Welcome to the 'Danger Games'
If Russia's handling of the Olympic torch relay leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is any indication of what will happen during the event itself, it may not be precaution enough to stay out of Russia. One may need to leave the planet (just make sure it's not on a Russian rocket, though).
The problems started at the very beginning, with two fatal missteps by the Putin administration, missteps that seriously belied Putin's ballyhooed claims of competence.
Then, Russia paid a cut-rate price, significantly less than London paid, for each torch. In Russia, because of widespread corruption, to get the same quality as London it was necessary to allocate at least three or four times as much, not much less. This is why the Sochi games will cost Russia over $50 billion, vastly more than any other games in history.
Paying less than London paid to a firm connected with Proton is a demented scheme that couldn't have been dreamed up by Russia's worst enemy. Only a Russian could devise such a fanatically perfect mechanism for self-destruction.
The result was predictable: absolute disaster. First there was the frying pan and then, quite literally, there was the fire.
From the very beginning, Russia could not keep the torch lit. Over and over and over again, the torch flickered out during the relay proceedings, including while the flame was within the walls of the Kremlin itself, and while it was being wielded by some of Russia's most legendary athletes. Over and over and over again, cigarette lighters offered by bystanders were used to relight the torch and extinguish the precious flame brought from Greece. It was a burning, brutal humiliation.
But soon, it was the good old days.
Because quite soon, Russia had exactly the opposite problem with the torch: not too little fire, but far, far too much. The defective torches began bursting spontaneously into explosive, life-threatening holocausts. First one almost incinerated a little girl, and then, in surely one of the lowest moments in all of Russian history, it almost got Santa Claus.
Hard as it may be to believe, for the sour cherry on this sordid sundae, Russia actually planned to send the exploding torch into space, presumably on the exploding rocket, reminding the entire planet of disastrous saga in the most sensational way possible.
Now focus on this: The country that brought you this Keystone Cops affair is the same country responsible for protecting your national athletes from the likes of Doku Umarov, one of the most malignant and dangerous terrorists on the face of the earth.
Umarov, leader of the separatist Islamic rebels in Russia's Caucasus region, where the Olympiad will take place, sees the Sochi Games as a "Satanic dance" on the graves of his ancestors who were butchered there fighting for their religion against the Russian monarchy. To say the least, he is not amused, and he has sworn violent vengeance will be his before, during, and after the Games.
The world may have gotten its first taste of this vengeance days ago when a commuter bus in Volograd, one of the largest cities bordering the Caucasus region, exploded, killing six innocent people, all under thirty, including three teenagers. A Muslim female suicide bomber, known in Russia as "black widows" because they are so common, was responsible.
No thinking person can reflect on Russia's handling of the torch relay and conclude that it can be trusted to protect Olympic athletes and fans from terrorism. Russia has sought to put in place an ominous, totalitarian surveillance system in Sochi, but as is so often the case with Russia this will likely only lead to the worst of all possible worlds. The usual spirit of joy and freedom that permeates the Games will be destroyed by omnipresence secret police goons, but safety will not be purchased at that cost.
Russia has, for example, twice the number of police per capita that the USA does. And Russia also has twice the murders. Russia pays the price of safe streets, the total loss of freedom (and the innovation that goes with it), but it doesn't get what it paid for. It gets the worst of all possible worlds.
The scope of the Sochi disaster is not limited to the threat to personal safety, however. Far from it. Marketing firm Millward Brown's Peter Walshe has called Sochi the "danger Games," but not at all because of the risk to life and limb. He refers instead to the risk to the wallet, particularly the wallet of any multinational corporation foolish enough to sponsor them.
Russia's handling of public relations for Sochi, you see, has been just as disastrous as its handling of security. First Russia could not wait until after the Games to enact barbaric new restrictions on homosexuality, and then it could not wait to arrest more than two dozen citizens of various countries, including an American, who participated in a Greenpeace protest at an offshore Russian oil rig that lacked appropriate spill contingency plans and was cobbled together from bric-a-brac.
As if that weren't enough, race violence then exploded across the country and anti-immigrant pogroms raged like wildfire, giving rise already to threats that many athletes may boycott the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The result was that massive pressure is now being applied to corporate sponsors of the Sochi games to divest or at least speak out against Russian barbarism. In a particularly brutal PR snub, palpably in response to this pressure, NBC announced it would give a lead commentary role in Sochi to flamingly gay American figure skater who, wait for it, is married to a Russian.
The fact that the Kremlin would so hamhandedly allow so many wildfires, including literal ones, to spring up before Sochi had concluded ought to be alarming to even the most dedicated Putin fanatics. It shows that Putin has far less competence and far less control than the claims, and it shows that the world's athletes are in mortal danger when they arrive in Sochi next year.
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.