A groom at the feast
Russian president Vladimir Putin behaves like a groom at his wedding
feast in the midst of gang warfare: he tries to attend to his bride and
disregard the gunshots, with less and less success. His wedding party is
the Olympic games, a sports event that occupies him immensely; meanwhile
his house is under attack from all directions. In the Ukraine, a
confrontation between a weak government and pro-Western radicals
threatens to eliminate his previous achievements. The Ruble is under
heavy pressure and losing value, despite stable oil prices. In Syria,
the US and France are planning a new offensive and pinning the blame on
Russia for non-delivery in Geneva. And even his own Olympic games is
under attack from the powerful international media machine. Despite all
the commotion, he still sticks to sports. Is this some crazy obsession,
like Nero’s with his fiddle, or is Putin playing a cool game of poker?
Does he know what he is doing?
Why the Games?
Putin staked a lot on the Olympic games. For a leader of the great rich
country that was first to send a man into space, and has the armory of
nuclear bombs vast enough to obliterate mankind, this is a strange
fancy. I am not a sports fan, I’ve never watched a single Olympic
competition. So I could not understand what Putin was up to until the
opening ceremony of the games allowed me to grasp his reasoning. Putin
intended to re-brand, even re-invent Russia, just as Peter the Great
did, and he used the games as the medium for this message.
The prevailing image of Russia and Russians was not flattering: that of
Gulag, or of the moujik in a funny hat in the movie Armageddon,
mafia, nouveau riches, brutish people in a drab backward place.
Putin wanted to get rid of this shopworn image, a vestige of the Cold
War and the hard years that followed the Soviet collapse. This coup was
executed by its opening show’s producer Constantine Ernst. He presented
Russia as a part of the First World; an amazing country of strong
European tradition, of Leo Tolstoy and Malevich, of Tchaikovsky and
Diaghilev, the land of arts, of daring social reform, of technical
achievements, of modernity and beyond. This is a Russian Russia, neither
a multi-ethnic Soviet Union, nor a souvenir-shop Russia of Matryoshka
nesting dolls, but the Russia of Natasha Rostova riding a Sikorsky
For the first time in the post-Soviet era, this opening show integrated
Russia of Tolstoy’s dancing nobles with revolutionary Avant-garde
artists and Soviet workers; it
these two preceding periods of Russian history, the pre-Soviet and
special about that,
It was a big problem Russia never quite succeeded in solving in the
post-Soviet days: some demonised the Soviet days and glorified the Tsar,
others did it other way around, but harmonisation and acceptance of both
has never yet been achieved. Putin as the supreme producer dismissed the
drab image and opted for the chic. This is how he would like Russia to
be seen: a true part of the First World, a friend to Europe, a heir to
the Red Revolution and to the White Tradition, a great country in so
to the Soviets, Putin’s vision of Russia is that of a conservative
liberal country, a traditional partner and competitor to England,
France, Germany; in the same league as the leading Western countries. He
does not want to dominate the world, he is looking for a good and
honourable position reminding that of Russia in 1880s. The problem is
that the world changed since then: the US claimed supremacy all over the
world, and in such a world, Russia’s position will be more modest. Putin
understands that and tries to establish closer ties with other great
powers who are dissatisfied with the unipolar construction. By the
Olympic show he signalled that his ambitions are not overreaching: he
wishes Russia’s interests to be considered and respected, not more.
The Olympic games was a very expensive enterprise. Western sources
estimate some fifty billion dollars. This sum, however, represents a
total investment in Sochi region that is there to stay. I am not a big
fan of Sochi, the place was seedy and drab like Atlantic City in
decline. Now it is a first-class chic Russian resort, and the Russians
need such a place so they don’t have to spend all their free time at
Côte d'Azur. It is a rich toy, but Russia is a rich country, and like a
mature, wealthy woman she has decided to discard her old coat and to buy
a new mink, to get a new hair-do, skin treatment, the works – a total
The games proper probably cost about fifteen billion, a huge sum to
spend, to be sure, instead of investing in US treasury notes as their
usual wont. But
Olympics were watched by three billion viewers, and for five bucks per
head it was a very reasonable PR and GR expenditure.
show allows us to understand a characteristic Russian quality; Russians
can’t do consistently good and lasting steady work, like the Germans or
Japanese. Rather, they strive for over-achievement, for supreme effort,
for artistic record, and then return to slumber. They can if they want.
Essentially artistic souls, they do not often want to. But if they do,
they can perform miracles.
adversaries understood this reason of rebranding, and did their utmost
to undermine it.
