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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora