If you're a dictator with near-absolute control over your country, it shouldn't be TOO hard to throw a decent Olympics: Pour a bunch of money into the project and shoot anyone who threatens to make a scene. It's the easiest thing in the world. I hate to keep going back to the Nazi well, but if the hobnailed boots fit ...
Anyway, the 1936 Olympics were a high-water mark both for Hitler's prestige and for whoever cast all the extras in German Hollywood. The Nazis put on a dazzling show that enraptured the world and netted all the footage they needed to shoot The Triumph of the Will, a propaganda film with a cast in the hundreds of thousands:
The craft services table was Lichtenstein.
Putin had already been Supreme High Over-Czar of Russia (or whatever they have now) for 14 years when the Olympics rolled around. This made them a matter of pride, and Putin responded with his favorite tactic: spending other people's money. He spent at least 45 billion tax dollars on his games, cutting Russia's economic growth by a third and making "Putin's Games" significantly more expensive than just giving every Russian citizen their own gold medal.
He earned a city full of broken hotels and stray dogs for his trouble.
Joe Scarnici / Stringer / Getty
Tens of billions of dollars well spent.
OK, so maybe Putin isn't some badass tiger-shooting warlord. At least he's the kind of leader who stands the ever-loving shit on his ground, unlike our pussy-ass president, who barely ever invades sovereign nations with no provocation.
It's been, like, a decade since any president did that.
Putin doesn't give an inch, and you have to respect him for that. Well, unless you're Chechnyan rebel leader Akhmad Kadyrov. Then Putin gives you a shitload of money in exchange for not fighting his soldiers anymore. American presidents in movies won't negotiate with terrorists, but Vladimir Putin is all about that shit. Alas, more than $100 billion in promised aid wasn't enough to buy Putin much of anything: Kadyrov was assassinated in 2004. Apparently paying off one angry guy doesn't make his still-poor friends any less angry.
You can slap together as many macros as you want, but it won't change the fact that Vladimir Putin has exactly two strategies for dealing with adversity: throwing money at it, and throwing the Russian army at it. Yes, "the Russian army" sounds terrifying -- if you're anything like me*, you read those words in the voice of Patrick Swayze's character from Red Dawn, and you briefly hallucinated newsreel footage of the Red Army's endless columns of tanks and infantry.
Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty
*If you are anything like me, that happens on a regular basis no matter what you do.
Well the Russian army still has those big columns of men and tanks, and that's sort of exactly the damn problem. Putin's military is built around fighting the kind of war we fought in 1945, and billions of dollars in reform haven't fixed that yet. Russia still drafts, because she "cannot afford to create a fully professional army." That quote comes from Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, not some foreign journalists, although those journalists did talk to a soldier in one of Russia's few elite "professional" soldiering units, who reported an astonishing two shooting drills per year.
Putin has a scary-looking face and billions of dollars in PR to make him look the part of a proper Bond villain. But remember: fucking Hollywood invented Bond villains. So you should take this:
Dmitry Astakhov / AFP / Getty
Exactly as seriously as you took this:
Because they're both the same fucking man.
Robert Evans isn't a fan of Vladimir Putin. But if you're a fan of him, he can be reached here.