The last time Russia hosted the Olympics — the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow — the US and its allies staged a boycott in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Yet the Soviet Union was a superpower, stagnant but stable. Its totalitarian secrecy, gargantuan military-industrial complex, ever-present KGB handlers and apparent disdain for material comforts — at least for ordinary Russians — gave the Communist hegemony a perverse mystique that made even a simple visit to Red Square a trip to remember. However much the country was hated or feared, one could not deny that it was a major player on the world stage.
Not so today. Putin’s Russia is weak, tawdry and corrupt — and undeserving as an Olympic host. The atmosphere surrounding the Sochi Games reflects many of Russia’s worst traits. In the immortal words of former Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, describing the country’s economic transition in the 1990s: “We hoped for the best, but things turned out as usual.”
Even assuming that the Sochi Games pass off successfully, and that, despite the security restrictions and official bigotry, athletes and visitors enjoy their stay, will Russia’s brief display of national pride really be worth the financial and political cost? Or will Russians wake up six months from now and say, “Yes, our country has a fancy ski resort — at the beach”?
Nina Khrushcheva teaches international affairs at The New School and is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York.
Copyright: Project Syndicate