The release of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics in recent days is a move to enhance his image overseas, according to foreign policy expert Colonel Cedric Leighton.
Two members of Russian punk protest band Pussy Riot and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky were freed from prison under an amnesty law pushed by Putin. Critics have blasted the law as a propaganda stunt.
In an interview with Fox News National Security Analyst KT McFarland, Leighton contended Putin’s decisions relate directly to the upcoming 2014 Olympic games in Sochi.
“It’s going to be a very important thing for him [Putin] to try and convince the rest of the world that Russia is if not a paradise at least a ‘normal’ member [of the global community],” said Leighton. “[It] is going to be his signal to the rest of world [he is] a more liberal, more open ruler.”
The Olympics could also be viewed as Russia’s attempt to show the world they’re a major player on the international stage.
Leighton sees recent examples of Russia’s work with Iran and Syria as proof of this.
“This enhances Russia’s influence, allows the Russians to maintain a degree of power that they really haven’t been able to project … since the end of communism,” said Leighton. “Putin wants to reestablish the same influence that we saw the Russians and the Soviet Union have during the Cold War and that is his ultimate goal.”