The opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics Friday was a predictably extravagant affair, launching the most expensive event in sports history, at a cost of $50 billion.
Each country which holds a major sporting event understandably wants to show off its country in the best light, and demonstrate that it can organize a massive project with smooth and safe planning.
But for President Vladimir Putin, the Sochi Games represents so much more. This is his baby, his opportunity to consolidate national pride, and to show the world that Russia is back, and is here to stay.
Russia, and its role in global politics, is certainly in the ascendant. In the midst of U.S. foreign policy faltering and stumbling, particularly in the Middle East, Putin has taken advantage of Barack Obama’s failings and built upon his own position in the region. Nowhere has this been more evident in recent years than in Syria, where Moscow remains Damascus’ most powerful friend.
With the world’s attention currently on Russia, it is worth remembering that while sporting events have a short lifespan, the bloodshed in Syria will likely continue long after Sochi wraps up.
Long gone are the days when nations could become global leaders through a combination of brute force and bullying. Now, superpowers must at least display a minimum of respect for the human rights of others, for the sovereignty of borders, and for the legitimate political demands of civilians for justice and freedom.
As part of the charm offensive which Russia is waging, it needs to realize that as a world leader, it has an obligation to calm situations in volatile parts of the world, not exacerbate them.