David Miller

The perceived ambition of Vladimir Putin is to recreate the empire of Peter the Great (1672-1725). 

We should recall that the resplendent Tsar in 1718 had his son and heir Alexei tortured to death… for being disloyal.  

Five hundred years on, Russia's generic psychological deformity remains: mounting evidence emerges of tortured Ukraine civilians.

Alarm at International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne intensifies, President Thomas Bach alert to the potential - if Russia/Belarus are inevitably excluded from Paris 2024 - for a breakaway echo of the USSR era of Spartakiads: multi-sport events originated by the Red Army 1923 to 1937, then regular festivals in parallel with the Olympic Games 1956 to 1991, most notably the Friendly Games of 1984 for those boycotting Los Angeles.

The Russian threat poses disintegration of Bach’s idealistic 'universality' of all nations, championed by the United Nations.  

The ancient Greek tradition of military truce during a Games was feigned to be upheld during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics early this year: a strategic deceit by Russia to stall global opinion for a few days. 

Last week, IOC desperation was evident with the blatant appeal, by Vatican clerics together with Bach, "to seek peaceful solution to all conflicts".  For Putin, truce is for the birds.

Despite the continuing appalling war crimes in Ukraine, with torture/assassination of civilians by retreating Russian soldiers, perhaps Bach should not over-estimate latent Russian Olympic rebellion, attempting to keep the nation emotionally on side: suspending neither Russia's NOC nor their IOC Members, while 'protecting' Russian athletes by requesting International Federations to exclude them from competition at which 'they might be insulted'.

I discussed the issue with Dick Pound, IOC's senior member. The Canadian KC and Olympic swimmer doubts if a Russian-led exodus could commercially survive. He observes:   

"Thomas would like to keep Russian athletes 'inside the camp', for global integration, believing mute athletes are innocent of political and military intrigue. Yet not all of them are.  

"And it has to be accepted that in an outlaw country, ordinary citizens have to pay the price for illegality."

Canadian lawyer and IOC member Dick Pound doubts if a Russian-led exodus of the Olympics could commercially survive ©Getty Images
Canadian lawyer and IOC member Dick Pound doubts if a Russian-led exodus of the Olympics could commercially survive ©Getty Images

Pound should know: indirectly himself the emotional victim of political issues. 

Delegated in 1991 by then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch to head the legal investigation into voting bribery allegations in Salt Lake City's Winter Games election in 1995 for 2002, Pound's ensuing suspension/dismissal of a dozen members inevitably embedded resentment among IOC colleagues; relegating Pound to third place in the Presidential election of 2001… which he might otherwise have won. 

It was Pound's constitutional revision commission, under elected Jacques Rogge, which implanted many constitutional reform principles then evident in Bach's Agenda 2020 when he was elected in 2013.

"A Russian breakaway is certainly possible," Pound reflects. 

"But if you exclude yourself from an idealistic arena, it’s inevitably self-defeating. You look bad. 

"A rekindled Spartakiad would have no revenue, no momentum, no magic. 

"In the sporting environment, if a nation or individual tumbles off stage, is alienated, then only if they reassemble are they welcomed back.  

"Russia must face that reality. Yes, the Olympic Games welcomes everybody, but not an outlaw state."

Leaving aside Russia’s exposed institutional drug manipulation from 2011 to 2014, which poisoned the Games of London, Sochi, Rio and Pyeongchang, recorded history has contaminated the nation’s inestimable evolving impact upon Europe.  

My memories of exhilarating Russian sports achievement - from Moscow Dynamos post-world war two enchantment of London, through Vladimir Kuts, a myriad of performers in athletics and the Davis Cup, plus the intellectual charm of Olympic officials such as Mikhail Bobrov, legendary hero of the Leningrad/St Petersburg siege, and of Vitaly Smirnov, 60-year totem of Russia's NOC - are profound. 

Yet ultimately whom can one trust, within the complex national characteristic of entrenched misinformation espionage? 

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the country's first mobilisation since world war two in September ©Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the country's first mobilisation since world war two in September ©Getty Images

Minds as corrupted as Stalin's or as inspirational as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Awareness of totality of corrective political indoctrination came when taking the Trans-Siberian Railway to Tokyo 1964.  

During a train-change at Siberian capital Khabarovsk, the guide for my compulsory two-hour sightseeing tour - enabling KGB to search my hotel luggage - charmingly but categorically denied that Britain and USSR "were united in world war two".  

Conversely, neither would she have been aware of the horrific Katyn massacre - ordered by Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin's diabolical head of NKVD Security - of 22,000 Polish officers.  

My mother, a 17-year-old escaping a staid Victorian family in which women were irrelevant, innocently adored everything Russian when enlisting with an immigrant Belarus orchestra fleeing demonic Bolshevik revolutionaries.

My first direct view of Soviet extremity was as an unsuccessful member of the UK football squad for Melbourne 1956: the Games blotched by Soviet invasion of Hungary, students versus tanks on the Danube’s historic Gellert Bridge transferring to Melbourne's water polo pool.  

A subsequent close friend Istvan Agics, young journalist reporting the Soviet horror, antagonised puppet communist premier Imre Nagy by confronting airport security to gain my entry, without visa, to scrutinise England's imminent famed opponents in the 1962 FIFA World Cup. 

Several years later, the secret police finally mailed him: a faked car crash on the river’s idyllic Margaret Island… his widow presented with the derelict vehicle but not the body. That is totalitarianism.

Onwards trundled the world's would-be integrated Olympics: Alexander Dubcek’s Prague Spring democracy uprising of 1968, likewise crushed by Soviet tanks, with the symbolic public suicide by torch of Jan Palac and the domestic dehumanising of fellow protestor and iconic Olympian Emil Zatopek.  

No impediments, of course, to Soviet collection that year of 90 medals at Mexico's Games, JFK having averted the Soviet/Cuban missile crisis.

Russia's continued invasion of Ukraine has increased calls to exclude the nation from the Paris 2024 Olympic Games ©Getty Images
Russia's continued invasion of Ukraine has increased calls to exclude the nation from the Paris 2024 Olympic Games ©Getty Images

As the epitome of civil conduct within the free world, the Olympic emblem bravely fluttered through the seventies, entrenched opposing political principles sparking boycotts from 1980 to 1984. 

Yet communist indoctrination was faltering: the bravado of Poland’s striking Baltic shipyard workers in the solidarity movement accelerated Kremlin fissures.  

I was the only UK journalist in 1990 at Gdansk’s Solidarity Games, presenting The Times 200th anniversary memento to Lech Walesa, iconic motivator of "the revolution without a broken window".  

Within a year the Berlin Wall and Moscow had crumbled.

Brief rejoicing with reformative Mikhail Gorbachev.  

Yet subversive, KGB-disciplined Putin emerged to reinstate corrupt, now capitalist, totalitarian rule.  

The aura of Beria’s evils re-emerged; unattributed assassinations on the street, political lockdowns, empire lust, reviving the dictum of 19th-century French historian Astophe de Custine: "Russia propagates tyranny as palliative to anarchy, despotism an endemic gene."  

Following Afghanistan, heroic Ukraine is the latest victim: Putin's 'black death' demands banishment from Paris 2024.

Be warned, would-be African admirers such as Mali and Burkino Faso.