West’s failure to confront Putin on Olympics convinced him he could invade Ukraine without penalty, Titov says

A snowflake failed to transform into an Olympic ring at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games Olympics. (Image: Varlamov.ru)

A snowflake failed to transform into an Olympic ring at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games Olympics. (Image: Varlamov.ru)  

Analysis & Opinion, Politics, Russia

Many trace the origins of Vladimir Putin’s conviction that the West will ultimately come to accept whatever he does arose not as many think from its reaction to his invasion of Georgia in 2008 but rather from the way it responded – or in fact, failed to respond – to his violations of norms at the time of the Sochi Olympiad, Yevgeny Titov says.

Titov, who covered the Winter Olympics there in 2014 for Novaya Gazeta, says Russia “constantly violated human rights” in the run-up to the competition in its drive to use that event for “imperial” purposes by “recalling Soviet achievements, returning to Russians a sense of being a great nation, and raising Russia’s authority in the international arena.”

“In short,” he says, “the Olympics marked the beginning of [Russia’s] getting off its knees.”

As is the case with “any imperial project, the fate of an individual or of a 100 people or even a 1,000 didn’t upset anyone. Bulldozers destroyed homes, magistrates kicked residents out, and bureaucrats under the wing of the state stole billions in their machinations concerning property,” Titov continues.

In this and many other ways, “the principles laid down in Olympic rules” were “violated in the crudest possible way.” Western journalists “sometimes” reported on these things, “but the reaction of the West was quite weak.” Its politicians “closed their eyes to the numerous violations” and thus “gave Putin complete freedom of action.”

“When environmental activist Yevgeny Vistishko was arrested (and then jailed), people demanded explanations but when they got them, they acted as if they believed” what Moscow was telling them because “no one wanted to spoil the party.” And that pattern, Russian action and Western action opened the way for Russia’s aggression in Crimea and the Donbas.

“The process begun by Putin in Sochi automatically crossed the Russian borders [because] an empire is a system, and a complex system never dies right away without making efforts to restore itself,” the Novaya Gazeta journalist says.

The West had an obligation to complain and make demands and to declare a boycott if Russia continued to violate the rules. “But instead they kindly and in a tolerant way forgave Putin.” He learned a lesson from that; it isn’t clear that the West has.


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Edited by: A. N.

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