Old Vlad must be laughing his ass off today at the world's gullible assumption that he ever means anything he says. He let us feel a little better about Russia for the Olympics, but now that's all over, kids. Make no mistake, Putin wants his power to be known around the world.
The very stupidity of the nature of the arrest is clearly strategic. Pussy Riot were arrested while they were minding their own business, and for no good reason. George Orwell noted in a letter about why he wrote 1984 that the point of the police state is not to demonstrate the state's control over people's bodies but their capacity to shape accepted reality. A police state needs to impose absurdity to show the depths of its power. Putin could easily have waited for Pussy Riot to stage a protest, to cause a disruption, and then arrested them on the basis of "hooliganism" as he did in 2012. Instead, he saw to it that they were arrested for the silliest of reasons, and made sure everybody knew how silly those reasons were.
Of course, this strongman tactic fits into his vision for Russia perfectly. His Russia meets Orwell's conditions of totalitarianism -- "emotional nationalism and a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible fuhrer." The fact that he can arrest whomever he likes without consequence merely plays into his strongman persona which shows him doing judo and hunting wolves and diving for amphorae in the Black Sea and whatever other fantasies he can whip up. The song Pussy Riot were planning on singing was entitled "Putin will teach you to love the motherland."
But the timing of the arrest is really a gesture to the the rest of the world more than it is to people at home. If Putin simply wanted to rearrest Pussy Riot, he could have waited until fifteen minutes after the men's hockey finals. But he chose to rearrest them in the middle of the Games. Putin's "foreign policy" -- such as it is -- mainly acts as an embarrassment to Western values. this reasserts Russia's sense of its own power, even though it is merely the power to disrupt, but it also offers a kind of backhanded justification for his own methods of ruling. Look at these democracies! What a joke they are! Do you think we are any worse than them? The mockery of others fits neatly into the sentimental and religious nationalism he indulges as well--at least mother Russia believes what it believes, unlike America or Europe.
Hey, it's not for nothing that Russia was noted on the Democracy Index as sliding back toward totalitarianism. When the former head of the KGB is considered to be a legitimately elected leader, it's no surprise that he would use his skills acquired during that earlier career to advance his current one.
Putin wanted this to happen right at the point where the network coverage of the Olympics is at a fever pitch in order to remind the world that Russia is a power to be reckoned with, and that he can do this without consequence.
Because profits, glory and fame seem to matter more than human rights. Esquire:
The worst part is, he has won. He has successfully mocked us. The International Olympic Committee, whose spokesmen have approved of the removal of gay activists, has been revealed for what it is: a collection of corrupt scum who pander in our highest ideals. It's not just them either. The only humane response to the abuses in Sochi is for every civilized country who believes in human rights to pick up its athletes and leave.
And that will never happen.