Barely a week ago, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, came to a triumphant close. The games were free from terrorism, the ceremonies were lavish, the competition fierce and exciting. Russian President Vladimir Putin had made good, and the world could agree with Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee, when he closed the games by proclaiming, “This is the new face of Russia.” Days later, the old Russia would rear its head.
Over the weekend, Russian soldiers seized airports in Ukraine in what seems the start of an invasion. Crimea is now involved in a tug of what many fear will be war. “This is the red alert,” said Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk to reporters. “This is not a threat, this is actually a declaration of war to my country.”
Yatsenyuk was appealing to the West for help, and while the West has condemned Russia’s actions, President Putin shows no sign of being concerned or deterred. The “new face of Russia” looks very familiar.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Time out doesn’t mean an about face. In one sense, Russian President Putin did exactly what he was supposed to do: put political disagreements aside so the world could come together in the spirit of the Olympic Games. He was a gracious host to his guests, though he displaced his own people and killed stray dogs to build the Olympic Park. Nonetheless, Russia’s PR received an incredible boost during the Games. Within days, all of that good will has been undone. Having put on a grand party, it’s back to business as usual, and Putin cares less how Russia looks to the world now.