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The Russian Greatness Complex: Does Russia Overcompensate?

The purpose of this article is to briefly explore how Russia demonstrates its strong desires to be among the best of the best and show off its greatness.  Of course, every nation loves to encourage national pride, especially the United States, but Russia will go to extreme lengths to prove its greatness on the international level.  Russian culture is among the most recognisable and iconic in the world.  Despite strict cultural regulation in recent history, especially from the Soviet Union in the 20th Century, Russian culture is undeniably bright and bold.  This extends beyond  the Russian local lifestyles, architecture, and visual arts.  In almost every way, Russia has a talent for presenting itself at the top of almost every category on the world stage. 


With hundreds of sports practiced inside the Russian Federation, it is among the most athletically successful and diverse nations in the world.  A deep dive into everyone would require numerous reports.  So, this will focus on the two most talked about topics in the world of international sports and Russia: The Olympic Games, and FIFA. 

Every cycle, Russian athletes are among the top medal recipients in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.  All athletes at this level of competition are undeniably talented and had to put in hard work to get there.  But, the Russian government has the scandalous tendency to intervene with these athletes’ training procedures, by sponsoring performance enhancing doping.  In fact, more athletes have been caught doping from Russia than any other nation, over 150 in total. 

The first confirmed instance of state sponsored doping was in 1980 at the Summer Games in Moscow.  Since then, athletes were suspended from the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, and 111 athletes were banned from the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

In 2018, the Russian Olympics Committee was banned and Russian athletes with no history of drug use were only allowed to compete under the neutral Olympics flag at the PyeongChang Winter Games.  Before the ban, 500 Russian athletes were proposed to complete.  In the end only 169 were invited due to state sponsored doping scandals. 

For Tokyo 2020 Summer and Beijing 2022 Winter, Russian athletes were still only allowed to compete under the neutral affiliation, and many were still caught having participated in doping sponsored by the state in both Olympics.  When 15 year old figure skater Kamila Valieva was caught doping in 2022, her medal was not stripped due to her minor status.  However, this prompted a change in policy to only allow figure skaters age 17 or older to compete in future Olympic games. 

The largest scale doping programme for Russian athletes was by far in 2014 when the Winter Games were hosted in Sochi, Russian Federation.  Over 600 athletes were accused of having undergone doping in an investigation launched after the games.  The Sochi Games were also the most expensive games in Olympics history. 

Athletes from Russia, under their own flag or the neutral Russian Olympics Committee or Olympic Athletes From Russia flags, have ranked in the top 5 for bringing home Olympic medals in 12 of the last 15 games.  Without a doubt, winning is an important value to these competitors, and the Russian Federation in general. 

Similar investigations were launched by FIFA after Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup and qualified to the quarter finals. 

Investigations have also found that Russia bribed FIFA officials to vote for Russia to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. 

In 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency banned Russia from all major international sporting events until 2024.  An appeal by Russia in 2020 reduced this ban to end on 16 December 2022.  This means Russia was sanctioned from full competition for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

FIFA officially banned the Russian national team from competing in Qatar following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.  The status of future sports participation by the Russian Federation is now unknown due to the ongoing conflict. 


During the era of the Soviet Union,  music in Russia was heavily regulated and managed by private state associated management.  While this has improved in the 21st century, this practice still exists in Russian media culture today.  Many of the most famous Russian music artists have public associationships with the Russian government. 

Interestingly, many of Russia’s most successful artists record music in both Russian and English.  This is likely a strategy to boost international attention on Russian musical arts. 

In most instances of state organised performances, artists will perform via lip syncing to their own music to avoid mistakes, and present flawless performances when associated with the Russian Federation.  Many artists choose to do this around the world, but it is strikingly common for nationally viewed performances in Russia. 

Russia participated in the Eurovision Song Contest 23 times since debuting in 1994.  It is one of the most successful countries to have competed in the competition’s recent history.

Interestingly, Russian success in the Eurovision Song Contest has a strong overlap with Vladimir Putin’s presidency.  During his first two consecutive terms, Russian placed in the top 10 6 out of the 8 years it competed during this time frame from 2000 to 2008.  In 2008, just a few weeks after Putin’s term concluded, Russia won the competition with Dima Bilan performing his song “Believe,” featuring a figure skating performance by Evengi Plushenko, a very successful internationally recognised Russian figure skater. 

When Russia hosted the completion in 2009, Vladimir Putin himself was in attendance.  It boasted one of the largest stages and budgets in the contest’s history that year.  From 2009 to 2011, Russia’s highest placement in the competition was 11th in both 2009 and 2010.

In 2012, when Putin resumed office, Russia saw great success in the contest once again.  Russia would finish in the top 10 7 of the 8 times it competed so far since 2012, and 4 of them are top 3 finishes. 

Vladimir Putin reportedly stated that the competition is, “of high importance to the country,” and said to  Sergey Lazarev, the Russian Eurovision representative for 2016 and 2019, that he wants to see Russia win Eurovision again during his presidency. 

Following the full scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, The European Broadcasting Union suspended Russia from participating in the 2022 contest, which was ultimately won by Ukraine.  The future of Russia’s Eurovision participation is uncertain, but unlikely for the foreseeable future, after Russian state network Russia-1 severed many of its ties with the EBU.

