Russian President Vladimir Putin has done more to harm the image of Russia internationally than anyone in a generation.
Putin’s baby, the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia in just under two weeks, was meant to demonstrate to the world that Russia had entered the modern age.
Then a funny thing happened. The world actually paid attention to Russia, and found it to be a third-world cesspool run by a despot.
If Brand Russia had already been bruised by Putin’s reign, in the past 12 months it’s been utterly destroyed.
Take a look at the top news stories for “Russia” on Google News – it’s all about suicide bombers, corruption, alcoholism, gay-bashing, and ABC has a particularly interesting new story about how an alleged heroin kindpin helped Russia win the Olympics:
Now take a look at Google images for Russia, and see how it compares to America. Particularly, I looked at “United States gay” versus “Russia gay.”
Let’s start with “United States gay.” The results are a sea of fabulous rainbow flags, proud US servicemembers, athletes, adorable couples getting married, celebrities and more. There’s only one photo of an anti-gay protest that was apparently a bust, no one showed up. Otherwise, it’s all happy happy joy joy:
Now, look what happens when you type in “Russia gay” in Google images. It’s pretty much a sea of blood. Literal blood. Gay blood. And protests. And violence. And ultra-nationalist kidnappings. Not exactly a Hallmark moment:
Then there are the parodies.
You thought Boris & Natasha were retired after Mr. Gorbachev actually did take down that wall? Think again. The anti-Russian jokes and stereotypes are back, with a vengeance. Take, for example, this viciously funny Saturday Night Live segment taking Russia on for its homophobia, but also for its utter backwardness. The skit was hilarious. But brutally so.
And you’re seeing the hammer & sickle, the symbol of communist Russia, the Soviet Union, come back as well:
And puns aside, the world now thinks of Russia (again) as autocratic, bordering on dictatorial, dangerous (be it terrorism, kidnappings, street violence, neo-Nazis, and little police authority), corrupt, racist, homophobic, and a place where basic services never quite work correctly. Tourists are afraid to visit the country, and some Olympic athletes are actually telling their families to stay home.
Vladimir Putin wanted the world to fear Russia, and it does. But it doesnt fear Russian power. It fears that Russia has fallen apart at the seams.
Heckuva job, Putin.