Friday, April 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown -- 44 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my eighth 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  Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Gobl

Sochi Preparations Could Determine When Duma Elections Are Held. If the Kremlin decides to dismiss the current Russian parliament, it will have to schedule the next round of elections soon lest preparations for Sochi or problems there get in the way, according to Mariya Lippman of the Moscow Carnegie Center. And that probably means that the early elections some analysts have predicted won’t take place (

Sochi City Government Cracks Down on Widespread Illegal Construction. In addition to the major Olympic venues and support facilities, many other buildings are going up in the Olympic city but often without the necessary official permissions or inspections. In order to prevent disasters, the city government has launched a sweeping criminal probe (

Sochi’s Former Chief Architect Failed to Ensure Safe Buildings. A preliminary investigation into the shortcomings of the work of Oleg Sheveyko, the former city architect, has been completed. It found that he violated the law by giving permissions to contractors who had failed to meet building standards (

Oligarchs Seek Moscow Bailout for Their Cost Overruns at Sochi.  Vladimir Potanin, Olega Deripaska, as well as officials from Sberbank and Gazprom have asked theRussian government to provide them with support so that they can “secure a minimum return on investment” in Sochi (

Georgia Has Not Decided Whether to Send Athletes to Sochi.  Earlier reports to the contrary, Georgian officials say that they have not yet made a final decision on whether they will send a team to the Sochi games. The Georgian Olympic Committee will meet on May 2 to decide (

MVD to Use More than 3400 Cameras to Keep Track of Athletes and Fans at Sochi Sites.  Game organizers say that there will not be a single place where their officers will not be able to observe competitors or fans via closed circuit television, an announcement that they suggested should reassure everyone about the level of security they will have but one that may have exactly the opposite effect (

Sochi Imports Electricians to Try to Fix Power Grid Problems.  Facing growing anger because of multiple daily power outages and gaps in the grid supplying power to Olympic venues, the Sochi organizers have brought in mor than a thousand electricians from across the southern portion of the Russian Federation to try to fix the situation (

Russia’s Ombudsman Pledges to Fight for Worker Rights in Sochi.  Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s human rights ombudsman, met with some of the workers whose rights have been violated by construction organizations and pledged to do all he can to correct the situation.  Officials have acknowledged 160 cases of such violations at Sochi 2014 facilities so far ( and

Kazan Universiade May Not Bode Well for Sochi Games.  Sochi officials may be less enthusiastic about claims made in Kazan that the Universiade games to be held there this summer are a try out for the Olympics.  That is because protests against the killing of homeless animals by Kazan organizers have grown in scope ( and

Sochi Officials Try But Can’t Hide All Problems from International Olympic Committee. The Russian Olympic Committee does all it can to ensure that IOC visitors do not see the problems that residents of the city now face, but local people say that the Moscow officials often fail to do so because no one can move around the city easily and quickly and even with special police protection, the IOC teams are often seen caught up in the city’s increasing traffic jams and construction obstacles (

Sochi Preparations Suggest ‘Theft is Russia’s National Ideal,’ Moscow Writer Says. In an article on the Yevraziya portal, Anzhela Kareva says that what has been going on in Sochi provides some of the strongest evidence to date that “theft is Russia’s national ideal” (

Storm Did More Damage than Initially Thought Because of Shoddy Construction. Nearly two weeks after the strong early spring storm hit Sochi, officials are discovering more damage, at least some of it the result of sloppy construction for Olympic venues and support facilities (, and

Poor Performances by Russian Athletes This Year Lower Expectations for Rich Medal Harvest in 2014.  “Any dreams Russia had of dominating its home Winter Olympic Games,” a Pakistani sports writer says, “have been dealt a harsh realit check by the mediocre performances of the country’s athletes this season” (

Circassian Group Originally from Sochi Assumes Higher Profile.  The Shapsugs, a branch of the Circassian nation whose ancestors lived in Sochi prior to the expulsion of their nation by the Russian Empire in 1864, are preparing a series of high profile events to call attention to their status and fate in the coming months (

Moscow Announces Heavy Fines for Sochi Builders Who Are Behind Schedule.  Deputy Prime Ministere Dmitry Kozak, the Russian official overseeing the games, announced that those contractors who were behind schedule would fave 65,000 US dollar fines for each day they were late, an announcement that calls into question the optimistic predictions about the state of readiness in Sochi by both Kozak himself and other Russian officials ( and

Anti-Doping Center Among Sochi Sites Not Yet Completed.  IOC and World Anti-Doping Officials Say that Russia has made significant progress in improving its monitoring of drug abuse by athletes since Soviet times, but they note that the special facility that will monitor possible drug abuses by athletes at the Sochi Games has not been completed (

Moscow Backing Away from Spectator Pass Plan.  Faced with widespread criticism for their plan announced earlier to require visitors to the Sochi Games to provide extensive personal data to the authorities, Russian officials now say that they may not introduce such passes at all but will make a final decision only after testing the program at smaller competitions this year ( and

Kozak ‘Moderately Optimistic’ Sochi Facilities Will Be Ready on Time. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak told IOC officials that he is “moderately optimistic” that all the Sochi venues will be ready on time but he stressed that there is still much work to be done (

Putin Says Sochi Facilities Will Be Put to Good Use after the Games.  Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the Sochi facilities will be handed over to various organizations to promote public welfare, but when he made that declaration, he was confronted by a wide variety of demands from various groups, some of which seem more interested in private profit than the public good ( and

In Sochi This Spring, ‘Birds Don’t Sing and Trees Don’t Grow.’  Thanks to the Olympic construction projects, Sochi, once a pearl on the Black Sea, now is an increasingly dead city where “the birds don’t sing and trees don’t grow,” according to disgruntled local people who have lost some of their favorite gardens, parks, and recreation facilities (

Sochi Streets Now Just as Challenging as Roads on the Paris-Dakar Rally Route. Getting from place to place in Sochi because of the havoc that construction has inflicted on the city’s streets and highways is now so bad that local residents say that they face challenges no less serious than drivers in the Paris-Dakar rally and they provide photographs to prove it. Others living there say their city currently looks like “the Riviera after a bombing campaign”  ( and ).

Sochi Mayor’s Promises are the Best April Fool’s Jokes Ever.  Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov has promised that residents will not have any traffic jams this year, will have free access to clean beaches, won’t have to cope with trash and waste, will attract six million tourists this year, and that there will not be any more power outages, claims that have all proven untrue and are the subject of a video clip suggesting they are the best possible April Fool’s jokes but that residents in Sochi are no longer fooled (

FSB Won’t Give Sochi Journalist a Passport. In yet another indication that Russia’s security services are going to try to prevent honest coverage of the run up to the Sochi games, the FSB has intervened to block Svetlana Kravchenko, an independent journalist there, from getting a passport to travel abroad (

Armenians Assess Sochi Security as Georgians Worry They’ll Be Blamed for Problems. Gagik Avakyan, the head of the Armenian branch of the Society of Caucasus Researchers, says that the Sochi games are taking place at a time of growing tensions between Russia and the West and thus are at risk of violence ( Meanwhile, Georgian officials say that they are worried that Russia will blame Tbilisi if there are any problems and consequently that they are taking steps to enhance security there (

Russia Starts Security Screenings at 32 Major Rail Hubs in Advance of Sochi Games.  Russian Railways has introduced selective bag and document screenings at 32 major rail stations in order to test a system that will be expanded further as the Sochi Olympiad approaches (

Sochi Will Have Snow Even If None Comes Out of the Sky.  Aleksandr Belkobylsky, head of a North Caucasus resort, says that plans to store up 15.8 million cubic feet of snow now will mean that there will be enough snow on all competition routes next year “even if there will be no snow at all” in 2014. He did not say what the costs would be for refrigeration (

Informal Russian Poll Shows Few Believe Sochi Will Unite Russia. An online poll conducted by finds that for every Russian who says that the Olympiad will unite Russia  as President Vladimir Putin has promised and clearly hopes, 25 others say that it will have no such effect (

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