Putin is losing the Sochi Olympic game

Syria may not benefit much from these developments, but Russia and Putin are paying a price. A man deeply preoccupied with his self-image as the bare-chested ruler of a superpower saw himself humiliated at an E.U.-Russia summit last week, denied the traditional dinner by Europeans disgusted by his foreign policy. That came after President Obama failed even to mention Russia or its leader in his State of the Union speech. The “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, which allowed Putin to present himself as the natural counterpart to the U.S. president, has been rubbed out.

What about Putin’s new model of authoritarian government based on “traditional values,” such as homophobia? Ask Ukrainians. The story of their political crisis is, to a large degree, a story of Putin’s attempt to install his model in a country that has been bonded to Russia for centuries and where one-sixth of the population is ethnic Russian. This includes the anti-gay agenda: Putin’s surrogates and Russian media have claimed the Western-backed Ukrainian opposition wants to undermine the country’s heterosexual norms…

What about in Russia itself? Putin’s policies play better at home, to be sure. But there, too, all is not well: Once robust economic growth has stalled, the ruble is plunging in value, badly needed foreign investment is scarce and anger at Sochi-style corruption simmers. When the independent Levada center polled Russians last month on whether they wanted Putin to remain president after his current term expires, 22 percent said yes and 47 percent said no. The “new Russia” Putin will unveil in Sochi doesn’t look likely to last.