ANSWER: Whoever was responsible for the Snowflake Malfunction.
QUESTION: Who’s number one on the list of people I wouldn’t want to have been the morning after the Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony?
Let's drop in and take a little peek:
After a sleepless night, Sasha Golikov, Chief Sochi Snowflake Engineer, is drinking strong black tea at the kitchen table of his tiny flat. Suddenly, there is the expected knock at the door; he opens it to two men who look like rhinos in black suits. One of them nods toward the street. Sasha grabs his coat and pads meekly down the hall behind them.
Soon he’s in the back of a limo for a short ride, after which he is escorted by the rhinos to President Putin’s office. Not a word has been spoken.
Sasha takes a seat. The president stares at him for a long moment, unblinking, then says, “The Fifth Snowflake. It did not become a ring.”
The words are quiet and calm, but they strike like a punch in the gut. There were many factors outside Sasha's control, but he knows that even more than failure, Mr. Putin despises excuses. So he takes a deep breath and meets the lizard gaze. “I and I alone am responsible, Mr. President. I am filled with sadness and shame that I have disappointed you and the Russian people.”
Putin continues to stare. Finally he says, “There is a certain small cabin in Northern Siberia, deep in the forest, many kilometres from the nearest village. It is a place where wolves are counted. Occasionally, a pack will pass. When you hear them it is best to stay inside.” He pauses. “Do you understand this?” Sasha swallows and nods.
“When the wolves pass, you will write in your notebook: 'Today, a pack of wolves,' and you will note how many. Every two weeks a helicopter will drop water and food. There is much wood nearby for the stove, an axe and a sharpening stone. Do you understand this?” Again, Sasha nods.
"Perhaps in a year you shall be done counting the wolves," Mr. Putin says. "Perhaps." Then he swivels his chair around to gaze out the window at the snow-covered mountains.
A heavy hand settles on Sasha's shoulder...
Vladimir Putin spent $50 billion on his Olympics, and although it’s been suggested that upwards of $30 billion went directly into his buddies’ pockets, you figure that $20 billion should at least buy a fellow five working snowflakes. So one supposes he has the right to be a little annoyed, and he is a man most Russians try extremely hard not to annoy. Mr. Putin’s Russia is a great place to live if you happen to be on his good side. But if you aren’t…not so much.
In 1988 I spent a week and a half in Moscow, singing with a jazz band as part of a group of American artists touring the Soviet Union; we also performed in Tbilisi, in Georgia, and Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan (about 150 miles from the Iranian border).
The collapse of the Soviet Union was just three years away, and everywhere we went the air was electric; people were amped at the prospect of democracy. Of course a lot of Russians were really talking about capitalism, not democracy, but everybody got faked out; what they actually wound up with was a feral, gangster oligarchy, with old KGB spooks like Mr. Putin & Company doling out chunks of infrastructure to each other over vodka and caviar while life for ordinary folks got worse than ever.
I can think of another country where the government is in bed with massive corporations that run roughshod over the lives of their citizens. Let’s call it…The United States. Because that’s its name. But when it comes to bare-knuckled corruption, Russia puts us in the shade. It's no place for amateurs.
Nonetheless, watching the opening ceremonies brought back pleasant memories of my time there. I got so caught up in the moment that I dropped to my knees on my friends’ living room carpet and started singing “From Russia with Love” to their cat—at the top of my lungs—in my version of a Russian accent. The cat listened for a moment, head cocked, then ambled off to the kitchen to see if any food had magically appeared in her dish since she'd last checked it five minutes earlier.
Maybe she’d have stuck around for the whole song if this guy had been singing it.