Ukraine delivered a pointed message by sending only a single flag-bearer to represent the 23-strong team in the athletes’ parade. The appearance of biathlete Mykhaylo Tkachenko drew a roar from the capacity crowd as he entered in a wheelchair wearing a serious expression.
The Ukrainian team had announced only a few hours earlier that it would not boycott the games, but said it could pull out of the 10-day event if the Crimea situation escalates.
Crimea would be the first territory to join Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which broke away from Georgia after a brief 2008 war with Russia, have been recognized as independent by Moscow, but there have been few serious moves to enable them to join Russia.
For Putin, Crimea would be a dazzling acquisition, and would help cement his authority with a Russian citizenry that has in recent years shown signs of restiveness and still resents the loss of the sprawling empire Moscow ruled in Soviet times.