The XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, ended just as they began: with an ostentatious, exhaustive, and carefully scripted celebration of Russian heritage and culture. The 17 days of athletic competition featured all the riveting performances, unexpected disappointments, and weather-related updates that one would expect.
What an awesome sight it was, all those Olympians holding hands with teammates of the same gender, in quiet but unmistakable defiance of Russia's anti-gay laws and the International Olympic Committee's stated ban on political protest.
With Ukraine's parliament dismantling the last vestiges of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych's government, the Obama administration warned Russia against sending troops into the country and told Moscow that it should allow Ukrainians to freely determine their own future. Appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, National Security Advisor Susan Rice was adamant about limiting Russia's role in Ukraine going forward.
Russia is back, or at least that is what you were supposed to think while watching the 2014 Sochi Olympics over the past two weeks. To prove it, Russia spent 51 billion dollars on the first-ever Winter Olympics staged in a subtropical climate zone and took great pains to showcase Russian culture, diversity, wealth, talent, and swagger during nonstop coverage of the Olympic mega-event.
Civil strife often follows a grimly predictable pattern. What at first seems a soluble dispute hardens into conflict, as goals become more radical, bitterness accumulates and the chance to broker a compromise is lost. Such has been the awful trajectory of Ukraine, where protests that began peacefully in November have combusted in grotesque violence.
Former figure skater Irina Rodnina is now an MP from Vladimir Putin's United Russia party and claims that a racist photo of Barack Obama she tweeted last year was the fault of hackers.
When, fifteen years ago, Vladimir Putin was appointed Prime Minister under the ailing Boris Yeltsin, few would have thought that he was to become one of Russia’s longest-serving political leaders in living memory. Fifteen years into his “era,” Putin has reached unassailable heights of prestige, masterly defeating his would-be challengers among street protesters and oligarchs and getting more than a bang for his ruble on the international stage.
The winter Olympics kick off in the Russian city of Sochi on Thursday, whether Russia is ready for them or not. And it increasingly appears that Sochi might not actually be all that ready. Here are 15 signs – some of them superficial, some legitimately alarming – that the Olympics could get off to a bumpy start.