Dishonor at Sochi
If you would like to have a readily accessible glimpse from your armchair into the real neo-Soviet horror that is taking place in Vladimir Putin's Russia these days, you could not do better than perusing an article recently published by Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBTH) entitled "VIP turnout at Sochi: Trouble, but not a tragedy."
The article was penned by one Gevorg Mirzayan, identified as a correspondent for the Russian magazine Expert and a research fellow at the U.S. and Canada Studies Institute of the Kremlin-operated Russian Academy of Sciences. In other words, he's one of Putin's henchmen, as are the editors of RBTH, which is Kremlin-funded and run.
Every paragraph in Mirzayan's piece contains an outrageously misleading statement or outright lie, clearly published for the propaganda purpose of blunting a tidal wave of criticism rolling over the 2014 Olympiad.
As an example of that wave, take for instance the words of leading Russia scholar Angele Stent of Georgetown University in the pages of the New York Times. Stent writes: "The Olympics have dampened, rather than heightened, the luster evoked by the Russian leader."
Indeed, there is disaster everywhere you turn in Putin's Russia these days. As the Olympics open in Sochi, the national currency has hit its lowest value ever against euro despite being propped up by the Kremlin to the tune of a billion dollars a day. Russia's first big national project, the Skolkovo technology complex, was exposed as a total failure when it was learned that Russia's national score for innovation had not improved but actually gotten worse. In Ukraine, anti-Russia protesters drove the pro-Russia PM and his entire cabinet from power, and local governments began to topple one by one, like dominoes.
The Russian leader's response, through lackeys like Mirzayan, is based on the Soviet model Putin learned from childhood: Lies and distortion. RBTH apparently has no compunctions about publishing these falsehoods in the service of its master's aims.
Mirzayan's article is based on two gigantic, overarching lies that try to address two of the three biggest black eyes Sochi have received, while ignoring the third and just hoping it will be forgotten. Only someone wholly unfamiliar with the basic facts could be fooled by these lies.
Mirzayan's first argument is that the totally unprecedented "huge expense" of staging the games is not a waste because it is an "investment in national consciousness." In doing so, he's aping Putin.
This is rhetorical perversion of the very lowest order. The issues that have been raised regarding the cost have nothing to do with the amount being spent, but rather involve allegations that half or more of the amount has been stolen. In a jaw-droppingly dishonest manner, Mirzayan does not even mention the issue of corruption in his 500-word text. I'm used to Kremlin propaganda, but even I am surprised by dishonesty this flagrant and bold. RBTH would have to be utterly without journalist ethics to publish it.
There's nothing wrong with Russia spending big to deliver a first-class Olympic experience to the world, and nobody says otherwise. But when Russian college students live in conditions of absolute squalor, and when Russians don't rank in the top 100 nations of the world for life expectancy but are in the top ten for mortality, to allow half the Olympic proceeds to be frittered away on graft and corruption is a national outrage and tragedy. Attempting to conceal this fact is even more outrageous.
Mirzayan's second argument is that it doesn't matter that leaders of the U.S, Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, Lithuania, and Canada have announced they won't attend the Russian games, because no actual athletes are boycotting. He states: "U.S. President Barack Obama didn't attend the London or Vancouver Games either, despite the fact that the UK and Canada are some of the closest allies of the United States."
Again, just amazingly mendacious, neo-Soviet stuff. The issue with the U.S. boycott is not that Obama isn't going to Sochi, but that no high-ranking U.S. official is going, not the vice president, not the first lady and not any member of Obama's cabinet. That kind of snub is unprecedented since the U.S. totally boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. Some high-ranking White House personage always attends the Olympics to cheer on our athletes. This year, none will. What's more, Obama packed the official U.S. delegation of also-rans and has-beens with prominent homosexual athletes, a move clearly designed to provoke and humiliate Putin. Mirzayan simply ignores all of this.
In another absolutely brutal snub, showing that the U.S. is on the same page with its NATO allies, the European Union would not even feed Putin dinner when he showed up at its headquarters in Brussels recently. RBTH disqualifies itself from being considered an outlet of journalism by publishing Mirzayan's hilariously dishonest and misleading statements. Someone who relied on this torrent of lies would simply have no idea at all what is going on in Sochi.
The whole point of Putin's spending over $50 billion on the Sochi games is to make Russia look good. What's actually happened is, as Stent correctly points out, the exact opposite. Putin is spending vast sums of money to achieve a black eye for his country.
Mirzayan concludes his shameless diatribe with this breathtaking whopper: "The Sochi Games will not be one that shows Russia's isolation from the global community, but rather a way to promote peace and cooperation between peoples" Is Mirzayan really unaware of the ominous clouds of terrorism that daily continue to block out the sun in Sochi? Of course not. He's just lying. The entire world has heard the U.S. government's warning about the danger of being in Sochi during the games, including a warning that U.S. athletes should not wear their national colors outside of the venues themselves, where security is at its highest.
When you read Mirzayan's lies, try to imagine they are coming not from an extremely obscure website like RBTH but from all four broadcast network evening news channels (ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS) simultaneously, and that these were your primary if not exclusive source of news. Then you will have some idea what it is like to live in Putin's Russia, where for a majority of the population the Internet is inaccessible, unaffordable or both, and where those who dare to use it are routinely prosecuted (Russian-language link).
Mirzayan does get one thing right, however: He triumphantly reports that there are indeed some cowards in the Western ranks who continue to seek appeasement with Putin. Maybe almost the entire NATO fold stands against Putin, but British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dutch royal family, Mirzayan points out, are swimming against the tide. However, the Cameron government is increasing funding for homosexual rights activists in Russia, another point Mirzayan chooses to ignore, so it is hardly a solid supporter of the Putin regime.
There was a joke in Soviet times about an American in Moscow who complained vociferously to his hotel desk clerk about a long litany of appalling "services" with which he had been victimized. The clerk's response: "Yes, but you lynch blacks."
To the Soviet way of thinking, any imperfection by an adversary (including spelling or punctuation), no matter how slight or irrelevant, is grounds not just for total discrediting but for incarceration. Even when a huge part of the world refused to attend the Moscow Olympics, the USSR still bullheadedly insisted it was a success because some athletes did come.
Soon after that, of course, the USSR collapsed into rubble, and make no mistake: Led by a proud KGB spy named Vladimir Putin, Russia is on this same course. It is practicing the same policies of repression and censorship that left the USSR blind and dumb, including even going back to the Soviet practice of ignoring nuclear arms treaty commitments, and if you listen closely during the Sochi games when Russians win gold medals you will hear a sound that will seem eerily familiar to you.
It'll be the melody of the national anthem of the USSR, which Russia still uses for its hymn. The song was written to glorify Josef Stalin, the greatest mass murderer of Russians in world history.
Those who attend the Sochi games may think they're visiting Russia, but in reality they are going back to the USSR.
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.