Russia Tends To Get Its Way In Politics And Other Areas

Whether in sports, politics, hacking or war, the recent history of Russia’s relations with the rest of the world can be summed up in one sentence: They get away with it.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia has perfected the art of flouting the rules, whether in the Olympic arena, international diplomacy, or interfering in other countries’ elections from the comfort of home. And he has suffered little from his actions.

In the Olympic Games in Beijing the country does not compete – officially. Its athletes compete under the acronym COR (Russian Olympic Committee) for the second time. The national colors and flag are banned due to a massive state doping scheme dating back to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

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But the first big scandal at the 2022 Games centers on a 15-year-old Russian figure skater who tested positive for a banned heart drug and could cost the delegation a gold medal in the team competition.

The provisional suspension of Kamila Valieva, like the so-called ban on official Russian participation in the Games, did not do much. Valieva continues to train while she considers the final decision and could still participate in the individual competition, where she is the favorite.

Those who have watched the country’s interactions with others in recent decades are not surprised.

“In Russia, the culture is generally that the end justifies the means and the only thing that matters is the outcome,” said Dimitri Alperovitch, director of the Silverado Policy Accelerator think tank, who grew up in the then-Soviet Union.

Doping in particular has been an old tradition in the Soviet Union and Russia, Alperovitch said. But Putin often operates with impunity in other arenas, including when the stakes are far more serious than medals.

More than 100,000 Russian soldiers are currently deployed along the border with Ukraine in preparation for a possible invasion. Despite weeks of diplomatic lobbying, Putin appears to still have the upper hand, pushing Europe to the brink of war and prompting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to call the situation “the most dangerous moment” on the continent in decades.

Many have accused the Russian government of poisonings, without consequences. Among those poisoned after criticizing the Kremlin: investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who fell seriously ill after drinking a cup of tea in 2004 and recovered but was shot dead two years later; and opposition politician and vocal Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who fell seriously ill from poisoning in 2020. Navalny has also recovered and is currently in prison in Russia. None of the poisonings was clearly linked to the Russian government.

Putin’s efforts to affect the US election included hacking the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to help then-Republican candidate Donald Trump and harm his rival, Hillary Clinton, US federal investigations have shown. Russian government hackers were charged last year in a massive campaign that targeted several vital federal agencies in the United States.

The current confrontation with Ukraine is not the first time that Russian militarism has threatened to violate the so-called “Olympic Truce”, an agreement between the nations established to set aside their conflicts during the Olympic Games.

In 2014, while hosting the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Putin seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and its strategic Black Sea ports. And during the 2008 Summer Games, also held in Beijing, Russia recognized Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway republics from neighboring Georgia, and strengthened its military presence there after a five-day war.

Economic sanctions and other punishments imposed by the United States and its allies following various Russian transgressions appear to have had little effect in deterring future misconduct by Putin.

In 2020, the Justice Department charged six current and former Russian intelligence officials with a hacking campaign against the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. They were accused of launching devastating malware during the Games opening ceremony, appearing in retaliation for the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban Russia from future Olympics over the doping scandal.

“Time and time again, Russia has made it clear: It will not abide by accepted international standards and instead plans to continue its destructive, destabilizing behavior,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said when the indictments were announced.

And again and again Russia proceeds unflinchingly. So there was Putin last Friday, waving from his luxury box to Russian athletes as they entered the stadium in Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Although it is forbidden to wear the flag on Russian uniforms at these Olympics, Russian flags flew from the stands as the COR men’s hockey team, wearing their traditional red during the ceremony, beat Switzerland in their opening match.

“I don’t know why the Russians are competing, given their doping history,” said Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who chaired the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. “I think it’s a huge mistake.”

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