Have you read any good news about the Sochi Winter Olympics? I haven't. Everything about Sochi is negative. Here's a (very small) sampling:
The security is oppressive, Olympic Village wiring isn't finished, Sochi is a Black Sea beach resort and not a ski resort, Sochi residents feel neglected, gay athletes feel offended, spending on the Games is the most expensive in history, spending on the Games was hidden from the public, there isn't enough snow, there aren't enough hotel rooms, the IOC is concerned, the IOC is urging action, Sochi city hall is killing off stray dogs, the Olympic torch is sputtering, the slopes are not world skiing standard, the government is cracking down on green activists, the government is releasing prisoners as a whitewash before the Games.
As the Olympic Games in Sochi begin, President Vladimir Putin is watching his dream eight years ago -- to win the Games for his favorite resort town -- go up in smoke. Like any national leader, he wanted to do an elegant makeover of his image. He wanted to be the benign statesman rather than the scowling authoritarian. He wanted to play the magnanimous host. He wanted to be Big Man on the (World) Campus, and that fat chunk of dough he spent on the Games is the measure of how much he wanted all this.
And what is he getting for his oil money? None of the above. For the western media have no intention of giving him a break. It's hard to believe that a smart man like President Putin was so blind as to see how the media would tear him apart for every big and little mistake.
I typed "Sochi proud" into Google and found only stories about people proud to represent their countries in the Olympics. Fair enough. So I put "Sochi residents proud." Only one story was favourable: from the Moscow Times. The rest were stories about how Putin was far prouder of the games than were any of the locals, many of whom had been forcibly relocated, and environmental problems in Sochi, and nearby villages up in arms, and etc., etc., etc..
And of course, as the Games begin and world attention is really focused, the reports will only get worse. For every report of triumph on the slopes there will be another of how Russians in a nearby village can't get any bread because it's all going to the athletes, or how local residents make two cents an hour harvesting wheat by hand, or how there's no sugar in the Olympic cafeteria, or how the hotel beds don't have sheets. Some skating star will soon tweet that she lost the gold medal due to a stuffy nose because her room was too cold, and American snowboarders will be sneering about how slow the Internet is and how they can't log on to their favorite video games without having to wait thirty whole seconds. Trust those sleek-haired souls at Fox News to make thirty seconds sound like thirty hours.
Then throw in a terrorist attack -- even a popgun, even one that didn't go off, or just a decent firecracker sponsored by those thoughtful people in Langley, Virginia. And we'll all be reminded once again of the hard lives of oppressed minorities under President Putin. By the time the Para-Olympic folks go home, the rest of the world will no doubt have consigned Russia to that rank of nations that includes Niger and Bhutan.
So it wouldn't surprise me if a bitter President Putin decided to do something about it. After all, he's already taken a few slaps in the face, like American missile "defenses" on his country's border (protecting Europe from Iran!) and Ukrainians raising holy hell about their government siding with Russia rather than the European Union. He will see dashed his hopes of making the Games a kind of coming-out party for the modern, prosperous Russia, one of the BRIC countries that even clothing lines like Mango and Zara have to respect. He will see his country made a laughing-stock, whether it deserves it or not, because the western media, especially in the United States, is going to make sure that Russia and President Putin get the full salvo of coconut pie blown in their faces.
And that, I think, is dangerous. Marking the hundredth anniversary of World War One, many commentators have talked about a new "Sarajevo moment" that ignites a new world conflagration. Sochi could well be that moment, even if we don't know it for some time.
There are a hundred ways in which an angry Putin, who figures that he has little to lose and no face left to save, could shove a stout stick into the wheels of the wobbling capitalist bicycle -- and then retreat to those oil-rich steppes to enjoy the show.
Well, maybe and maybe not. But as I watch the clouds gather over Sochi and the muscle-bound pride of Mr. Putin -- not a nice man -- taking its first dents, I wonder fearfully where this will lead.