In February 2014 the Russian elite will gather in the gleaming super stadiums of Sochi — governors and oligarchs, police chiefs and “political technologists” — to thunderously applaud as Vladimir Putin opens his Winter Olympics.
He has been dreaming of this for years.
But this is not a ceremony European leaders should attend.
In Sochi the Russian elite wants to dumbfound the EU — not only with synchronized ice skating and Kremlin-coordinated firework displays — but with a ceremony underscoring the absolute power of their leader.
This is Putin’s Olympics — his Berlin 1936, his Beijing 2008.
This bald autocrat locks up punks, protestors and political prisoners — and made homophobia state policy. But he has no doubt the West will be there to shake his hand in Sochi — none whatsoever that French, British and German leaders will congratulate him on the success of the games, and thus the strength of his rule. Why so?
Moscow no longer sees the U.S. and the EU the way it used to. The long oil boom has not just been an upward curve in Russian power — for Russian politicians it has been a decadelong journey into Western finance.
As giants like Gazprom and Rosneft, or banks like Sberbank and VTB, ballooned in value — sucking in Western talent and exporting Russian capital –- lieutenant colonels from the Cold War like Putin saw a whole new side to the West.