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The Realist Prism: Putin’s Sochi Games Global Even Without Obama, West

Friday, Feb. 14, 2014

The general consensus in the Western media is that the Sochi Olympics have been a diplomatic failure for Russian President Vladimir Putin. If the Winter Games were supposed to be the coming out party for a Russia resurgent two decades after the Soviet collapse, then the deliberate decision by several European and American leaders—including Barack Obama, David Cameron and Francois Hollande—to skip attending the Olympiad in tacit protest of Russian policies, particularly on gay rights, spoiled those plans.

The Russian response has been that the Sochi games have broken all records for the attendance of world leaders at the Winter Games and to suggest a certain degree of what might be termed “Euro-Atlanto-centrism” in the Western media coverage, as if the presence of Western leaders at a global event makes or breaks it. As Richard Weitz noted earlier this week, the leaders of the world’s second- and third-largest economies, Xi Jingping of China and Shinzo Abe of Japan, respectively, were present and took advantage of the games to conduct informal summits with the Russian president. The Russians may even have heaved a sigh of relief that Obama did not attend. Given the intense political pressure in the United States for a complete boycott of Sochi, the president, had he traveled to Sochi, would undoubtedly have publicly lectured Putin for his human rights record—something that would have been seen by the Kremlin as an intolerable humiliation. ...

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