchs, the men who profited on the spoils of communism became fantastically rich. >> mercedes benz is selling more of its top line cars in russia than in all of europe.
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>> but ordinary russians were sinking into desperate poverty. they would die of food shortages, even starvation. >> translator: i don't know how to feed my kids without milk. i just don't know what we're going to do. >> president boris yeltsin was in charge, but he seemed increasingly unstable. ♪ >> his drinking. he's barely being propped up. >> russians began calling for a new leader. >> they're tired of the embarrassments of yeltsin. >> waiting in the wings was vladimir putin. he had taken a job in moscow in the kremlin hierarchy, and he had risen through the ranks with
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lightning speed. >> from city bureaucrat to kremlin superstar. >> he had just become acting prime minister when it became blindingly clear the country needed a new president. >> yeltsin was ready to topple over, and they settled on putin because they knew yeltsin could retire and not be put in jail. >> boris yeltsin was notoriously corrupt, but kremlin power brokers wanted to protect him. >> so a deal was made. a deal was made. [ bells tolling ] >> december 31st, 1999. >> the surprise announcement from boris yeltsin that he is resigning as president and turning over power to his prime minister, vladimir putin. >> in the very first moments of the 21st century, vladimir putin became president of russia. his first words?
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"we live in a competitive world, and we are not among its leaders." and right away, putin began to change his country. he joined soldiers on the front lines of the war in chechnya. he reassured russians that better times were ahead. >> translator: i think we'll get paid and we'll have work. >> the country quickly fell in love with vladimir putin. the number one song in russia was called "a man like putin." ♪ >> he's just very, he's a beautiful man. >> but the biggest surprise? america also loved vladimir
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putin. president george w. bush thought he'd found a kindred spirit. >> i looked the man in the eye. i found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. i was able to get a sense of his soul. ♪ >> even hollywood fell for the new russian president. ♪ >> he bonded with stars at a charity dinner. ♪ >> but the honeymoon would soon come to a crashing halt. >> he was a kgb agent.
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by definition, he doesn't have a soul. >> how are you? so glad to see you. >> next, when vladimir met hillary. >> it's important to remember how much he despised hillary clinton. ♪ your mornings were made for better things than rheumatoid arthritis. before you and your rheumatologist move to another treatment, ask if xeljanz xr is right for you. xeljanz xr is a once-daily pill for adults with moderate to severe ra for whom methotrexate did not work well enough it can reduce pain, swelling and further joint damage, even without methotrexate. xeljanz xr can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. serious, sometimes fatal infections, lymphoma and other cancers have happened. don't start xeljanz xr if you have an infection. tears in the stomach or intestines, low blood cell counts, and higher liver tests and cholesterol levels have happened. your doctor should perform blood tests before you start and while taking xeljanz xr, and monitor certain liver tests.
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how many times will she leave her mark? how many times will she light up the world? this is the woman. >> at the heart of the hacking scandal that rocked the 2016 presidential election was an old grudge. >> ladies and gentlemen, my mother, my hero, and our next president, hillary clinton. ♪ this is my fight song >> it went beyond ideology. it was personal. ♪ this is my fight song >> vladimir putin was not a fan of hillary clinton. >> of course putin wanted hillary clinton to lose. he hated hillary clinton. >> prime minister, we have a lot of problems. >> the tension between the leaders had been brewing for
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years. in 2001, another american leader, george w. bush, vouched for putin. >> i was able to get a sense of his soul. >> thank you! thank you! >> but on the campaign trail in 2008, hillary had a different take. >> i could have told him, he was a kgb agent. by definition, he doesn't have a soul. i mean, this is a waste of time, right? >> translator: ms. clinton said that you as a former kgb agent by definition can have no soul. >> putin's reply? statesmen shouldn't be guided by their hearts. they should use their heads. clinton had a lot of tough words for putin over the years. >> he's a very arrogant person to deal with. we have to stand up to his bullying. he is somebody who will take as much as he possibly can. >> but it was what happened in 2011 that marked a point of no return. it began with the arab spring
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protests early that year. the kind of popular uprising that putin dreaded. >> he begins to see himself through the eyes of hosni mubarak. >> mubarak of egypt was facing prosecution. syria bashar al assad was on the ropes. libya's strong man, moammar gadhafi met a particularly gruesome fate. brutally killed after begging for his life. putin may have feared the same bloody fate for himself. just a few weeks later, rebellion arrived in russia. tens of thousands rallied in the
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streets of moscow. the biggest protest there since the fall of the soviet union. >> people were hanging off lampposts. people were in the streets. really shocking. >> putin was now living the same nightmare he had endured as a kgb officer in east germany in 1989. this time in his own backyard. and he wasn't even president at the time. he was prime minister. having handed the presidency over to his associate, dimitri medvedev. >> as the winter got longer and longer and colder and colder, the protests got bigger and bigger. >> as putin saw people turning against him, hillary clinton
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weighed in. >> the russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. >> when putin hears something like that, i imagine he hears bush talking about saddam hussein. he hears that as, they're coming for me. they're trying to drive me from power. what the hell do you know about my people and whether they deserve to have their voices heard, like i'll tell you if they should have their voices heard. >> russians had a lot of reasons to be angry. that fall it was announced that putin would run for president again, for a third time. that meant he could potentially rule russia until 2024. >> some people said, oh my god, i'm going to die with this guy in power. >> a few months later, the elections for russia's parliament were a farce. >> we do have serious concerns
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about the conduct of the elections. >> hillary clinton called out the election, really. i don't think she realized quite how badly that was going to go down. >> with his back against the wall, putin turned the tables. he blamed the protests on hillary clinton. claiming that she was the one who incited them with her complaints about the election. >> there are growing restrictions on the exercise of fundamental rights. >> quote/unquote, she sent a signal, that was his words. >> putin's strategy propelled him to victory.
