Russia's Putin Basks in Glory of Sochi Games

    Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the cross country skiing men's relay during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi Feb. 16, 2014.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the cross country skiing men's relay during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi Feb. 16, 2014.
    Reuters
    Vladimir Putin says sport and politics do not mix but his actions at the Winter Olympics suggest the opposite.

    When he was not watching ice hockey in Sochi during the weekend, the Russian president was doing the diplomatic rounds, dropping in on foreign teams, sipping wine or tea with them, talking sport - and building bridges.

    He also found time to visit an injured Russian athlete in a hospital and press the flesh with fans at the ski venues in the mountains above Sochi.

    The message was that more than a week after he declared the Games open, these are still very much Putin's Olympics, a global event on which his legacy depends.

    Back in Sochi after a four-day interval, his boldest step was to visit the U.S. team on Friday and sip red wine on the sofa with American officials.

    ”What I like in you is that you have strong competitors in almost every discipline, in almost every event you fight for medals,” he said in footage that led the evening television news in Russia and was beamed around the world.

    Putin at ease

    Putin looked at ease with the Americans, despite President Barack Obama's decision not to come to Sochi and months of criticism by U.S. gay rights activists of what they see as Russia's persecution of homosexuals.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a photograph with volunteers during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi Feb. 16, 2014.Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a photograph with volunteers during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi Feb. 16, 2014.
    x
    Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a photograph with volunteers during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi Feb. 16, 2014.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a photograph with volunteers during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi Feb. 16, 2014.
    The meeting amounted to the extension of an olive branch to a country with which Putin is at odds over Syria's civil war, human rights and democracy, and Russia's decision last year to grant asylum to ex-U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

    When an American referee disallowed a goal that might have sealed a famous victory for Russia against the U.S. ice hockey team on Saturday, Putin refused to criticize the decision.

    ”Sport is sport,” he said, despite looking upset.

    Putin later went to see the Ukrainian team, a sensitive visit because of anti-government protests in Kyiv provoked by a decision to forego a trade pact with the European Union and rebuild economic ties with Moscow.

    The president regards Ukrainians as Russia's Slav brothers but the protesters fear he wants to suck their country back into Russia's orbit.

    There was no mention of the unrest in the Ukrainian capital or Russia's delay in handing over a loan it has promised Kyiv. Putin was all smiles again and he carefully dodged a tricky question in the interests of diplomacy.

    When one of the Ukrainians criticized the American referee’s decisions against Russia, Putin made clear those were not his words but laughed: “Okay. It's not very nice to hear that from you.”

    Softer image

    It was only at another meeting, with the Swiss team, that Putin briefly let down his guard - but to a reporter.

    Asked about the prospects for political liberalization after the Olympics, he replied testily: “Is there any hope you will not link sports with politics?”

    There was no hint of irony, and it was then back to the softer image Putin is projecting at the Games.

    Up on the mountain slopes above Sochi on Sunday, he stopped to pose for a photo with a surprised volunteer worker at the Games.

    On Saturday evening, he visited Russian skicross racer Maria Komissarova in the hospital where she underwent surgery for a broken back, sustained in training. He even called her father when she told him he was worried about her.

    This is the “new” Putin on show at the Olympics.

    The pictures of him in action - flying with cranes, riding horses bare-chested or shooting a tiger with a tranquilizer dart - have at least for now been carefully put to one side.

    The Russia that Putin wants to portray at the Games is a caring country that has come a long way since the austere days of the Soviet Union. The leader he wants to portray is a man with whom the West can do business.

    Even Russian opponents seem to have accepted that now is not the time to criticize him, while the rest of the world wants a peaceful Olympics. There have been few protests during the Games and his main critics have been quieter than usual.

    For now he can bask in the glory, hope Russians' outrage over the disallowed goal pipes down and the Russians bring gold in the ice hockey on the last day of the Games.

    But if they fail, do not expect him to criticize the referee.
    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Gerald from: New Jersey, USA
    February 17, 2014 1:25 PM
    Please, the Olympics have always been political. It would be naive to suggest anything else. Putin is a camera whore of a little man who will do anything for a photo opportunity. Sochi on the other hand looks very beautiful in the sunlight. The athletes look very nice in their uniforms and I'm enjoying the games.

    by: Gennady from: Russia, Volga Region
    February 17, 2014 10:01 AM
    The report’s wording looks superficial as if the reporter and the world haven’t known the man before, or if the man has completely reformed. Nothing may be more distant from the truth than that. Every his gesture, smile and word, his ‘kindness and caring’ are theatrical and professional masks of a cold-blooded FSB-reckoning. It would be better if the reporting cited the immortal advice in the Latin phrase from Aeneid written by Virgil: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” on Greeks with their notorious Trojan horse. Just one fact about his true self. Until now, 70 years after WWII, remains of about four millions of Russian servicemen perished in the War lay scattered and unburied all over western Russia, but the horrible fact hasn’t spoiled the festivity of the Sochi Olympics!!!

    by: Igor from: Russia
    February 16, 2014 11:26 PM
    Hey, the author of this article himself is politically motivated, doesn't he? Your President, Poor Obama is also politically motivated because he has decided not to attend the Olympic. So your article is worthless.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.