Olympics under attack
Russians are not easily offended, as opposed to, say,
my Israeli compatriots, who are hyper-vigilant to conspiracies and
anti-Semitism. The confident and easy-going Russians just aren’t like
that, they never feel being hated for what they are, and even the
manufactured word “Russophobia” never really caught on, except within
the select nationalist nooks of the blogosphere. And it is a good thing
for them, for were they touchy, they would have gone off their hat from
the attacks on the Olympic games.
offensive went in three waves. The first wave was the campaign by gender
activists to boycott the Olympics. That was launched by
the comedian Stephen Fry, “as a Jew and a homosexual”. This lovely
artist was the first man to connect Sochi 2014 and the Berlin Olympic
games of 1936 in the public mind. “The Russians treat gays like Nazis
did, remember the Holocaust”, sort of idea. But his joke did not appeal
to Jews, perhaps because shortly before that incident Fry had caused an
outcry in the Jewish world when he stated on
television that Jews had stored up more misery for mankind than any
other group of people. It did not appeal to reasonable gays, either, for
the projected picture was at gross variance with reality: Russia does
not criminalise same-sex relations, unlike Qatar, whose bid for Olympics
was nonetheless fully supported by the US and the UK.
those Nazi devils, (the benchmark of all comparisons of political evil),
weren’t all that anti-gay, despite what activists now profess.
The Russian Bolsheviks of
1930s (Maxim Gorky, among others) perceived the Nazi movement as
thoroughly homosexual, and this was one of the reasons for the anti-gay
slant in Soviet days. The perception had some grounds, too.
Hitler has been brought to power on the shoulders of a gay, Ernst Rohm,
the leader of Storm Troopers, a million-strong Nazi militia whose
leaders were connected by same-sex love as much as by their battlefield
friendship. The killing of Rohm in the Night of Long Knives had some
homoerotic motives, contemporaries claimed. After Rohm’s demise, a proud
gay Baldur von Schirach led his youth organisation,
while another no less
proud gay Hans Frank ruled occupied Poland. Gays managed all right in
the Third Reich, thank you very much, as long as they were sufficiently
prudent about it.
The topic of gay rights in Russia continues to rankle –
the Americans sent a delegation to Sochi consisting entirely of
supporters of same-sex relationships, hoping to tease Putin – but
nothing was ignited, despite their efforts. The only demonstration on
this issue in Sochi was staged by some American guests who were upset
about the legalization of same-sex marriage in many US states. All in
all, the Sochi Olympics were free from political controversy; despite
warnings, no terrorist acts marred the events, and the State Department
had to bring up the recently released Pussy Riot activists to have
something to report on. (They were moderately beaten up by Cossacks
after being set up by their own crew. Their entourage of eight men did
not protect them and did not interfere with the thrashing, just enjoying
Then came the horror stories about “Sochi
– the city of double toilets.” Despite the fact that the photos and
legends were debunked as
fast as they appeared – they had their effect. An Austrian journalist
photographed a bad road in Vienna and tweeted it with the hashtag
SochiFails. CNN acquired the photo and it was retweeted 477 times.
Then the journalist admitted he had pulled a fast one – but that
confession was only retweeted four times, which proves that this was
truly an organized campaign to discredit both Sochi and the Games.
President of Ukraine Victor Yanukovych waving national
flag as the Ukrainian team advanced to the stadium during Opening
ceremony, Sochi, February 7, 2014.
The opening ceremony saw some surprising and deliberate
incidents: although spectators in the stadium and television viewers in
Russia could see the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, in
his sky box, standing with a flag as the Ukrainian athletes entered the
stadium, viewers overseas saw only an empty spot. American television
viewers did not see some of the section of the presentation that
depicted the Soviet period, which was most likely cut because it did not
include reference to the gulag.
And finally, there appeared a series of detailed
articles. The “bloody
Dominic Sandbrook is an excellent example. Its full title can serve as
a summary: The gangster's games: By endorsing Putin's murderous and
corrupt regime, the Olympic movement has allowed itself to be hijacked
by evil - as it once was by Hitler. This was a fatwa, bloody war cry
from the lips of a respected British professor from Oxford and
Cambridge. Well, Sandbrook stands slightly to the right of Genghis Khan.
His series on the Cold War contained no reference to the West’s build-up
to nuclear obliteration of Soviet Russia. And the Daily Mail is an odd
sort of paper. But here’s another example: “The
Stench of Sochi,” in
the ‘decent’ Daily Beast, in which Putin is described as a bloody
dictator and the games as an act of collusion.
debate each point of the listed charges and either agree with or refute
them. I’ll do neither. I’ve spent the greater part of the last three
years in Russia. It’s not the most comfortable place in the world, but
not hell on earth, either. The weather is terrible as often as not.
