Out, out and out.
Peskov was chatting over coffee here in Sochi with a few reporters, and he fixed them with a true-believer gaze as he described the Russia that will be revealed — especially to Americans viewing the world through Cold War-frosted glasses — as the flags are raised for the Opening Ceremonies on Feb. 7, 2014.
Olympics fans will encounter an open country — open for investment, open for engagement, a country capable of making visitors feel welcome, he said. “A country where smiling people live. A country like other countries.”
Putin was so determined to win the Games for Sochi that he flew to Guatemala City in July 2007 and wooed delegates of the International Olympic Committee in assertive English, a language he almost never speaks in public. (When he crooned “Blueberry Hill” in English at a children’s cancer benefit in St. Petersburg two years ago, the star-studded audience almost swooned.)
He informed the delegates that the ancient Greeks had lived around Sochi, that he had recently skied above the city in the Caucasus Mountains and had seen the rock where the Greek gods had bound Prometheus, an eagle feeding on his liver each day as punishment for giving humanity fire. Fire . . . Olympic flame . . . Russia. Get it? He finished his presentation in mellifluous French. Russia won the Games by four votes.
“Russia has risen from its knees,” German Gref, then the economic development minister, told reporters at the time.
Putin has made Sochi his personal monument, just as Peter the Great did with the city of St. Petersburg, Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution, said in a Washington Post video interview last week.
“This is Putin himself on the line,” she said.
Peter, a man of outsize personality and stature (he stood 6-foot-7), built his Baltic Sea city on an empty, bleak bog. Putin, a loyal native of St. Petersburg, has taken up the unpretentious Black Sea city of Sochi, where he often goes to ski or relax behind the walls of a waterfront mansion.
Putin’s goal, according to Peskov, is to demonstrate Russia’s competence and class to the world by transforming a modest Soviet city into a grand, year-round resort. Sochi stretches along the coast, with one main road — Resort Prospect — so clogged with traffic that it can take an hour or more to drive a few miles. Before the Olympics bid, it had few Western-style hotels and no stadiums or ice rinks to rate an athlete’s glance. Thirty miles away, the Caucasus Mountains stood magnificent and undeveloped.
Peter ordered his noblemen to supply a steady stream of serfs to labor on his city, replenishing them as they died from disease and malnutrition, so Russia could show an imposing, European-featured face to the world.