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Russia

Why Putin Cares So Much About Sochi

The Sochi Olympics are to Putin what Saint Petersburg was to Peter The Great. Freeing rivals, such as Khodorkovsky and Pussy Riot, are one more step toward sealing his place in history.

Vladimir Putin at the Krasnaya Polyana ski resort
Vladimir Putin at the Krasnaya Polyana ski resort
Marie Jégo

SOCHI — On Moscow’s Manege Square, located just minutes away from President Vladimir Putin’s office at the Kremlin, a giant digital clock counts down the days, hours, minutes until the beginning of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. The biggest international event organized by Russia since the fall of the USSR in 1991 will begin on Feb. 7, 2014.

Sochi, the old seaside resort of Russia’s nobility, is unrecognizable as it prepares to stand as the symbol of the country’s renewal, willing to show off its muscles and its newfound splendor. Large spaces are still under construction in this town of 400,000 inhabitants, located on a 145-kilometer-wide strip of land between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains that features little infrastructure.

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Russia

When Mom Believes Putin: A Russian Family Torn Apart Over Ukraine Invasion

Sisters Rante and Satu Vodich fled Russia because they could no longer bear to live under Putin — but their mother believes state propaganda about the war. Her daughters are building a new life for themselves in Georgia.

A mother and her daughter on a barricade in Kyiv

Steffi Unsleber

TBILISI — On a gloomy afternoon in May, Rante Vodich gets the keys to her new home. A week earlier, the 27-year-old found this wooden shed in Tbilisi, with a corrugated iron roof and ramshackle bathroom. The shed next door houses an old bed covered in dust. Vodich refers to the place as a “studio” and pays $300 per month in rent. She says finding the studio is the best thing that’s happened to her since she came to Georgia. It is her hope for the future.

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Her younger sister Satu Vodich is around 400 kilometers further west, in the city of Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast, surrounded by Russian tourists, Ukrainian flags, skyscrapers with sea views and the run-down homes of local residents.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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