It is not unimportant to remember, in connection with the controversial Winter Olympics soon to be held in Sochi in the Russian Federation, that President Vladimir Putin hails from St. Petersburg, the city (in the Soviet era known as Leningrad) created in the early 18th century by Peter the Great on the mosquito-infested marshes where the Neva river flows into the Baltic Sea.
In the imperial spirit that led to the making of this ex-nihilo city, Putin is reinventing Sochi into a Winter-Olympics town -- a port located, of all places (for a Winter Olympics), on a Black Sea eastern coast with a sub-tropical climate.
The two towns -- St. Petersburg and Sochi, both on the shore of strategically important seas -- are on the periphery of an essentially landlocked Russian geographical expression whose rulers historically have been obsessed with security against invaders (ranging from Tartars in the east to Germans in the West).
These tsars and commissars have tried to protect, for centuries, the vast, ill-defined space putatively under their control by seeking to take over more and more of the territory surrounding it. (The Urals are not the Alps and the western frontier of Russia provides no natural barriers).
Hence, in part, the obsession of Russian rulers with expanding their state/personal property (a distinction they have seldom made) contiguously, both on land and at sea, which can be seen as a form of preemptive protection; in the Cold War this sought-after "safe" space extended for the Soviets beyond planet earth (think Sputnik).
So, just as the Venice of the North, as St. Petersburg is called, was meant in part to be a bulwark against the Swedes in the 18th century, Sochi can be seen as a possibly misguided realpolitik "defense" against separatism in the Caucasus/Islamic Tartar "extremism," which could spark the flame of the dissolution of the Russian Federation, a scenario that keeps -- I speculate -- Russian authorities awake at night, given what happened to the USSR.
And today, when nuclear blackmail is less of an option than ever to exert national power, the politically powerful in Russia are hoping to influence the "near abroad" (former Soviet Republics) by soft coercion/public diplomacy (PD) so as to enhance their country's own security (and their own influence at home) -- rather than to spread American-style PD universal "values." The Olympics fit the bill -- the very expensive bill.
St. Petersburg was constructed at great human and economic cost. So is the implementation of Putin's Sochi's urban/sport/entertainment fantasy, which some predict could turn into a nightmare.
Critics call Putin's pet project communist crony capitalism (CCC without the P). And, needless to say, corruption was rampant during the tsarist era, including during the reign of Peter the Great.
After all, "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme," to quote Mark Twain.
So how about renaming Sochi St. Vladimirsburg?
Or, maybe, to honor the past 20th century, when communism was a global force, how about calling the "new" Sochi Vladimirgrad? (One scholar recommends relabelling the city Putingrad).
Or, simply, to be 21st century hip, let's call it "VladCity."
Welcome to Vladcity! Sounds cooler than St. Vladimirsburg. But then maybe not.
It all depends on Vladimir Vladimirovich!