The spectacular Opening Ceremony for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics could mark the start of a new, more confident role for Russia on the global stage.

The Sochi Opening Ceremony. Photo: Mikhail Mordasov / Special to Russia Direct

The Sochi Winter Olympics have always been about showcasing a new, dynamic Russia to the world. Starting with the dramatic Opening Ceremony – which showcased Russia’s prowess not only in athletics but also in culture, science, the arts and engineering - the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics are all about challenging the legacy assumptions about Russia that are holdovers from the Cold War and post-Cold War period.

It’s almost as if the old symbols of Russia have been updated with vibrant colors and a massive, thumping techno beat. There was color everywhere you looked at the Opening Ceremony, starting with the initial sequence celebrating the Cyrillic alphabet and ending with the lighting of the Olympic Flame and the fireworks above Fisht stadium. Classic Russian folk song were often re-interpreted with a contemporary, techno beat, and songs like t.A.T.u.’s “Not gonna get us,” were interwoven into the arrival of the Russian Olympic team at the stadium.

And that color and sound has remained in place throughout the first week of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Most notably, there are 25,000 volunteers dressed in bright festive uniforms celebrating the colorful designs of all the regions of Russia. These volunteers are everywhere you look – on the streets, at the venues, at the rail stations, and at the airport. That Sochi 2014 branding – the color patchwork design – has also been installed at every competition venue, in shades of vibrant purples, greens, yellows and blues.

At night, the competition venues in the Olympic Park are transformed by colorful lighting displays, including a 3D light show on the walls of the Iceberg Skating Palace, where Russia’s 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskays became the world’s newest figure skating sensation. In the mountains, dramatic pastel lighting illuminates the new ski resort areas of Krasnaya Polyana. People who were expecting tried-and-true Russian folk symbols from the 19th century may be surprised at just how modernistic and bright everything appears to be.

At the same time, there’s a new can-do dynamism in Sochi. Russia’s old inferiority complex of the post-Cold War era, when it was forced to import Western expertise – as well as Western words – to make up for lost time during the final years of the Soviet Union, seems to be replaced with a bit of swagger. Throughout the Opening Ceremony, signs and symbols of Russia’s achievements were everywhere – from the arts to the sciences to the exploration of the cosmos. And that has been carried through to the Olympic competitions. At sporting events during the first week of competition, fans have been launching into spirited chants of “Rossiya” every time a Russian champion takes to the ice.

While the Opening Ceremony was a celebration of how the New Russia sees itself in the world, it doesn’t mean that Russia has turned its back on the Soviet era. This, in many ways, was one of the most surprising aspects of the Opening Ceremony – how much Russia celebrated its massive achievements of the Soviet Era. And it did it in a way that was both inspiring and fun – such as the arrival of Moscow’s dancing “stilyagi” and Soviet-era baby carriages along with powerful symbols of Soviet-era transformation.

The Sochi Opening Ceremony. Photo: Mikhail Mordasov / Special to Russia Direct

There’s a lot of powerful nostalgia from that era when the Soviet Union was a global superpower, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia is no longer afraid to tap into that powerful reservoir of national pride. This is a marked change from the twenty-year period from 1992-2012, when it seemed like Russia could do nothing right, and was often forced into the role of a supplicant of the West, dependent on foreign aid, foreign expertise and foreign guidance. There is even a famous saying from that era, usually attributed to Viktor Chernomyrdin, that encapsulates the fatalism of that time: Things started off good, but ended up the way they always end up. That’s no longer true – people fully expect Russia to medal in every event, and fans have been wowed by the scope and scale of the venues in the new Olympic Park.

So what can we expect from Russia once the Winter Olympics come to a close?

Russia may find that it has new friends in the world, especially in places like Korea and China, where huge audiences are tuning in to watch their national champions compete in Sochi. Korean journalists and Olympic officials have shown up in force in Sochi as they prepare for the arrival of the Winter Olympics in 2018. That goodwill with Asian nations could be key for Russia, as it seeks a way to pivot to Asia and engage new trading partners. Getting deals done in Asia doesn’t come with the same baggage that getting deals done in Europe does these days.

Russia may also find that many of the legacy assumptions of the Cold War era may finally be overturned. In Sochi, people are smiling, celebrating and enjoying the global spotlight as the whole world tunes in to see what Russia has accomplished. Visitors will return to their home countries, sharing their stories of Russia was different from how they originally imagined.

It’s almost certain that we will see a more muscular Russian foreign policy presence on the global stage. Pulling off the Olympics in style means that Russia will have a newfound confidence in the diplomatic realm and an increasing amount of soft power to transform its ambitions into reality.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.