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in march 2012, he won re-election handily. fighting back tears after a tense fight to maintain his power. he may have won the day. >> hillary! hillary! >> but vladimir putin never forgot about the woman who kicked him when he was down. >> do you think he resolved, you interfered with my elections, two can play at this game? >> i think that's the line of thinking that led him to the intervention. beginning as early as 2015. >> putin personally ordered a massive influence campaign to sway the 2016 election towards trump. according to the cia, the fbi, and the nsa. why? in part, because he holds a
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grudge against clinton for her actions in 2011. the alleged operation was sophisticated and multifacetted. an army of internet trolls, bankrolled by billions of dollars, launched attacks against clinton, in social media, using ads in key swing states. >> they're smart enough to know that social media is the way to touch americans personally. >> 13 russians have been indicted by special counsel robert mueller in connection with the operation. and elite hackers linked to russian intelligence pillaged the e-mails of the democratic national committee and the clinton campaign, releasing embarrassing information, with devastating results. >> wikileaks has released -- >> another round of stolen e-mails -- >> the clinton campaign knows -- >> this is a trump dream come true.
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>> several more russians were indicted for that operation. donald trump was delighted by clinton's misfortunes. >> russia, if you're listening, i hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. >> donald j. trump will become the 45th president of the united states. >> in the end, america's election went putin's way. >> i just received a call from secretary clinton. >> hillary clinton was quite negative about our country, her attitude. >> it wouldn't be bad to get along with russia, right? wouldn't be bad. >> and to the contrary, the other candidate, donald trump, said we have to find some understanding. >> when people like me, i like them. even putin. >> we like better. >> this was not the outcome we wanted. >> hillary clinton suffered one
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of the most shocking defeats in american history. >> i know how disappointed you feel because i feel it, too. >> at least in part, because of the alleged hacking operation. >> this was painful. and it will be for a long time. >> putin had apparently avenged his old grudge. >> so help me god. >> congratulations, mr. president. >> and he may have achieved even more. >> the 45th president of the united states. >> if donald trump is in some way compromised. if the russian government has something that it feels it has on him in terms of leverage, that's a very serious thing. i don't suggest for a second that i have the answer to this question, but we can't just let this matter drop. up next -- >> a prominent russian opposition figure has been shot and killed. >> four of the shots hit him in the back. >> right out in the open. just blocks from the kremlin.
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>> the story vladimir putin might want the world to forget. hey allergy muddlers. are you one sneeze away from being voted out of the carpool? try zyrtec®. it's starts working hard at hour one. and works twice as hard when you take it again the next day. stick with zyrtec® and muddle no more®.
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♪ february 27, 2015. nearly midnight. a man and woman walk across the bridge right next to the kremlin. a highly-monitored area, littered with surveillance cameras. all those cameras, but amazingly, this grainy, far-away video is the only footage that exists of a critical moment in recent russian history. inside the circle of what a moscow tv station purports to be boris nemtsov and his
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girlfriend. nemtsov was a force, the well known opposition leader who led the protests in 2011. the station says while this snowplow hides the two from camera's view, nemtsov was killed, shot four times in the back. >> a prominent russian opposition figure has been killed. >> four shots, in the back. >> just blocks from the kremlin. >> so who murdered boris nemtsov? vladimir putin condemned the killing, calling it shameful and impudent. and five chechens were found guilty of the murder. in the meantime, doubts remain. >> the assassination was extremely professional. >> reporter: a russian-born journalist says that only one group could be that professional. >> nemtsov's girlfriend, who he was walking with, didn't realize he had been shot until the car was already driving off.
