Putin Opens Up Russia: A Positive World Cup Experience

Russia defeats Spain - biggest upset in 2018 World Cup
Russia defeats Spain - biggest upset in 2018 World Cup

Vladimir Putin is having a wonderful World Cup. Russia has knocked out Spain in the third biggest upset in the history of the World Cup.

The Russian leader has played statesman since the beginning of the tournament, playing host to presidents and prime ministers.

More than 2.5 million tickets have been allocated to fans from Russia and around the world, showcasing his country as a tourist destination, according to a CNN story.

And the Russian national team – an underdog – has performed beyond all expectation.

The World Cup has also raised Putin's geopolitical profile. In a meeting with the Russian President in Moscow on Wednesday, US national security adviser John Bolton complimented Putin, telling him he was eager to learn "how you handled the World Cup so successfully, among other things."

That's more than just a diplomatic pleasantry. In terms of optics, the World Cup appears poised to close a chapter that began in Sochi for Putin.

Since the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia has faced one international PR nightmare after another. An independent report faulted the Russians for operating a state-sponsored doping program during the games. As a result, Russia was banned as a nation from the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. After that the Russian government launched the annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, sparking an international crisis and economic sanctions against Moscow. The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine added to Russia's isolation, as did Putin's military intervention in Syria and the meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

"Now Putin is presiding over a moment of international Russophilia, at least by appearances. The games have not been marred by fan violence or – knock on wood – by terrorism. Images of fans celebrating on the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities cast the country in a festive light. And on the geopolitical front, the Russian President will crown the World Cup by meeting US President Donald Trump in Helsinki on July 16, the day after the final," says the CNN story.