Sochi Games over, will Putin take the gloves off?

Mon Feb 24, 2014 7:22am EST
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By Timothy Heritage

(Reuters) - For more than two weeks while Russia hosted the Winter Olympics, President Vladimir Putin did his best to show the world that he and his country have a soft side.

Now the Sochi Games are over, Western governments are concerned the smile will disappear and the gloves come off in Russia's tug-of-war with Europe over the fate of Ukraine.

The circus artists, dancers and flag bearers hardly had time to leave the stadium after the closing ceremony in Sochi before Russia announced it had recalled its ambassador from Ukraine for consultations in Moscow.

Russian state television could not even wait for the end of the Games to launch a scathing attack on the ousted Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich.

Accusing him of betrayal, presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said: "The consequences are irreversible. Ukraine is one step from a split and probably already beyond the threshold of civil war."

The president has not spoken in public about the fall of Yanukovich, but Kiselyov is a Putin loyalist who has the president's trust. He will soon take over a media organization intended to polish Russia's image.

Western leaders are concerned Russia may be so worried about

losing influence in Ukraine, the cradle of Russian civilization, that it could use force to prevent the vast country to its west forging closer ties with the European Union.   Continued...

Russian President Vladimir Putin walks out from the presidential lounge to take his seat as he is introduced during the closing ceremony for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 23, 2014. REUTERS/David Goldman/Pool