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it was quick and professional, and nobody has that kind of training outside the government. >> in 2016, senator john mccain took it one step further. >> vladimir putin is a thug and a murderer and a killer, and a kgb agent. he had boris nemtsov murdered in the shadow of the kremlin. >> this is personal insult. this is lousy behavior from a political spokesperson. >> it's nonsense, it's nonsense. there's nothing to comment on. >> over the course of putin's time in power, his regime has been accused of involvement in the deaths of many of its critics, including the journalist anna politkovskaya,
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and a former kgb agent. some experts say there's dozens more like them. and then, there's those that live to tell. the man seen in this surveillance foot only at a u.k. convenience score is sergei schiphol, an ex-russian spy. he moved here to salisbury, england, eight years ago, after being released from prison in moscow, where he was convicted of selling secrets to britain's mi-6. in march, schiphol and his daughter, julia, were found unconscious on a shopping center bench in salisbury. police concluded that the pair had been poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent. while both survived, u.k. authorities placed the blame squarely on one person. >> it is tragic that president putin has chosen to act in this way. >> putin shot back, calling the accusations complete drivel and rubbish.
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pro-kremlin tv went even further, blaming the former double-agent himself. back to that night, on the bolshoi moscow bridge, the allegations that putin might have played a role in borris nemsov's murder, may stem in part from the evidence that he had been collecting. >> nemsov was about to prove that there was involvement in ukraine. >> that was after his murder. but there was an earlier report that was published in 2012, this was also embarrassing for putin. it claimed the president had 43 planes, 15 helicopters and 4 yachts at his disposal, including one superyacht. then, there are the palaces.
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his report says there were 20 presidential palaces available to putin at anytime. one of the palaces, known in the press simply as putin's palace, was said to be worth $1 billion. >> this is not true. this is actually perverted commenting of reality. >> putin's spokesman says every world leader, especially the leader of a nuclear power like russia, or the united states, has access to state-owned homes and planes and helicopters that are safe and have secure communications. >> of course, he uses this vehicles, this plane, this residences. but it's not his property. the rumors about his wealth, the rumors about the palaces has nothing to do with reality. just, just lies. >> the rumors of putin's wealth? well, some of them are simply staggering. >> and some people including
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myself believe he's the richest man in the world or one of the richest men in the world. >> bill brado was one of the largest foreign investor in russia. now he's one of vladimir putin's toughest critics. we talked in 2015. you really think putin is the richest man in the world? >> i really think that. and i'm not just saying that crazily. >> estimated net worth? >> $200 billion. >> really? >> i believe that it's $200 billion. >> that would make putin almost wealthier than the world's healthiest, jeff bezos. >> all these rumors, all these accusations about billions and billions of dollars as his fortune, this is not true. don't believe in them. he's got nothing. he's got what he writes in his personal financial declaration every year. >> putin's most recent financial
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declaration says that he personally owns less than half an acre of land, a roughly 900 square foot apartment and a 200 square foot garage in which maybe he puts the vehicle listed in that document, two vintage russian sedans, a russian 4x4 and a trailer like this one. top u.s. treasury official adam szubin talked to the bbc. >> i'm not in a position to give you figures, but what i can say is that he supposedly draws a state salary of something like $110,000 a year. that is not an accurate statement of the man's wealth. >> we may not know exactly how much putin is worth, but we do know this -- vladimir putin is remarkably popular in russia. why? we'll tell you, when we come back. this is not a bed.
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a book that you're ready to share with the world? get published now, call for your free publisher kit today! ♪ "the most powerful man in the world" is also the most popular. >> vladimir putin. >> vladimir putin's approval
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rating has soared as high as 86% in recent years. consider that american presidents are happy when they break the 50% mark. ♪ how has he done it? partly, it's the cult of putin. he has mastered the art of the manly photo op. he rides horseback bare chested, finds ancient treasures under water, rides a submarine to the bottom of the black sea, flies planes, fights forest fires. >> there's something ridiculous about a middle-aged world leader riding around shirtless on a horse like conan the barbarian after a dozen donuts. who thinks this looks good? >> everything we find ridiculous about vladimir putin is very appealing in a media universe that he controls absolutely.
