The World

Hollande to Skip Sochi

Vladimir Putin, left, and François Hollande attend a meeting with Business 20 and Labour 20 representatives during the G20 summit on Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Petersburg.

Photo by Alexey Filippov /Host Photo Agency via Getty Images

When I spoke with chess champion-turned-anti-Putin activist Garry Kasparov in September, he said that other countries should respond to Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, crackdowns on opposition activists, and support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime with what he called a “boycott Putin” rather than boycott Russia campaign:

As a former professional athlete, I think that forcing athletes to play a political role against their will is not fair and what happens very often is that politicians who are not ready to make a decision hide behind athletes. I think in Sochi, there’s a very simple solution to send a message to Sochi’s regime. It should start with leading politicians not attending the games.

The ball seems to have started rolling on a boycott of just this kind. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced today that neither French President François Hollande nor any top French official will attend the Sochi Games. He did not specify a reason, but the decision to not even send a lower-ranking official certainly feels like a boycott.

Earlier this week it was reported that German President Joachim Gauck announced he was not attending the games, though it was unclear whether the largely ceremonial figure—Chancellor Angela Merkel actually oversees the government—was boycotting or simply decided not to attend.

It looks like we may be in for another round of the speculation that preceded the Beijing Olympics about which world leaders would or would not attend following a harsh crackdown in Tibet. (As Jacob Leibenluft pointed out at the time, this was a little odd given that it wasn’t exactly de rigeur for leaders to attend the event in the past.)

Hollande’s stance will probably win him some points at home—his principled if occasionally erratic foreign policy is about the only thing French voters like about their least popular president ever—but it’s unlikely to have much of an impact unless other leaders join in. Merkel, along with Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic and Donald Tusk of Poland, decided not to attend the Beijing ceremony, but that was little-noticed amid the grand spectacle of the event. If no EU leaders attended the event, then we really might be getting somewhere.  

If Hollande really wants to rain on Putin’s parade (which might be the only kind of precipitation at the event), he’s going to have to get some more governments on board.