Putin Scores Gold With Sochi Miracle
Published: February 21, 2014 (Issue # 1798)
President Vladimir Putin won admiring looks from athletes and skeptical smirks from the international media when he fulfilled his dream of opening the Winter Olympics. The public debate over the Sochi Games compares only to the political battle that raged prior to the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980. But this is nothing unusual. Large countries always elicit strong emotions.
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The main question in the debate about these Olympics has been whether Russia would be capable of hosting them. Putin has repeatedly said that his main objective in securing the hosting rights was to infuse optimism into a country that has endured three difficult decades starting with 1980s perestroika. Now Russians are in dire need of the drive born of victory and positive achievement. This also explains Russia's continued interest in World War II: Russians draw strength from that victory of 70 years ago to meet today's challenges. A great celebration awaits Russia in 2015, the anniversary of the Nazi defeat, and it will be at least as great as the Olympics in Sochi.
Putin cares about Russia's image, not in the eyes of the West but in the eyes of his own electorate. He wants to instill a sense of Russia's greatness in them, not in foreign observers.
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Russia can and has made a great Winter Olympics. It can also create a modern and developed society and a high-tech economy. This is what motivates the intense criticism of the Sochi Games. Influential outsiders do not want to admit that Russia has overcome its domestic crises and is progressing along a path of development. They want to stop Russia.
Putin is well aware of this and was therefore prepared for a major campaign opposing the Games. But paradoxically, the groundless accusations leveled against the Olympics has only outraged Russians and reinforced their patriotism.
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