Editor’s Note: In an interview with Brook Silva-Braga, host of the Washington Post’s “The Take,” Fiona Hill outlines why Vladamir Putin has invested time and money into hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and what it implies about Putin’s leadership style. An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below.
Fiona Hill: In many respects, Sochi is kind of unusual. Olympic projects are not usually… they’re very good for the state or the government, you know, they are pursued for different kinds of reasons. But they’re not usually a personal project.
What’s interesting about Sochi is it’s personally very important for Vladimir Putin. So this is really putting Putin himself on the line, it really also underscores how much the leadership of this current government is personalized in the man himself. That also heightens the risk — when you tie yourself personally up so much with an individual project.
Brook Silva-Braga: And why would he do it? Why is it personally important to him?
Hill: There’s an interesting angle to this. Mr. Putin is an outsider to Moscow. The new urban elite, the new middle class, has no great love for Mr. Putin. He’s from Leningrad, from St. Petersburg, the second city. He’s done a number of projects there, but Sochi is his personal city. He’s associated with it. He’s had masses of state meetings there. He’s flown people from all over the place; they think they’re meeting him in Moscow – next thing they know they’re going down to Sochi. He has made this his project. In many respects the way Peter the Great made St. Petersburg his own imperial project, Putin has made Sochi this. It’s really kind of put his stamp on Russia.
[The economy is] an issue where [Rouhani] has a greater chance of avoiding real gridlock within the system itself. It’s not nearly as dangerous as taking on issues of political prisoners or trying to open up the political space to those who feel marginalized.