The Sochi 2014 games are the biggest winter Olympics in history, costing $50 billion, drawing the unprecedented participation of 90 countries, and debuting 12 new sports — but the gold for grottiness goes to Vladimir Putin, whose hyper-burnished image as a strongman is skating on thin ice.
The Russian president proudly held the Olympic torch aloft in October, and announced his nation was the obvious choice for the games because of its “openness and friendship.”
The gay-basher convinced himself that hosting the greatest sports spectacle on earth would show everyone that he was not the twisted boss of a defunct super power, but a maverick who restored stability to Russia. That we would believe he was a fearless leader, who chose Sochi — on the edge of a Caucasus combat zone — because Chechen Islamo-nuts didn’t faze him. That we would think him a master negotiator for stealing President Obama’s thunder and reasoning Syria into a chemical weapons impasse last fall. That we would see him as a fearless ham for cuddling a leopard in a dynamic precursor to the games.
But a slalom of disturbances and bungles from day one has immortalized Sochi as the no-go destination of the world, and flushed away Putin’s loopy delusions. A Ukrainian plane made an emergency landing in Turkey because a hijacker tried to divert it to the resort town. And visitors from civilized nations that take clean water, private toilets, and human dignity for granted, yukked and puked over Russia’s contaminated Adam’s ale, perv loos with unobstructed views for voyeurs and a separate bin to deposit their soiled bog paper, and ludicrous spy cameras in showers, among other boggling troubles.
Consider it just the beginning of a public relations nightmare for Vlad the Impaler of Liberty.
Dissident “Pussy Riot” punkers Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina pickled Putin on this side of the Bering Sea, too. They took to the stage at an Amnesty International concert in Barclays Center last week to slam the tyrant who imprisoned them and fellow band member Yekaterina Samutsevich for singing, “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away!” in a cathedral in 2012, dispatching them to the same gulag labor camps that Stalin used as instruments of political repression during the Soviet era.
Those horrors were first exposed by Russian novelist, historian, and tireless Soviet critic Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his trilogy “The Gulag Archipelago” — today mandatory reading for Russian high school students, but clearly not for Vladimir Putin.
The hype, hubris, and huge funds lavished on the Sochi Olympics have only debunked the myth of Russia’s verve and revival. The reality is that post-Soviet Russia is in the toilet. It has one of the highest levels of wealth inequality in the world, with 110 oligarchs controlling a third of its riches. Its visions of a prosperous and democratic society are a joke. Its chokehold on freedom is a tighter noose than ever. And it cannot even figure out Plumbing 101.
Openness and friendship? Go kvell it to the Kremlin, Vlad.