Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have used the occasion of the 2014 Winter Olympics to convince Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to use lethal force against mostly-peaceful protesters in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
As a result, Kiev is now in flames, and many are talking about the prospect of a civil war.
Heckuva job, IOC.
Here’s a snippet buried in the NYT’s report last night on the carnage in Ukraine:
Mr. Yanukovych had repeatedly pledged not to use force to disperse protesters, but after meeting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he had clearly changed his mind.
Keep in mind that this all began when Ukraine’s president backed out of establishing closer ties with the EU, due to pressure from Moscow. Everyday Ukrainians, who have no desire to re-join the Soviet Union, were ticked, and took to the streets in protest.
More from Joerg Forbrig of the German Marshall Fund:
Many in Ukraine feel today that they have reached a final junction. They do not want to miss what may be the last opportunity in many years to come for a principal, some even say civilizational, choice between Europe and Russia, democracy and dictatorship, sovereignty and subordination, prosperity and poverty, modernity and mayhem. Indeed, the contrast between what Ukraine can expect from her Western and Eastern neighbors could not be starker.
On the other hand, as Forbrig points out, the EU trade agreement was a pretty sweet deal for Ukraine, including visa-free travel for Ukrainians visiting Europe, and opening the common market to Ukrainian businesses. But, the EU wasn’t offering much in the way of economic support, while the Russians offered $15 billion.
Russian President Putin wanted the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Russia so that he could re-introduce Russia to the world as a 21st-century modern power. And he failed miserably.
From rampant human rights abuses, to not even knowing how to build a toilet, Putin showed the world that Russia hadn’t modernized nearly enough since the Soviet days. Its standard of living, respect for its citizenry and the rule of law all seemed awfully pathetic. As does the lack of respect basic business ethics on the part of some of the country’s largest brands. To a lot of us, Russia looked more like Albania and Nigeria than it did France or Italy.
And don’t think the Ukrainians haven’t noticed too. According to several reports, including Forbrig at the Marshall Fund, we’re witnessing Putin’s effort to reconstruct a mini-me of the Soviet Union. Of course, it’s a rather pathetic mini-me, made up of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. It’s a veritable Axis of Ennui. Given the choice between visa-free travel to Paris or Belarus, no wonder Ukrainians are standing up and saying nyet.
Stephen Marche at Esquire wrote yesterday about Putin’s odd re-arrest of the punk activist band Pussy Riot. Marche’s thesis is that “Putin’s plan with the Sochi Olympics was to mock democratic values, to show that everyone in the West can be played for suckers, and to demonstrate our hypocrisy to the rest of the world, he has completely succeeded.”
Maybe, maybe not.
First a bit more from Marche:
If Putin simply wanted to rearrest Pussy Riot, he could have waited until fifteen minutes after the men’s hockey finals. But he chose to rearrest them in the middle of the Games. Putin’s “foreign policy” — such as it is — mainly acts as an embarrassment to Western values. This reasserts Russia’s sense of its own power, even though it is merely the power to disrupt, but it also offers a kind of backhanded justification for his own methods of ruling. Look at these democracies! What a joke they are! Do you think we are any worse than them? The mockery of others fits neatly into the sentimental and religious nationalism he indulges as well–at least mother Russia believes what it believes, unlike America or Europe.
Yeah, Putin is a tough guy. And he mocks us and our democracy. Okay. But our TV sets never exploded, American journalists aren’t shot and killed for writing the wrong story, rock band aren’t thrown in jail for two years simply because they ticked off the president, and Americans don’t need to worry about a nationwide network of neo-Nazis kidnapping our kids with the federal government’s tacit consent.
Russia greatest export is its ability to bully its own people and the world. And that’s certainly a good reason to fear the country, but it’s doesn’t breed a lot of respect.