Disturbed by a protest movement that briefly seemed formidable and a slowing economy, Putin turned to a mishmash of nationalism, conservative values, Russian Orthodoxy, and a fear of the corrupting influence of the degenerate West. If his first decade in power had been justified by a growing economy and improved living standards, then his third term would be justified by the grandeur of historical destiny.
.. The need for enemies is obvious: to rally the patriotic masses for the struggle that lies ahead. The idea of a fifth column, Zubov said—he presumes himself to be considered among its members—is to show that those who disagree with the state are not “political opponents in the political arena” but “enemies who naturally have to be isolated; you have to fight them until they are all exhausted.”
.. A new Web site called predatel.net—the word means “traitor”—has recently launched, featuring a list of public figures that the site’s anonymous creators deem to have betrayed Russia, whether by criticizing the annexation of Crimea or by supporting Western sanctions. As the site’s short manifesto puts it, “We believe that Russian citizens who insult our soldiers and who cast doubt on the need to fight neo-Nazis are traitors, no matter whether they are talented journalists, writers, and directors.” The site has a form for users to “suggest a traitor.”
But the lock-step nature of the parades and stadium events, with uniformed young people forming a giant Soviet star on the playing field, revealed that there was always more to the games than just sports. The slogan of the GTO was “Your Motherland Calls for You to Be Ready for Work and Defense” and the program helped create the sense that the country was in a state of perpetual mobilization throughout the Cold War.
Fortunately economic sanctions would be a potent deterrent provided they are used judiciously. Freezing the foreign assets of Russian oligarchs is the opposite of smart sanctions. Oligarchs sending their profits and their children abroad weaken the Russian economy. Until now capital flight was more or less offset by foreign direct investment. Effective sanctions would discourage the inflow of funds, whether in the form of direct investments or bank loans.
If there is any human rights activist in Russia whose work is likely to have some sympathy from the Russian public, it may well be Khabarov. Police corruption is one aspect of the current system that the average Russian citizen encounters on an everyday basis—to a point where it can be hard to distinguish police officials from the crooks they’re supposed to be pursuing.
.. I speak of the Circassians, the local ethnic minority that tried to use the Games to draw attention to the historical injustices committed against them by the tsarist empire in the mid-nineteenth century (and largely ignored by the world). After fighting a long war of resistance against advancing Russian troops, the last Circassian fighters finally surrendered at Krasnaya Polyana (which also served as the venue for alpine sports during the Winter Olympics) exactly 150 years before the opening of the games. Most of those who had survived the Russians’ scorched-earth counterinsurgency tactics were then deported to the Ottoman Empire under profoundly inhumane conditions. Some scholars estimate the number of Circassian deaths between 1860 and 1864 at around 1.5 million. Some have referred to it as the first modern genocide.