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>> perhaps the foundation of the putin juggernaut is a political truism no matter where you live. it's the economy, stupid. after the chaotic years of boris yeltsin, putin stepped in and stabilized the country, and he rode the wave of ever rising oil prices, which in russia's resource-rich economy, translated into rising wages and soaring stock indices. then in late 2014, the party stopped. oil prices slumped. and soon after came western economic sanctions. vladimir putin has navigated hard times well. he has slashed social spending, implemented an austerity program, allowed the ruble to fall and the bank kept inflation in check. putin is a fiscal conservative. >> the outward seeming ethic of wealth looks closer to dubai it's an amazing transformation. >> add to the economics, putin's
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secret sauce, nationalism. and it surged in 2014 after an invasion that shocked the world. >> bigger nations must not be able to bully the small. >> vladimir putin grabbed a piece of ukraine for russia. the west was horrified. >> that's the kind of thing adolf hitler did in the 1930s. we thought those days were gone. >> it all looked different through russian eyes. >> i have never met a russian that accepted the notion of ukraine as a totally separate state. >> many ukrainians deeply resented the invasion. ♪ but not russians. they see it as a revival of a deep sense of power and national destiny. >> putin has given them their
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pride back. russia is once again a great power. ♪ >> putinism is an ideology of social conservatism of anti-westernism, but above all, of national power. putin might say he has made russia great again. sound familiar? >> we will make america great again. >> like putin, trump has used nationalism to boost his support. many believe that donald trump is no vladimir putin.
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>> putin is a much more practiced, subtle, cunning player. he's playing in poker terms a couple deuces at the highest level. he's reasserted russia on the world stage from a position of relative weakness like nobody i can think of. that's an amazing feat of geopolitics. ♪
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finally, here are my thoughts on he whom we have called the most powerful man in the world. let me explain the title. the united states and china for that matter are more powerful countries than russia, of course. the power of a head of state is determined both by the country's strength and the capacity he or she has to exercise that power unilaterally, unconstrained by other institutions, parties or political forces. and combining those two metrics, it's easy to see why vladimir putin rises to the top. he has created what he calls a vertical of power, unlike any we have seen in other great nations. as the russian chess grand master has noted, himself a
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harsh critic of putin, the entire structure of russian political power, now rests on one man. when the tsar died, you knew the process by which his successor his son, would be elevated. when the general secretary of soviet communist party died, the standing committee and polit bro would select his successor. but when putin dies -- i almost said if -- what will happen? no one knows. now, to understand putin, you have to understand russia. the last 100 years for that country has seen revolution, war, communism, democracy, collapse, and then comes vladimir putin, who ushers in two decades of stability and thanks to rising oil prices, increases standards of living, and increases prominence in the world. russians do have immense
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national pride. russia is, after all, the largest country on the planet. 48-times larger than germany. it encompasses 11 time zones. straddles europe and the middle east. it claims a prominent place on the world stage. after the strange summit in helsinki, putin has established that goal and perhaps much more. what did america get out of that meeting, though? donald trump gave perhaps the most embarrassing performance by an american president i have witnessed or read about. his preposterous efforts to talk his way out of his troubles even make this more absurd. >> the sentence should have been, i don't see any reason why it wouldn't be russia, sort of a double-negative. >> what has been obscured by this disastrous and humiliating performance, is the strain in his russia narrative.
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donald trump has always said that having better relations with russia would be a good thing. >> wouldn't that be a great thing? >> he's not alone, barack obama and hillary clinton both embraced the idea of a reset in russia. >> how are you? good to see you. >> increased relations with russia. it was one of efforts of conciliation, including one from george w. bush -- >> russia is not the enemy of the united states. >> but every reset failed. it's time to recognize that russia is not seeking to integrate itself into the american-built system of international order. it seeks to undermine that order. as putin seeks to destabilize the west, he seems to understand the vulnerabilities of free societies. the internal divisions and discord and the gaping openness. he understands the frigidity of
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organizations of the european union and nato. vladimir putin understands us very well. the question is, do we, does donald trump, really understand him? ♪ the uts president the man who knows donald trump's financial secrets has been granted immunity. pope francis headed to ireland amid the church's sex abuse crisis. and he is set to meet with some survivors. we'll follow that story. and tropical storm lane, it is weakening, but flooding in hawaii is a major concern as rain there continues to pummel the islands. live from cnn world headquarters in atlanta, we welcome our viewers here in the united states and all around the world. i'm george howell, the

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