In the years leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia spent something on the order of $50 billion to turn the sleepy Black Sea vacation town of Sochi into a glittering destination resort full of high-end amenities, luxury housing, international cuisine, palm trees and promenades. A giant ski resort bloomed across the slopes of the nearby western Caucasus mountains. Western journalists who arrived weeks before the games delighted in posting examples of incompetent (and, by implication, corrupt) building and construction, although many of these—such as a notorious photo of a bathroom stall with two toilets and a single toilet-paper dispenser—were later debunked.

Sochi and the 2014 Olympics became a byword for Russia’s notorious public graft, its estimated costs exceeding even those of the famously elaborate and expensive 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. And Sochi itself has become, in the American press, a go-to metonym for the autocratic governing regime of Vladimir Putin.

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