In a recent issue of Information Daily David Adams, head of a British consulting firm that helps London do business with Russia, provided an overview of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Given his vested interest in currying favor with the Kremlin, it’s hardly surprising that Adams doesn’t give full account of the prospects for Olympic success in Russia. His self-serving comments only assist Russia in sliding further into misery.
Adams gets it very wrong from the start by claiming that the Olympics are “all about business.” In fact, they’re all about spirit, ideals and inspiration, and in a wide variety of ways, Russia is egregiously violating the Olympic spirit.
Most recently, Russia declared homosexual athletes persona non grata in Russia (along with all other gays). They are now subject to arrest for just for talking about being gay or making public displays of affection. Gay groups are calling for a boycott of the games because of this new crackdown.
A year after being awarded the games, Russia invaded its tiny neighbor Georgia, annexing two large chunks of its territory and killing many Georgian civilians. Not one major nation of the world has recognized this barbaric act as legitimate. Many have called for a boycott of the games on this basis as well.
That’s to say nothing of the fact that Sochi is a beach resort with not a scrap of real winter spirit and potentially huge problems with snow. It’s not mentioning the fact that Sochi is viewed by many local Muslims as holy ground being desecrated by the Olympic build-out, and is surrounded by areas of Russia that are hotbeds of unchecked terror and insurrection where murders of police and political leaders are common. The leading Russian Islamic extremist, Doku Umarev, has openly declared war on the Sochi games, placing the lives of all athletes who go there in jeopardy.
On the other hand, visitors to Russia face profound risks just by boarding an airplane or train. Russian passenger jets drop out of the sky with frightening regularity, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world to travel by air. Russian trains frequently derail, making them a not-much-better option.
Recent polls show that Russians believe their nation is one of a handful in the world where official corruption dominates, and also believe that the country’s ruler Vladimir Putin has failed miserably to correct the situation despite more than a decade of power. Because of this corruption, Russians are forced to spend a truly spectacular sum in order to get the games off the ground, more than $50 billion. Russia is a country that doesn’t rank in the top 125 nations of the world for life expectancy, and AIDS is exploding out of control. It can’t afford this type of diversion of critical resources.
Adams doesn’t address any of these issues, except to very misleadingly point to Putin’s empty declared desire to fight corruption, ignoring his total failure and the massive corruption allegations that surround the Sochi build-out. He tries to defend Russia by claiming it is the victim out outdated misperceptions, but in doing so he himself dispenses that very sort of disinformation.
Russia is ruled by Putin, a proud KGB spy who is rehabilitating Josef Stalin and imposing Soviet-like control over history textbooks. Putin jailed his first major rival, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and is now planning an outrageous third round of sham criminal charges designed to keep Khodorkovsky in jail for life. He also has his second major rival, Alexei Navalny, on trial in Kirov facing similarly trumped-up charges of alleged corruption. And he’s even dared to put a dead man on trial, attorney Sergei Magnitsky, a man who was arrested after openly challenging Putin on corruption and then murdered in prison. The US government has imposed official sanctions on the Russians involved in Magnitsky’s murder. These are not misperceptions, they are facts.
Adams fails to acknowledge in reality it’s Putin who trades in misperceptions. Putin owns and operates every major Russian TV station (the key source of news for 90% of Russians) and has cracked down hard on Internet freedom. He’s also launched a massive wave of attacks on non-governmental organizations that try to tell the real story about human rights violations in Russia, a country that is routinely convicted by the European Court for Human Rights for state-sponsored murder, kidnapping and torture in the Caucasus region where the hotbed of Chechnya is located.
Adams also points out that Putin has announced he wants to wean Russia off dependence on petroleum, without acknowledging that the share of the Russian budget that relies on petroleum has increased dramatically under Putin, not fallen. In only a few of the many years Putin has been in power has economic growth bettered that seen in the last year of Boris Yeltsin, and today Russia is mired in recession. It is watching economic growth slow to a trickle while inflation soars (food prices are at near double-digit inflation), a clear sign that Russia’s economy is in dire straits. Though Putin claimed Russia was a “safe harbor” because of its petroleum, during the global economic downturn in 2008 Russia was the worst-performing major economy in the world.
Adams claims that Russian demographics are “changing, and quickly” and that in particular that its birthrate is rising. But all professional demographers, including those from the United Nations, agree that the recent uptick in the birthrate is a temporary glitch that will soon reverse itself. The Voice of America recently reported that the number of Russians aged 15-29 is expected to fall by more than one quarter by 2022. Most of the people who will be that age at that time will have been born under Putin.
Adams argues that Russia has a bright future in technology. That’s only true if you believe leading the world in piracy and hacking is a good thing. Recent data shows that over 90% of all books downloaded in Russia are pirated, and an avalanche of similar statistics can be easily produced. The Skolkovo technology city touted by Adams is viewed in Russia as a national joke and disgrace, and it has no tangible achievements of any kind to its name. It has recently become the target of a massive fraud probe which Adams chooses not to talk about.
Perhaps the most stunningly misleading information Adams refers to, though, pertains to tourism, which he claims is rising in Russia. In fact, data clearly shows that Moscow is ranked by travelers as the most odious destination in the world across a wide range of criteria, and Russia doesn’t have a single one of the world’s top 20 destinations either for tourist arrivals or tourist spending. Olympic guests are in for quite an eye-opener.
Like Adolf Hitler once tried, Putin will seek to use the Sochi Games to tell the people of Russia that his failing, brutal, repressive and regressive style of government is approved by the Western world. He will claim this justifies his continued campaign against political opponents (more journalists are murdered in Russia than virtually any place else) and his aggressive foreign policy. If he gets away with it, it will be the lowest moment in the history of the Olympiad.