The Olympic Summer Games opened in Rio de Janeiro this week without many of the 387 Russian athletes that the Russian Olympic federation originally selected to participate. The International Olympic Committee may have failed to enact the blanket ban on the country’s athletes that was recommended by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but the scandal that prompted it has inflicted great harm on the reputation of Russian athletics and heaped disgrace on a government that believed it could bring glory by cheating.
Disgrace, but little shame. Many ordinary Russians, politicians, and athletes claim that Western outrage over Moscow’s elaborate state-run doping in at least 30 sports—under which the Federal Security Service, a successor to the KGB, oversaw the provision of performance-enhancing drugs and the covering up of incriminating urine samples by sneaking clean ones into supposedly tamper-proof bottles—is really a ploy to undermine Russia.
The ability of the Russian people to disregard overwhelming evidence that President Vladimir Putin—whose greatest claim to their support is supposedly restoring their country’s standing as a great power—is actually undermining that goal is breathtaking. It has much to do with a formidable force in the country’s history: Russian envy.
The doping scandal—which appears to have been run on a grander scale than even the notorious Soviet version—is just one indication of what Russia has become under Putin. Although most Russians may still freely travel abroad, buy foreign goods, and read critical publications, the country is outdoing the Soviet Union in other respects. It is all but certain that the Kremlin, which regularly accuses Washington of meddling in Russian politics, directed the country's intelligence services to hack into U.S. computers belonging to Democratic political organizations and release emails to influence the presidential campaign to favor Putin fan Donald Trump. Inside Russia, the security services harass U.S. diplomats as if it were the real Cold War.
Much more damaging for Russians, the recent uncovering of a whole industry that
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