The Snow Leopard of Soft Power

The choice of the snow leopard mascot for the 2014 Sochi Olympics was hotly debated in the immediate aftermath of the vote.  Many assumed that it had been rigged to ensure that Vladimir Putin’s first choice mascot won – especially given the fact that popular Russia’s apparent preference, the character of Grandfather Frost, was ‘mysteriously pulled from the race‘ to make way for the snowboarding leopard.  
Putin today has outlined his specific reasons for favoring this mascot in particular: it improves Russia’s image as a country that cares.  The snow leopard is a ‘collective image‘, he says, representing diversity.  The fact that Russia is trying to rescue the snow leopard from extinction will also be evoked by this cartoon creature, says Putin, signifying that ‘Russia is becoming different‘.  And furthermore, it is a reminder that Russia ‘cares for nature, cares about its resources‘ (like the Zavidovo National Park, for example?).
Russia is promoting itself as the country that cares in other ways today also, ‘expressing regret‘ over U.N.-sanctioned violence in Libya that has already killed 60 civilians and urging an end to ‘non-selective attacks‘.  Does lack of Russian (and Chinese) intervention in the crisis have anything to do with Gaddafi’s insistence last week that ‘Russian, Chinese, and Indian companies‘ would be the only ones invited to invest in Libya’s oil and construction spheres?  Either way, Russia’s position benefits both its Libyan and U.S. interests: its anti-coalition stance gives it leverage in Libya should Gaddafi or any of his loyalists manage to hold onto power, whilst passive Russian permission for the raid, granted through its decision not to exercise its U.N. veto, keeps it in the West’s good books.  All whilst allowing Russia to boost its human rights image by making sad noises about collateral damage.  Very smooth.