Science and Technology

Russia has been a leading competitor in the modern era of the technology race.  Today, the leading powers in this race are the United States, Russia, and China.  The Center for Strategic and International Studies described the Kremlin’s emphasis on the development of emerging and disruptive technologies (EDT’s) in revolutionising all sectors of Russian society and spheres of influence. 
Russia is a leading developer of hypersonic weapons and vehicles, especially cruise missiles and glide vehicles.  These have proven to be critically effective in Russia;s ability to destroy targets in Ukraine. 

Almost everyone online is aware of the notorious Russian hackers.  Whether it be to spread disinformation, denial of services, or internet surveillance, Russia is infamous for its state sponsored and criminal cyberattacks.  In recent years, United States and European investigators have connected Russian cyber activity to influencing propaganda and outcomes for the 2016 US presidential election and the United Kingdom’s European Union membership referendum

The heavy and consistent targeted cyber activity that has been linked to Russia accelerated the developments of cybersecurity reinforcements around the world. 

As a historical competitor in the human space race, Russia is a leading sponsor of domestic and international space operations.  Many scientific research publications concerning the knowledge and exploration of space come from Russia and are frequently published in Russian language journals.  The Soviet Union was even home to Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut to make it to space. 

On 12 April 2022, Russia’s Cosmonaut Day, Vladimir Putin declared that Russian space programmes will not be hindered by sanctions imposed onto them in response to the war in Ukraine, and that operations will proceed, “consistently and persistently,” as normal. 

If anything, the crisis in Ukraine may have sparked a new era of space competition, despite decades of cooperation between the United States and Russia.  Since the new round of western sanctions against Russia and Belarus, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has threatened to end its cooperation with the International Space Station.  It has also publicly increased cooperations with the China National Space Administration, and Putin hsa publicly expressed goals of cooperating space explorations with Belarus.  This group of nations would be competing with the United States, Europe, Canada, and Japan should Roscosmos terminate cooperations with the ISS. 

Following the COVID-19 pandemic which began in 2020, Russia announced the Sputnik V vaccine in August 2020.  They were the first country to announce a COVID-19 vaccine had been developed. 

The early release and rushed production of Sputnik V plagued its reputation due to the initial lack of effectiveness and efficacy data transparency, failure to fulfil manufacturing demands that were promised to be met, and a large public hesitancy to receive the vaccine.  Even Vladimir Putin waited nearly a year to vaccinate himself with the very Russian vaccine he bragged enthusiastically about to the world. 

Most reliable studies suggest Sputnik V is approximately 58% effective against infections, while some Russian scientists have claimed effectiveness as high as 95%. 

The Image of Vladimir Putin

The public relations and image of Vladimir Putin could be a report of their own.  The Russian President is famous for marketing himself as the outdoorsy, athletic, tough guy with a passion for sports, arts, and sciences.  Many of his critics describe his many publicity stunts as overcompensating. While this is a matter of opinion, here is a list of some of Putin’s most over-the-top publicity stunts::

  • Sedating an Amur tiger with a tranquiliser gun and measuring its teeth and fit for a tracking device on camera at Ussuri National Park

  • Contacting journalists via hydrophone from around 1400m from the bottom of lake Baikal inn2009

  • Tranquilising and hugging a polar bear and attaching a satellite tag to it on camera in 2010

  • Being filmed co piloting a firefighter plane in 2010

  • Publically test driving a Formula-1 race car in 2010 in St. Petersburg

  • Scuba diving at the Ancient Greek colony of Phanagoria and emerging from the water claiming to have discovered two amphora as he shouted “Treasure!” in Russian to the many awaiting video cameras.  The amphorae were in actuality discovered by an archaeological team days prior to the stunt.  

  • Guiding Siberian white cranes on their migration to Asia via motorised hang glider in 2012

  • Luxury brand Caviar producing Iphone-7’s with Damascus steel called Supremo Putin Damascus and his gold bas-relief portrait.

  • Participating in a 2019 amateur hockey league all-star game, scoring 8 goals and dramatically besting his opponents

  • Being named “Russia’s most handsome man,” in 2021, by

  • Demonstrating his two martial arts blackbelt in Judo and Taekwondo (until his Taekwondo belt was rescinded in 2022 in response to the invasion of Ukraine)

  • The many photo-ops, frequently bare chested, with animals such as horses, young big cats, his large family of dogs, and even dolphins

  • Holding meetings in person at a 6 metre (20 feet) long beach wood table, often with just one other individual at the opposite end, likely to social distance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Take Away

Russia as a nation is overwhelmingly proud of its culture, identity, and achievements on the world stage.  It has a determination to maintain this success and international status via measures and an intensity unique from other nations around the world.  Whether or not this phenomenon is overcompensation is certainly debatable.  However, the concept that Russia ensures itself as a nation represented by greatness, is undeniable..  


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Tags: #russia #pride #olympics #culture #brexit #putin #russiaukrainewar #roscosmos #eurovisiom #overcompensating #doping #2020election #vladimirputin #sputnikv


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