Consider the way in which the opening ceremony depicts Peter the Great creating St. Petersburg. For the music, the Petersburger March.
Written by a Finnish subject of Alexander I, who dedicated it to his brother-in-law Friedrich Wilhelm III, King of Prussia. At the Olympic opening, the mime troupe introduced the march with a very Prussian Lockpfeife fanfare, then presented a very Prussian Stechschritt during the march. No Euler and his infinite series, no Mendeleyev and his elements, no John Paul Jones turning muzhikii into seamen.
At the closing, the athletes brought in the Russian tricolor to Tchaikovsky's Festival Coronation March.
That's as in the coronation of, you guessed it, Alexander III.
Note in this version, that despite the red tabs on the uniforms, the performance includes the excerpts of God Save the Tsar that the communists scrubbed out of several Tchaikovsky compositions. There are also quotations from Denmark's King Christian Stood Before the Mast, honoring the Empress Maria, born Princess Dagmar of Denmark, and familiar to devotees of the various Anastasia legends as the Dowager Empress who must check out the latest delusional girl claiming to be her grand-daughter.
At the raising of the flag, a chorus sang all the stanzas of the current Russian national anthem. It's nowhere as bellicose as Stalin's original version; the final stanza is as innocuous as O Canada's "where pines and maples grow." Performing the whole thing, though, can be a bellicose statement. Imagine an international event in the United States in which a chorus sang "Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution" and "Conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto - 'In God is our Trust', And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave." We don't have to. Everybody gets it. And troubled though the land of the free and the home of the brave is, immigrants to these shores still get that everywhere else is more troubled.
Russia, though, is another matter.
Vladimir Putin wants to be remembered as the man who restored Russia to its proper place in the sun as a world power.Perhaps so. Mikhail Gorbachev correctly characterized the perestroika-era, post-Chernobyl USSR as "Upper Volta with rockets." Tom Clancy has already anticipated China's coveting of the Siberia that is home to all the elements of the periodic table of Mendeleyev.
There is only one problem with this ambition. Russia does not now have the means by which to pursue it, and it is not going to acquire the requisite means. Even if Putin succeeds in dismembering the Ukraine, he and his country will lose, and they will lose big.
To begin with, they will alienate all of their neighbors in Europe, and they will persuade not just Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Roumania, and Slovakia that Russia is a rogue power that must at all costs be weakened and contained. They will persuade the Germans, the Italians, the French, and the British that their neighbors to the East are right. And this means that NATO will be rejuvenated, and that the Europeans will once again look to us for leadership.
That is one problem. There is another. The Russians do not have the economic base requisite for such an assertion of power. Russia is a banana republic with nuclear weapons. Economically, it is almost as dependent on resource extraction as Saudi Arabia, and the pertinent resource is slowly being depleted. In effect, Putin's Russians are eating their seed-corn. They could have liberalized the Russian economy. They could have drawn closer and closer to the European Union with an eye to joining it eventually. They could have reinvested the profits from their sale of oil and gas in industry. They could have prepared for a future in which they will have little in the way of oil and gas to sell. Instead, they are wasting their resources on ships, planes, and soldiers that they do not need and cannot to good effect use.
At the same time, Putin's Russia is ignoring the only strategic threat it faces. The United States is not Russia's enemy. It is not even a rival. We once had an interest in containing and dismembering the Soviet empire in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union itself. We have no interest in further reducing Russia's extent; and, insofar as we see Russia as a potential trading partner, our interest lies in Russian economic development. The same can be said even more emphatically for Germany, France, Britain, and the other countries in Europe.
There is, however, one country with an imperial past and a renewed craving for empire that has territorial ambitions which make of it a threat to Russia, and that country is China. Russia is suffering a demographic implosion. It will be difficult for it to hold what it has. It is, moreover, well nigh impossible to get Russians to move to Siberia. It is not a pleasant place in which to live. The majority of those who live there today are not Russian. Many of them are Chinese who have journeyed north in search of well-paid work; and China, which is just across the border from Siberia, is an economic juggernaut increasingly desperate for resources of the very sort that are found in abundance in Siberia.
Vladimir Putin should think hard about the precedent he is setting in the Crimea. The day may come when China does to Russia in Siberia what he is trying to do right now to the Ukraine in the Crimea. Putin's government piously states that its only concern is to protect the majority Russian population in the Crimea from the Tatars and the Ukrainians there. China, in time, will say the like about the Chinese in Siberia. And when that day comes, he will have alienated everyone of any significance who might otherwise have rallied to Russia's defense.
Our aim for the past seven decades has been to reorder the world in such a fashion as to make war counter-productive. The name of the game is commerce. The weapon we deploy is simple and powerful. Those who agree to leave their neighbors alone and to allow freedom of commerce can profit from a a world-wide economic system that will enrich everyone. Those who buck that system and opt for imperial ventures will be contained, weakened, and defeated.
This is a lesson that France and Germany have taken to heart. But Vladimir Putin is simply too dumb to notice. He is a product of Russia's attempt to imitate Charles V of Spain, Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte of France, and Adolf Hitler of Germany in attempting to establish a universal monarchy in Europe and beyond. They failed, as did Joseph Stalin and his successors, and Putin, who has forgotten nothing that the Soviets taught and learned nothing from the failure of the old Soviet Union, will fail as well. In failing, moreover, this product of the old KGB will do his long-suffering compatriots a great deal of unnecessary harm.
In folly, in today's world, there is no one to compare with Vladimir the Great!
But Tsar Alexander was looking forward to celebrating the tricentennial of the Romanov dynasty, in 1913. He didn't live to see it.
Tsar Vladimir no doubt has the centennial of the Soviet dynasty in 1917 on his mind.