Power to the People

Civil unrest in the Ukraine was escalated this week by a Putin-backed Russian invasion, less than two weeks after the Sochi-hosted XXII Olympic Winter Games came to a close.

Russian President Vladimir Putin asked his country’s Parliament to approve the military action in Crimea, a clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, propelling President Obama and the United Nations to act, either militarily or with economic sanctions, including possibly removing the former Soviet Union leader from the G8 forum of leading industrialized democracies.

Putin’s actions come at a time when the world have unfavorable or mixed views of Russia, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Global Attitudes survey.  More importantly, recent events in the Ukraine overshadow any favorable publicity Russia may have generated during the 2014 Olympiad.

While it is unclear how events in the Ukraine will play out, there is one movement that seems to be gaining traction throughout the world: protest.  Maybe it’s just perception or the rise of social media, which enabled Egypt’s rebellion that ousted two corrupt governments and spawned the awarding-winning documentary, “The Square.”  Heck, it was anti-government protesters just weeks ago that helped expel Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, one reason for Russia’s current involvement in that country.

From the Arab Spring to Venezuela, people are protesting for change, whether it is to improve human rights, achieve better economic conditions or gain new leadership.  Is it Western influenced propaganda driving these actions?  Probably not.  Long gone are the days when leaflets were dropped from airplanes to influence change, such as with the Japanese during WWII, although radio proved to be a very effective medium in psychological warfare.

Looking back more than two centuries ago, it was Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” that helped ignite an American revolution.  This pamphlet at the time was read by more people per capita than any other book published in American history.  Many believe it’s the greatest piece of propaganda ever written.

Today the Internet is the vehicle used to drive change.  Rebellion can come in the form of a tweet, post or even a blog.  Either way, the power of protest is alive and well, and spreading globally.

Putin’s $50B Ad Campaign

It’s just a few days until the XXII Olympic Winter Games will come to an end and the world will then turn its eyes away from Sochi as host to the 2014 Olympiad.
Russian President Vladimir Putin forked up nearly $50 billion to make Sochi Olympic-ready, apparently spending more on infrastructure improvements than all the Olympiads combined.  To most outsiders, the move seems somewhat impetuous given Russia’s slowing economy and areas of poverty.  However, many hosting countries see the Olympics as a huge business opportunity and branding campaign.

Opening Ceremonies for the XXII Winter Olympics

Rightly so, but is it working?  The final payoff has not yet been tallied, but the event certainly provides a worldly stage to tout Russia’s key attributes, whether it’s the people, natural resources, or the products and services the federal semi-presidential republic offers.  For Putin, it is Russia’s new deal, a reborn and growing economy with renewed promise and hope.
Much of the world, however, have unfavorable or mixed views of Russia, at least according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Global Attitudes survey.  People in only nine of 38 countries surveyed say they have a positive view of Russia, while 43 percent of Americans express a negative opinion toward the former Soviet Union powerhouse.  These attitudes are dwarfed by recent worries of terrorist attacks, as well as deadly riots in the Ukraine, which apparently are a result of Putin’s alleged influence over that country’s economy.
Still, positive stories about Russia continue to emerge as picturesque views of Sochi’s mountainous landscape provide great visuals for this new narrative about a stodgy regime transforming itself into a 21st century economy.  This concept seems mostly driven by Russia’s people, at least according to one story that recently aired on American national TV about Moscow’s bustling new economy, where a person interviewed said, “Nothing is allowed in Russia, but everything is possible.”  Seems like the unofficial tagline for today’s Russia, don’t it?

It’s a pretty safe bet that hosting the Olympics will yield some kind of positive results for Russia, not including its medal count, however, especially given the disappointing loss from its men’s hockey team who were defeated by Finland 3-1.   While Putin had high hopes for bringing home a medal in men’s hockey, he continues to be engaged in these Olympics, promoting the country’s goodwill and hospitality while staying on message.
No doubt Putin will leverage this Olympic buzz both from a political and economic perspective, portraying Russia in a favorable glow.  Actually, the $50 billion spent on the Olympics is a relatively small price tag when compared to Russia’s $2.7 trillion economy, so it’s probably money well spent, although it may take much more than money to manage negative perceptions when it comes to Russia’s tough anti-gay laws.