INDIANAPOLIS — As day slipped into night during the cruel winter of 2014, millions of Americans watched the mesmerizing closing ceremony of the Sochi Olympics.
This was a stunning facade of the Russian Federation, particularly its tribute to writers, with their portraits rising up from the floor . . . Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and, amazingly, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the author who revealed the epic cruelty of gulags of the Soviet Stalin era. Eighteen days prior in the Sochi opening ceremony, America and the world would witness a national self-interpretation of Russian history, with the classics and its Czarist monarchy giving way to the red, mechanized Soviet period as gears rolled by and Stalinist busts floated with hammers and sickles above.
NBC had brought in Vladimir Pozner, the Russian TV commentator who would explain the perplexing giant to the east. “It’s a land many, many people have had problems understanding,” Pozner observed.
When it was all over, the Sochi bear mascot blew out the Olympic flame and a tear rolled down its cheek. Looking on was Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin presided over his glory at Sochi, while 500 miles to the northwest Kiev rioted and the Ukrainian government fled after massacring 80 people. The final Olympic weekend had been a juxtaposition of epic state craft propaganda while in Kiev, dissidents advanced beyond barricades as Yanukovich’s troops fired into the crowd before he fled.
It was easy to sense that within hours after this closing ceremony on the world’s sporting community, an entire new chapter was about to be written. By the end of the week, Putin had ordered an invasion of the Crimean peninsula. There will be a referendum there where people are expected to vote to join Russia. At this writing, Russian troops are massing on Ukraine’s border.
One of the Russian writers not represented at the closing ceremony was Anna Politkovskaya, author of the 2004 book “Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy.” Politkoskaya was not present in Sochi because she was murdered in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. The case has never been solved.