There is ice, snow, frost or mud on a level unimaginable to
Scandinavians or Canadians. Beelzebub himself
designed Moscow’s traffic jams. Granted, it’s a country where the
bureaucracy can defeat a visitor as it begets a profusion of unnecessary
hardships, all of which have helped to forge the indomitable Russian
spirit. You’ll get no argument from me about that! But
only someone who has lost all touch with reality could brand the lenient
rule of liberal-conservative Putin as the “murderous and corrupt regime”
of a gangster, when he has never executed anyone, holds an electoral
mandate, and has yet to break up a single legal demonstration.
Why, Russian liberal newspapers even write about his “bloody
dictatorship” so often that it no longer shocks nobody, and they never
lose their state subsidy or status ratings. The president loves being
criticised. Leading Putin-bashing journalists like Masha Gessen or
Alexei Venediktov meet personally with Putin and gain access to the
Kremlin few Putin admirers can even dream of.
Vladimir Putin is a powerful man, no doubt, but in
recent years, only once he used his authority in an arbitrary way. A
very wealthy banker with criminal connections was annoyed when his
limousine was overtaken on a narrow country road by an old and battered
car. His thug outriders stopped the offender and gave him a thrashing.
It turned out that the beaten young man was a friend of young Miss
Putin. Next day, his bank was checked by Treasury, multiple proofs of
illegal wheeling and dealing were found (none forged), and the haughty
man went to trial by criminal court while his bank was bankrupted.
Nobody in Moscow regretted his dispatch. You might say that his crimes
could have been uncovered earlier, but here we are: Putin’s rule is very
lenient even to crooks, unless they really push their luck. He could be
much more strict and exacting, and his people would actually prefer it,
for he is genuinely popular, but he is not a tyrant.
This widespread campaign leaves one no choice but to
believe without a shadow of a doubt that what
we have here is a deliberately fabricated, orchestrated, and organized
campaign to target Russia and its president.
Why is this? If athletic competitions in Israel were being written about
in this manner we would conclude that the instigators of the campaign
were vile anti-Semites. We could use the formula of President George W.
Bush, who suggested “they hate our freedoms” as the motive for 9/11.
But there’s an even better explanation.
The unified Western propaganda machine of the famed
Masters of Discourse™ is able to demonize its potential victims much
better than the antediluvian mechanism used by Goebbels – if for no
other reason than because it penetrates every corner of the globe. It
is centred in London and New York, and its branches operate in France,
Germany, and even Russia. It is fully integrated into the social
networks. If you (justifiably) do not trust the mainstream media and
turn to the Internet – there you will find the same message, copied and
retweeted by thousands of obedient robots.
This machine moves in when its owners want something
from their victim. For example, Muammar Gaddafi was the best friend of
Paris, London, and Washington. But he took exception once, and that was
when Goldman Sachs lost 98%
of Libya’s investments. He paid dearly for his complaints. He was
utterly demonized and then NATO bombed Libya and destroyed that
flourishing country. Fifty billion dollars went missing – Libya’s
sovereign wealth funds that had been invested in Western banks.
This is why the campaign against Sochi is so
do the owners of the international mainstream media want from Russia and
Putin? For him to marry President Obama? For him to abandon the Stabilization
of Goldman Sachs? For him to sell oil and gas to Western companies in
exchange for US Treasury bonds? Or – in regard to more compelling
matters – for him to hand over Ukraine to neo-Nazis and Syria to
Al-Qaeda? In any event, this has nothing to do with sports. This is a
different, and far more dangerous game.
through so much trouble and expense, Putin would like to sit back and
enjoy the glory. But alas, this luxury can’t be bought: at the mid-term
of the Games, the events in Kiev broke out, as we shall discuss in the
Part 2 of this report, and the Wall Street Journal called the US
sportsmen to leave Sochi immediately.
[Note by an editor: The
reason why the Western sponsored media were so anxious about Russian
resources being invested into the development of the national
infrastructure projects and its soft power of the global reach, is
pretty transparent. Since 2010 Russia has been gradually
reducing its share in the US Treasury holdings (from around USD 176
billion in October 2010 to less than USD 140 billion in November 2013)
and plans for more. Exactly this tribute, routinely pumped into greedy
abyss of the Wall Street deposits for years, has been eventually spent
for the national development and advance in Sochi. A gloomy mixture of
envy, disrespect, panic and malice motivates those who hire the likes of
Dominic Sandbrook, Alex Berenson, Alexander
Regis Gente, Michael
to condemn “Putin’s Games”. The
outstanding success of the ongoing Olympic Games is the powerful
and compelling response to these scribblers.]
Israel Shamir can be reached at