Valieva & Vladimir


Kamila Valieva and Vladimir Putin – the link between ice-dancing and killing.

Here are three apparently unrelated questions which are connected and explained by a simple story:

First, why Kamila Valieva (the teenage Russian ice-skater who has been in the news at the Beijing Winter Olympics) was given performance-enhancing drugs, probably without her knowledge? Secondly, why her coach treated her with such brutal “coldness” after she failed in the competition? And finally, why Vladimir Putin says the Ukraine threat is posed by the West, not by the build-up (and now crossing) of Russian troops on the border?

The link emerges from this story from my own experience during the twelve years when I lived (fascinated and happy) in Moscow.

A close friend who I was trying to convince of the “Protestant” virtue of steady labour in one’s trade or profession, rather than the succession of indolence and furious work that is more normal among Russians, was entirely cynical of the values of hard work unless it brought a direct, personal, immediate and bankable benefit.

“Do you know the story of the hare and the tortoise?” I asked.

“Yes, of course. We heard it in school.”

“Well, then?”

“Well then what?”

“Slow and steady wins the race. That was the moral of the story.”

“No it’s not.”

“But the tortoise wins.”

“Yes,” she said, “but only because he got his brother to wait by the winning post so he could impersonate him before the hare came running along. We were told that the moral of the story was that if you want to win, you have to be prepared to cheat.”

That is the underlying cultural assumption behind the doping problem in Russian sport. It is also the reason why Olympic success is rewarded by gifts of millions in money, plus cars, houses and fame, whereas failures are treated like unwanted nuisances, as poor Valieva was last Thursday by her coach, Eteri Tutberidze. I do not know, but I would be prepared to bet a considerable sum that Tutberidze and others of that ilk believe sincerely that all Western teams are cheating too—only that, being more “advanced”, they have better ways of disguising the fact. One of those would be through a corrupt relationship with the world doping authorities whom they will be bribing etc. The authorities will be prepared to be bribed due to a general Western Russophobia.

Finally, I would suggest that Vladimir Putin owes his status in Western eyes to the perception that he does not play entirely straight diplomatically. He is clearly a bully, yet Western commentators still ask, “What does he really want in Ukraine?” The implication behind that question is that if we could somehow satisfy his demands, he would become a compliant rule-observer. That is almost as illusory an approach to diplomacy as Robin Cook’s “ethical foreign policy”.

“….the moral of the story was that if you want to win, you have to be prepared to cheat.”

Remember that point when dealing with a country which abandoned Christianity in a flurry of shooting of priests, thefts of sacraments and bulldozing of churches. Remember it also when seeing pictures of poor Kamila Valieva sitting weeping, disconsolate and ignored by her coach after fluffing her routine, while her handlers argue that they “accidentally” confused her grandfather’s “heart medication” with performance-enhancing drugs.

Remember that for a certain type of ex-Soviet Russian, fairness and failure are two sides of the same (low value) coin.

Ian Mitchell is the author of The Justice Factory: Can the Rule of Law Survive in 21st Century Scotland? (2020) and the creator of this short film about the Scottish government’s arrogance and incompetence: