Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 6 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus
Note: This is my 44th special Window on Eurasia about the meaning and impact of the planned Olympiad on the nations in the surrounding region. These WOEs, which will appear each Friday over the coming year, will not aim at being comprehensive but rather will consist of a series bullet points about such developments. I would like to invite anyone with special knowledge or information about this subject to send me references to the materials involved. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Goble
Khodorkovsky’s Release Doesn’t Stop ‘Soft Boycott’ of Sochi Games. Despite the expectations of some, Vladimir Putin’s release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky is so obviously a cynical PR move that it will do little or nothing to prevent the "soft boycott” of the games by senior officials rather than atheletes. This week, the prime ministers of Germany, Japan and Israel indicated they would not attend, adding their names to the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, France and Canada who said last week they wouldn’t be going. The leaders of Norway, Switzerland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, however, said they would be going (http://ewnc.org/node/13217,haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.565013,
Khodorkovsky on Release Opposes Boycott But Also Opposes Making Sochi a ‘Party for Putin.’ On his release from prison, former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky said he opposes a boycott of the Sochi Games. He said the games are "a celebration of sport, something which millions of people will celebrate.” But he added that "obviously, [Soch] should not become a great party for President Putin” (kttc.com/story/24282394/khodorkovsky-dont-boycott-2014-sochi-olympics).
Pussy Riot’s Tolokonnikova on Release Calls for Sochi Boycott. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a Pussy Riot member released as part of the recent amnesty, said that "the border between being free and not free is very thin in Russia,” which under Putin is "a totalitarian state.” She said her release and that of others were simply "another show ahead of the Olympics” intended "to prevent all European countries from boycotting our Russian Olympics, but she said she favored a boycott and hoped Europe would follow that course (ntd.tv/en/news/world/europe/20131223/84077-freed-pussy-riot39s-tolokonnikova-calls-for-boycott-of-sochi-olympics.html).
No Amnesty for Sochi Journalist. The recent Russian amnesty did not extend to Nikolay Yarst, a journalist who faces charges for his attempts to cover corruption in Sochi (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235551/).
Vistishko Becomes Olympiad’s Political Prisoner ... Yevgeny Vitishko, an environmental activist, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for his efforts to bring to the attention of the world the ecological devastation being visited on Sochi by Olympic construction and especially the ways in which senior officials including the governor and Russian president have flouted the laws in doing so (ewnc.org/node/13190andprivetsochi.ru/blog/politics_sochi/39481.html ).
... Environmentalists in Russia and Internationally Condemn the Sentence, Organize Protests. Ecological Watch in the North Caucasus launched a picket at the court where Vitishko was sentenced. Russian ecologists in other cities organized protests and Internet appeals. And ecological groups like Ecological Defense, the World Wildlife Fund, Bellona, Freedom House, and Greenpeace Russia all issued statements denouncing the sentence Vitishko had been given and calling on their followers to pressure the Russian government to reverse it (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235741/,
Russian Officials Rounding Up Those on ‘List’ of Undesirables in Advance of Sochi. Russian officials appear to be working from a list of individual activists and groups that they believe could disrupt the Sochi Olympics and have launched a broadscale effort to arrest, monitor or at least intimidate those involved with human, ethnic, and environmental rights. Those targeted say that the new list is very much like the one the KGB used in advance of the 1980 Moscow Olympiad (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235560/,kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235358/and sobkorr.ru/news/52B926468A91A.html).
United Russia Duma Deputy Calls for Review Anti-Gay Propaganda Law. Mariya Maksakova, a prominent opera singer and United Russia Duma deputy, calls on her colleagues to revisit the anti-gay propaganda law that has sparked anger internationally, prompted boycotts by officials, and threatens to spark protests at the Sochi Olympiad. Her unexpected proposal was immediately attacked by supporters of the legislation, but if it goes anywhere, it could lead some foreign leaders to reconsider their current decisions not to attend the Olympics (tguy.ru/news/29/1096.html ).
‘Who Will Be the Jesse Owens of the Sochi Games?’ A column widely reprinted in American newspapers asks "Who will be the Jesse Owens of the Sochi Winter Olympics? Who will be the brave athlete who shines in rebuttle to Russia’s crackdown on anything determined to be ‘gay propaganda?’” The column continues "For Owens, the nemesis was Hitler’s ideology of racial superiority that placed Nordic ‘Aryans’ at the pinnacle of humanity.Keep that context in mind for how hate unchallenged can escalate. So far, much of the pushback from the international community has been tepid, diplomatically framed. The International Olympic Committee recently raised the stakes, issuing their rules for athletes, reiterating the apolitical tenure of the games. ‘No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted,’ the rule said. It should be noted that Hitler also targeted gays. It’s a sad reminder that for some people, the bull’s-eye hasn’t shifted” (dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20131222-shades-of-1936-olympics-as-sochi-games-approach.ece).
Olympiad in Sochi was Not an Original Putin Idea. Russian President Vladimir Putin is usually credited with coming up with the idea of hosting a winter Olympiad in the subtropical city of Sochi. In fact, as an article unearthed from "Argumenty i fakty” at the end of Soviet times shows, the Soviet Olympic Committee was pushing the idea and wanted to host an Olympiad in that southern city in 1998 (blogsochi.ru/content/budet-li-sochi-stolitsei-olimpiady).
Swiss Visitors Say ‘Nothing is Ready’ for Olympiad. The buildings are up but they are not fitted out with the necessary infrastructure inside, according to a group of visitors from Switzerland. Consequently, everything looks nice but won’t work. Many of the fittings yet to be installed are produced in Europe rather than in Russia and that too has occasioned delays in finishing the facilities (blogsochi.ru/content/olimpiada-glazami-inostrantsev). Many Russian visitors have made the same observation (opentown.org/news/25672/).
Krasnodar Reinforces Putin’s Ban on Holidays for Olympic Workers. Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev echoed President Vladimir Putin’s directive that those involved with preparation of the Olympic Games will not be allowed to take their traditional new year’s holiday on time but only after the Games are over in February. The reason: many venues and support facilities are not yet finished despite Russian claims and promises that they would be (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235785/).
Mutko Says He’ll Resign if Russian Team Doesn’t Do Well Because of His Work. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko says he will resign if Russia’s Olympians don’t do well in Sochi as a result of things over which he had control such as their preparation. According to Mutko who has been criticized for his approach and was recently excluded by the Kremlin from involvement in preparation for the 2018 World Cup, "the most important thing in sports is to define what is to be understood by failure” (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235780/).
Sochi Airport Customs Gears Up to Handle 3,000 Visitors an Hour. In advance of the Olympiad, customs officials are adding additional lanes and officers so that they will be able to meet their goal of processing 3,000 arriving visitors each hour during the games (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235743/).
Moscow Analysts Point to Growing Security Threats. Analysts at the Center for Political Information have prepared a report which sketches out what they see as growing security threats to the Sochi Games because of their location near unsettled parts of the North Caucasus, the threats some Islamist leaders have made to disrupt the games, the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan which will allow radicals to leave there and come to the Caucasus, and choke points in the infrastructure of Sochi, particularly in transportation, which terrorists could exploit (izvestia.ru/news/563135).
Security Measures at Sochi Taken So Far ‘Insufficient,’ Ustinov Says. Despite massive and intrusive security measures in and around the site of the games, Vladimir Ustinov, presidential plenipotentiary for the Southern Federal District, says they are inadequate and need to be beefed up further His words suggest according to Natpress.ru, that the Russian authorities plan more round ups of Circassian and other ethnic activists as well as a general crackdown on Muslim groups in the North Caucasus, actions that could provoke violence instead of calming the situation (natpress.ru/index.php?newsid=8618).
Stratfor Suggests Terrorists Will Strike Elsewhere to Draw Off Guards at Sochi and then Attack the Games. Stratfor analysts say that they believe terrorists will attack elsewhere in the Russian Federation just before the games, forcing Moscow to redeploy its security units away from the Olympiad and then will attack the Games themselves (wnd.com/2013/12/russia-braces-for-olympic-terror/).
LGBT Activists Challenge Coca-Cola on Sochi Sponsorship. LGBT activists gate crashed a Coca-Cola Christmas meeting to demand that the company explain why it is comfortable sponsoring the Sochi Olympics given Russia’s anti-gay laws. One of the participants said that "By sponsoring the Sochi Winter Olympics, Coca-Cola is rewarding the Putin regime; giving it legitimacy and credibility... It is shocking that Coca Cola has not been willing to make any statement of support for LGBT equality or for other human rights in Russia." The company responded that it has always supported gay rights and believes that such rights can best be advanced through participation (edgeboston.com/news/international/News/153464/gay_activists_protest_coca-cola%E2%80%99s_involvement_in_sochi_olympics).
Activists Questioned along Torch Route. Activists in Cheboksary were called in by the special services and asked to detail their activities and plans before, during and after the passage of the Sochi Olympic torch through their city. The activists pointed out that the questions they had been asked were "absolutely illegal” and only designed to intimidate (irekle.org/news/i1585.html ).
Torch Travails Continue. No one died and no one was burned by the Olympic torch this week, but another problem arose: Those chosen to carry the torch and who are allowed to purchase it for 12,800 rubles (420 US dollars) have found a way around a government ban on selling the torch for more: They simply include a few other items of clothing with it and then charge as much as 100,000 rubles (3300 US dollars) that collectors seem willing to pay. No one has yet been prosecuted for violating this government order, but the high prices have drawn fire from some activists who have suggested that the torch is not uniting Russia as Putin claims but highlighting its division into rich and poor ((vesti-sochi.tv/olimpiada/21932-skidki-neumestny-olimpijskij-fakel-nedeshevyj-hodovoj-tovar).
Sochi Mayor Reduces Post-Olympic Budget But His Staff Not So Much. Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov projects that the city’s income will fall 40 percent and its spending 56 percent in the year after Sochi and his new budget reflects those declines. But he has cut the size of his staff far less and even proposes to add an 11th deputy mayor position (blogsochi.ru/content/postolimpiiskii-byudzhet-goroda-sochi).
Abkhaz Opposition Calls for Time Out during Sochi Games. The Coordination Council of opposition parties and groups in Abkhazia says it will suspend its campaign against government policies during the Olympics in order to ensure that nothing it does might be exploited by those opposed to the Games (caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=21225).
Krasnodar Court Again Takes Up Case of Militiaman Accused of Sochi Bombings. A Krasnodar court resumed its examination of the case of Ilya Galkin, a former militiaman who was charged with carrying out two bombings in 2008 and 2009 but whose case has been delayed because of psychiatric examinations (interfax-russia.ru/South/news.asp?id=461779&sec=1671).
Sochi Court Hears Case of Policeman Accused of Beating an Olympic Worker. The Adler district court has begun hearing the case of Sergey Kuznetsov, a Sochi policeman who has been accused of beating Olympic construction worker Pavel Solovyev in April 2013 but who has denied all responsibity (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235689/).
Moscow Gives Sochi Olympic Organizers Another 50 Million US Dollars. The Russian cabinet approved the authorization of an additional 50 million US dollars to the Sochi Olympic organizing committee. The government did not specify the reason it had done so, thus raising the possibility that the new funds are to be used to complete work on projects not yet finished (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235721/).
Security has Turned Sochi Rail Stations into ‘Concentration Camps,’ Resident Says.A Sochi resident who has been urged by city officials to travel by train rather than car says that as a result of new security measures which include barbed wire and more police, "the stations have become like concentration camps.” The only thing missing, he suggests, are guards with submachine guns speaking German (privetsochi.ru/blog/sochi2014/39660.html).
Sochi Authorities Haven’t Yet Built Long-Promised Pound for Homeless Animals.Despite repeated promises, the Sochi city authorities have not built a pound for homeless animals but continue to euthanize them almost immediately after they are caught, an animal rights activist there says (privetsochi.ru/blog/helpanimals/39656.html).
Sochi is Barrier-Free for Handicapped Only if They Can Fly, One of Their Number Says. A physically handicapped resident says that Olympic construction is not "barrier-free” as the IOC requires and as Moscow has promised. When he asked how he could surmount one barrier recently, passers-by said "If you like, fly!” (privetsochi.ru/blog/sitiproblem/39653.html). At the same time, some observers have suggested that the commitment to a barrier-free environment, even if it has not been completely fulfilled, has been important and represents "enormous progress for the Russian mentality” (novayagazeta.ru/society/61598.html ).
Medvedev’s Proposal for ‘Open Skies’ to Sochi Opposed by Russian Officials and Carriers. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has called for opening the skies of Sochi to foreign carriers in order to boost tourism there, but his idea has met resistance both from Transportation Minister Maksim Sokolov who said doing that is "always a blow to industry” and from Russian carriers whose officials say that it would cost them. Moreover, "Kommersant” reports, even if there were an open skies arrangement for Sochi, the experience of other Olympic cities has been that tourism does not stay high or increase after the games (kommersant.ru/doc/2371793). In addition, more experts are weighing in against proposals to set up a gambling center in the city to boost the number of visitors (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235556/).
Sochi City Government Covers Artificial New Year’s Tree with Pictures of Real Thing. In an action that bloggers have characterized as "the height of idiocy,” Sochi officials have erected an artificial tree and then covered it with pictures of real trees and flowers (blogsochi.ru/content/verkh-idiotizma-ot-sochinskikh-chinovnikov).
Moscow Opposes Abdulatipov’s Call to Make Sochi a Celebration of the Caucasus. Daghestan President Ramazan Abdulatipov says that the Sochi Olympiad should become an advertisement for the Caucasus, but Russian commentators say that is not a good idea. Mikhail Aleksandrov, a Caucasus specialist at the Moscow Institute for the CIS Countries, says this is inappropriate because eventhough geographically Sochi is part of the Caucasus, "the Caucasus did not make any contributionto the construction of Olympic facilities.” Yana Amelina, a Caucasus expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, added that Abdulatipov’s proposal "does not reflect reality ... The Olympiad inSochi is a sport holiday and not a holiday of the Caucasus ... To artificially link a sports holiday to this or that geographic location is not completely wise” (bigcaucasus.com/events/actual/19-12-2013/88465-sochi-0/).
Putin’s Treatment of Circassians at Sochi Bellwether of Future Russian Policy, Pakistani Ambassador Says. Akbar Ahmed, a Pakistani ambassador who earlier served as Islamabad’s high commissioner in London, says that "how Putin treats the Circassians and the issue of Sochi [where the genocide occurred] will indicate which direction Russia will take” in the future. He described the 1864 events in which 1.5 million Circassians were killed and roughly the same number expelled, half of whom died in the process as "the first modern genocide” (aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/2012446515233997.html).
Circassian Issue Still Problem for Russian-Georgian Relations. Georgia’s support for the Circassians contributes to tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi even though the new Georgian government is much less outspoken about the issue than was its predecessor. Circassian organizations continue to operate in Tbilisi, and Moscow finds that an unacceptable irritant (vestnikkavkaza.net/articles/politics/49002.html).
Circassian Leaders Say Arrests Did Not Prompt Calls for Congress. Plans for a Circassian congress to consider the next steps for the movement in the North Caucasus had been in the works even before Russian officials detained more than ten activists and sought to portray them as potential terrorists (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235428/).
Adygey Designer to Offer Circassian Fashions in Sochi. Susanna Makerova from Adygeya says she plans to offer Circassian fashions at a shop in Sochi as an understate way to call attention to the Circassian cause. National components of dress "shouldn’t shout,” she says. Instead,they should attract attention in a quiet way (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235657/).
Circassians Start Genocide Countdown Clock. Radio Adiga and Justice for the North Caucasus have started a countdown clock 150 days ahead of the May 21st sesquicentennial of the genocide of the Circassians by Russian forces at Sochi. The clock will thus run through and then beyond the Sochi Olympiad and thus underscore that the issue is not going away even when the last Olympic torch is extinguished (facebook.com/Countdown150Days).
BBC Documentary Says Sochi Games ‘Most Corrupt’ Ever. A BBC documentary entitled "The Putin Project” says that the lead up to the Sochi Games has been the most corrupt ever in the history of the modern Olympic movement and that the games have led to massive disruptions in the lives of the people of that city and region (thetakeaway.org/story/sochi-2014-putin-and-corruption-behind-games/).
Sochi New Year’s Tourism Down 15 Percent from Last Year. Tour operators say that 15 percent fewer people are travelling to Krasnodar kray resorts like Sochi this year than last, a reflection of the fact that Russians given the weakened economy are being more careful in their spending (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235591/).
Blind Visitors Face ‘Jungle’ in Sochi, All-Russian Society of the Blind Says. Russian officials have not met their promises to make Sochi accessible to the blind, according to the All-Russian Society of the Blind. Only 600 of the 3,000 sites that Russian Olympic Committee officials promised to make accessible to the handicapped are in fact so, the Society says. And it adds that Sochi officials have not even bothered to put up the relief signs in many places where it would have been easy to do so. As a result, the blind and other handicapped people who visit Sochi will find themselves "in a jungle” if they try to move about (svpressa.ru/society/article/79374/).
Hell of Sochi is ‘Quintessence of Putin Regime,’ Blogger Says. The Olympics in Sochi is "a unique quintessence of the Putin regime: a city, where life has become hell and local residents have been driven from their hoes, where billions have been stolen or misspent on foolish projects, where the paranoia of the security services [is widespread], where crowds of migrant workers arenot paid for their work, where bureaucratic ideiotism rules ... [and] ere bureaucratic idiotism rules,” according to a Russian blogger (belyaev.livejournal.com/130779.html).
Putin’s Amnesty ‘Rhymes’ with Hitler’s Olympiad, ‘Guardian’ Says. In a commentary in Britain’s "Guardian” newspaper, John Williams says that Vladimir Putin’s recent amnesty recalls Hitler’s efforts to put the best possible face on his regime in advance of the 1936 Olympics. "Regimes that have been less than good, reasonable, judicious, tempered, sober, sensible, reliable, fair and responsive towards their own people, will always feel the need to clean themselves up for party guests. The question remains, what will the country look like after the guests leave? What will the Russian Federation look like after Sochi?” he asks. "Putin’s shown himself to be a bully, and for bullies everyone is the ‘other.’ For bullies even one’s own is the ‘other,’ and the ‘other’ is never safe. The ‘other’ is always vulnerable ... Maybe next time the Olympic Committee should give the Summer Olympics to North Korea. Word is they have a hell of a basketball team and one wild American coach. Maybe they’d clean up nice before they light the Olympic fire. And maybe somebody other than the sponsors would benefit, if only for the cleaning” (guardianlv.com/2013/12/putin-amnesty-and-sochi/).
Orthodox Hierarch Says Sochi Will Strengthen Russia’s Moral Fiber. Metropolitan Kirill of Stavropol and Nevinnomyssk, says that the Sochi Olympiad is "an effective instrument of strengthening the moral fiber of the nation and of developing in it patriotism and high spiritual ideals” (kavpolit.com/problema-russkix-v-sebe/).
US Court Finds Russian Hockey Player Not Guilty of Assault. A court in Denver found Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche not guilty ofassaulting his former girlfiriend. The verdict opens the way for him to compete at Sochi (vesti.ru/doc.html?id=1169799).
Olympic Village Apartments to Sell for Five Thousand US Dollars per Square Meter. The firm handling the sale of Olympic Village apartments says that it will charge 150,000 rubles (5,000 US dollars) per square meter for the residences for a total sale of 24.2 billion rubles (800 million US dollars) if all are sold (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235447/).
The ‘Drunken’ Sidewalks of Sochi. The sidewalks Olympic contractors have installed are so irregular and out of level that people who walk on them often look as if they have had too much to drink but in fact they are only trying to keep their balance. Residents are calling these paths "drunken” for that reason. But the sidewalks are not only uneven, in many places they are broken or do not extend to all the places people need to go as anyone who has ever tried to walk in the city knows (privetsochi.ru/blog/sitiproblem/39482.html andprivetsochi.ru/blog/extreme_sochi/39704.html).
Sochi Residents Organizing to Defend Their Interests. Various Sochi groups are organizing both because of official neglect of their problem now and because recently they have learned that many of the problems they aren’t supposed to be having will not be corrected after the Games. Indeed, they say, once the spotlight is turned away, they can expect little help from anyone except themselves . Some of the new organizations are outgrowths of publically supported groups intended to carry out tasks that the city wants done (blogsochi.ru/content/sochintsy-samoorganizuyutsya).
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