05 February 2014

Putin's Folly

This Friday will mark the opening of the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  I've already expressed here my view of attending such an event in a country under a regime descending into fascism which seems to be reverting to the pogrom mentality of its earlier history (though against gays this time, not Jews), and I have nothing to add to, or subtract from, that post.  What I want to look at here is the impact the games may have on Russia itself.

As befits a big country and a big man, Putin's Folly has been wrought on an epic scale, and the Russian autocrat has devoted almost obsessive personal attention to the details; his fingerprints are all over the thing.  It was he who chose to site the winter games at one of the few places in Russia's vast territory that rarely gets any snow, and is also close to a region of the country rife with Islamic terrorism.  Over $50 billion has been spent, more than twice Russia's annual education budget.  A large chunk of this (regime critics say as much as $30 billion) has been siphoned off by the corruption endemic to authoritarian regimes, and the media have vied with each other to dramatize the waste (by pointing out, for example, that one road cost so much that it could have been paved with mink pelts).

The gargantuan construction projects have devastated the town of Sochi, and despite the vast sums committed, much of the work has been done by migrant workers paid pitifully-low wages.  We're already getting a first look at the results from journalists already in Sochi -- do click that link, it's beyond my power to paraphrase.  If this is representative of the rest of the infrastructure specially built for the games, we're about to witness a world-class fiasco.

The omnipresent security will likely prove intimidating and oppressive to visitors, whether or not it proves as inept as the rest of the preparations.  If the jihadists do make good on their threats, Putin's humiliation will be complete.  Even if, as we all hope, no such tragedy occurs, he will be branded as the mastermind of a staggeringly expensive mess.

And that may matter.  There are signs that the Russian people are getting fed up with their strongman.  Russian's economy is sputtering and Putin's popularity, once buoyed by fervent nationalism and oil-export-driven prosperity, is tanking.  A people as educated and skilled as any in the West is still not reconciled to Third-World-style corruption, autocracy, and backwardness.  On Sunday, after long quiescence, Moscow saw a large protest demonstration; the immediate demand was the release of certain political prisoners, but I wonder if the Russians are starting to take inspiration from the fierce struggle of their Slavic brethren in neighboring Ukraine to protect democracy from the bargain-basement Putins holding power in Kiev.

Add in a spectacular display of incompetence, waste, and corruption at Sochi, and the Russians might just decide it's time to see if a different leader and system could do better.


Blogger Ahab said...

I think the world will remember Sochi as the greatest Olympic failure in modern history. I fear this inauspicious start is just the beginning of Sochi's problems.

05 February, 2014 12:13  
Blogger Jerry Critter said...

You would think that the Olympic preparations and construction were run by republicans.

05 February, 2014 12:25  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ahab: It's certainly looking that way. The contrast with London last time will be especially dramatic. I just hope no one gets killed amid all the screwups.

Jerry: Hmm, shoddy construction by shady private contractors who use immigrant labor, pay them crappy wages, and sometimes deport them to avoid paying -- yep, that sounds like Republicans.

Of course the Republicans have long admired Putin's authoritarianism, persecution of gays, and tight church-state ties -- they're kindred spirits.

05 February, 2014 13:20  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

The reports from the journos sent to cover the Olympics are both hilarious and frightening at the same time.

These games have the possibility of being the worst, in terms of the hosting country, in Olympic history.

And the Gee-Oh-Pee-ers will continue to lionize Putin.

05 February, 2014 19:56  
Blogger okjimm said...

i keep gettin Sochi and Sushi mixed up. or maybe not. something is certainly fishy in and around the Black Sea...and hey, how come it's not the 'Red' Sea? huh?

Honestly...I am boycottinng the Olympics. There is a marathon 'Waltons' retrospective on the Hallmark Channel and I wanna see how they got off that mountain and founded that chain store.

I have an inquiring mind, sea!

'good night,Putin-boy"

06 February, 2014 16:53  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: I'm surprised there's not a movement to offer Putin the Republican Presidential nomination -- after all, no one's ever accused him of being born in Kenya.

Okjimm: The name Red Sea is already taken, for the sea next to Saudi Arabia (probably red due to runoff from beheadings). Maybe they'll name a fish dish after Sochi. It will be not only raw but distinctly rotten, and most of it will be stolen before the waiter gets it to you.

06 February, 2014 17:35  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

Putin may be heading for the worst humiliation of all- putting on a worse winter olympics than Mitt Romney.

07 February, 2014 16:06  

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