Thanks in part to some cheating in the women’s figure skating competition, Russia ended up on top in the Olympic medals count. But the real benefits to the Kremlin regime came during the closing ceremonies, broadcast by NBC and narrated in part by former Soviet propagandist Vladimir Pozner. The ceremonies were “a celebration of everything Russia,” noted The New York Times. NBC described it as “a cultural pageant for the world,” brought to the world by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regime in Moscow.
New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich warned that “…history could well end up judging the Sochi Games as harshly as it does the notorious Berlin Games.” He added, “If Putin’s authoritarian agenda of harsh and violent repression keeps metastasizing in Russia, Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere—a likely prospect once the Games are over and he is liberated from acting within its spotlight—Sochi may be remembered, as the Berlin Games are, as a giant propaganda gift bestowed on him by dupes and quislings.”
Speaking directly to NBC’s coverage, he said “…there’s a noxious fiddling-while-Kiev-burns surreality to the network’s traditional upbeat Olympics packaging when people are being slaughtered in the streets some 600 miles away from Sochi and Putin continues to brutalize dissenters of all kinds in Russia itself. You have to wonder if future generations will judge the treacly, gung-ho Sochi coverage in years hence much as they look back now on Leni Riefenstahl’s feel-good propaganda film from the Berlin Games, Olympia—as technically impressive but morally obtuse.”
NBC is owned by Comcast, which has launched a $45 billion bid to purchase Time Warner Cable. Comcast also owns cable channels CNBC and MSNBC.
Depending on the coverage which now occurs, the overthrow of Putin’s ally in Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovych, may dampen the celebration.
Putin shares the dictator’s style, but his corruption dwarfs that of Yanukovych, who is now on the run and facing arrest.
The Toronto Globe and Mail captured the Olympics scene: “With all TV cameras trained on the clapping Russian president Vladimir Putin, in a blue suit, standing next to IOC [International Olympic Committee] president Thomas Bach, an enormous Russian flag was carried onto the vast stage of the Fisht Olympic stadium. There was wild applause, followed by the Russian national anthem, sung in rousing form by the 1,000—yes 1,000—members of the Pan-Russian children’s choir.”
Pozner joined Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth to comment on the ceremonies. Jim Bell, executive producer of the NBC Olympics coverage, said that Pozner was “uniquely qualified to provide a Russian outlook to our audience during the Sochi Olympics.”
AIM’s chairman Reed Irvine had regular confrontations with Pozner during the 1980s when Pozner was a fixture on American television, apologizing for the Soviet regime and appearing on such programs as NBC’s Today Show and ABC’s Nightline. Irvine noted that Soviet reporters like Pozner were “all government employees, all under the direction of the Communist Party.”
While Pozner did comment critically on some aspects of Russian life, such as the effects of Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law, one of his contributions during the closing ceremonies was to point out the elementary fact that the music of the Russian national anthem is the same as the old Soviet anthem—but that references in the lyrics to Stalin and Lenin have been dropped. This may or may not say a lot about the “collapse” of Soviet-style communism, but there was no extended discussion in this regard. It would have been an opportunity to discuss Putin’s career in the KGB.
While the closing ceremonies were indeed spectacular, in terms of entertainment and fireworks, the commentators failed to note it was made possible by the looting of the Russian treasury by Putin and his cronies. The cost of the games was $50 billion, with $30 billion of that stolen and diverted into the private bank accounts of the ruling elites.
In comparison to Ukraine, where the luxurious presidential home has been exposed in a series of photographs, Russia’s elites seem to think their regime is safe from public protests. Putin is personally estimated to have a fortune worth as much as $70 billion.
The photos of the Yanukovych home show artificial lakes, a private zoo, golden toilets, a huge garage full of cars and motorbikes, and a new golf course. Meanwhile, Ukraine is going broke.
While his lavish country estate is now on display, his luxuries pale in comparison to those of Putin. The report, “The Life of a Galley Slave,” examines Putin’s lifestyle, including yachts, planes, state villas and palaces, helicopters and luxury wristwatches. The title is taken from Putin’s comment that he works like a galley slave for the Russian people. One Russian website notes, “Vladimir Putin lives like a tsar and rules like a Soviet president.”
A United Nations report, “The Evolution of Personal Wealth in the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe,” examines “the emergence of a handful of super-rich tycoons in Russia—so called ‘oligarchs,’” and the rise of inequality.
Putin crony Vladimir Yakunin, a former KGB officer like Putin, has reportedly made millions, if not billions, from the games. The report, “Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics,” states that while he was working on various Sochi-related construction projects, he “began building his own property in the village of Akulinino” that includes an owners’ residence, apartments, a guest house, a servants’ quarters, a garage for 15 cars, a sauna, a swimming pool and a prayer room.
The report notes, “The multi-billion dollar cost of the Sochi Olympics has become a matter of broad public discussion.” However, official reports have been classified “For Official Use Only” and not released.
The report goes on, “The authorities are very reluctant to discuss what will happen to the Olympic venues after February 2014. After all, no one in Sochi plays ice hockey, nor do they skate or do figure skating. You cannot find a single biathlete, skier, or skater born in Sochi. Moreover, Greater Sochi is a city with a population of half a million. The number of seats at the Olympic venues is around 200,000. It is obvious that the stadiums, except for the few days that the Olympic Games last, will remain empty…It is not hard to guess that the sports facilities in Sochi will remain empty and will, in the end, fall apart.”
The writers of the report say the problems “can only be fixed by changing the political system in the country. Specifically, we need to change Putin’s system of crony bandit capitalism and move to a system with a fully functional democracy and a competitive economy.”
At a recent event sponsored by the Institute for Modern Russia, former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky said he believes “there is no future” for the current regime and that “it is very unstable and may easily collapse.” He cautioned, however, that “many lessons of the dissident movement, the Soviet system, and the Cold War remain unlearned” in Russia today as well as in the West.
Bukovsky lamented the failure to hold “a kind of Nuremberg Trial for the Communist system.” As a result, there was “a return of some part of that communist system, namely the KGB, to power,” he said.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at [email protected].