Vladimir Putin intended the Winter Olympics opening this week in Sochi to be a showcase for the revived Russia he believes he has created over the past 15 years: an economic power and a conservative counterpoint to the liberal and secular West. In reality, Sochi will provide, at best, another example of how awarding the Games to autocratic governments like that of Mr. Putin only reinforces their worst practices while undermining what should be the Olympics’ commitment to human freedom and tolerance.
Even before the Opening Ceremonies, Sochi has become a symbol of the corrupt excess and misplaced priorities of Mr. Putin’s regime, which squandered a record $51 billion on the Caucasian resort and yet failed to complete hotels and other needed facilities by this week. Much of the money was lavished on cronies of Mr. Putin, including a former childhood judo partner, and opposition leaders say tens of billions were stolen. It’s hard to reconcile this Stalinist excess with Russia’s needs, as an emerging economy, for private and foreign investment, the rule of law and pragmatic economic management.
Even more disturbing is the shadow cast over the Games by Mr. Putin’s repellent embrace of homophobia — gays will be welcome in Sochi, he said, provided they “leave kids alone” — and restrictions on free speech and protests. Like Beijing in 2008, Sochi will have designated protest zones, but Russian dissenters who manage to penetrate massive security deployments and obtain an official permit will find themselves seven miles from the nearest Olympic site.
President Obama and other Western leaders rightly chose not to sanction this spectacle with their presence. Many of the athletes and spectators who do attend will be worried about the possibility of terrorist attacks.
especially following reports that “black widows” — female would-be suicide bombers — have infiltrated the city. While such threats are an unfortunate aspect of all Olympics, they have been compounded by Mr. Putin’s hubristic promotion of Sochi, which lies adjacent to Caucasian republics where brutal repression by Russian security forces has spawned one of the world’s most virulent homegrown terrorist movements.