In a surprise move near the end of his annual press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a pardon for rival, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and clemency for the Pussy Riot girls remaining in prison. These pardons signal Putin’s absolute confidence in his personal power and the importance to him of the Russian winter Olympics to begin in Sochi in February. Putin has placed his personal prestige on the line with his $50 billion investment in building the Sochi Olympic infrastructure. He cannot let anything happen to spoil his big day.
Putin’s move was timed to counter the growing list of heads of state including Obama, Harper, Hollande and Merkel who are refusing to attend. His pardons gave his Western rivals less to complain about.
Left unresolved is the world gay and entertainment community’s boycott of the Sochi Olympics in protest over Russia’s anti-gay laws and Putin’s own anti-gay stance. Even with a turnabout in policy towards gays, Putin must fear the threat of pro-gay protests in Sochi by attendees, gay participating athletes and their sympathizers.