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Saying ‘No’ to Putin in Sochi

In less than five months, Vladimir Putin will open the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Russia’s subtropical Black Sea resort of Sochi. For the Kremlin leader, the Sochi Games are not about sport—they are about political prestige and international legitimacy. No expense is spared for the president’s personal pet project. Putin’s Olympics have already cost more than all the Winter Games combined since their inception in 1924. Only the amount of money stolen during construction has been estimated at $30 billion. Olympic preparations were marred not only by corruption, but also by forced evictions of local residents, severe environmental damage, and mistreatment of construction workers, including torture.

As Putin prepares to host the prestigious international event, he shows no sign of diminishing domestic repressions. Lest anyone forget, his is a regime that falsifies elections, disperses peaceful demonstrations, censors the media, jails political opponents, and breeds mammoth corruption. The presence of Western leaders at the Olympic ceremonies alongside Putin—which the Kremlin desperately craves—would constitute a tacit approval of this regime and its practices.

In the run-up to the Olympics, Marek Migalski, a member of the European Parliament and of the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, launched a petition urging European Union leaders not to go to Sochi. This initiative is being supported by leading representatives of Russian civil society and democratic opposition, including People’s Freedom Party leader Boris Nemtsov, who emphasized that “politicians from democratic nations must not ignore corruption and human rights abuses in Russia.” “I support the idea of principled non-participation by the leaders of the free world in Putin’s Olympics,” Nemtsov continued. “Let the athletes compete. But let Putin appear in the stands not with foreign politicians, but with his friends—former KGB operatives and crooks.” At the very least, the opposition leader suggested, Western politicians should condition their participation in the Sochi events on the release of the “Bolotnaya prisoners”—anti-Putin demonstrators arrested on trumped-up charges of “inciting riots”—who are currently being tried in a Soviet-style show trial in Moscow.

Refraining from giving Putin’s regime a “respectable” image with participation in his show—or at least demanding tangible concessions in return—is a small price for the free world to uphold its values and to demonstrate solidarity with all Russians who are being persecuted simply for opposing Vladimir Putin.

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