Friday, November 8, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 13 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 37th 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 Goble

Sochi Olympic Park ‘Still Under Construction,’ Visitors Say.  Although Russian officials insist that everything is almost ready for the games, Western journlists who have visited Sochi says that the Olympic park is “still under construction” and that “workers are scrambling to finish the athletes’ housing facilities.”  They also say that “the 40,000-seat stadium designed for the opening and closing ceremonies isn’t finished either” and that organizers are practicing at an alternative venue, an indication that they have fears about whethere the original site will be finished in time (

Construction Materials Now Being Delivered to Sochi by Air.  In yet another indication of Moscow’s push to finish Olympic construction on time, the Russian authorities are now using specially outfitted Boeing 747-8F cargo planes to deliver 30 tons of construction materials on each flight.  The costs of air delivery of such materials, of course, are enormous and suggest that construction in Sochi is not quite as far along as Russian officials routinely claim ( and

Kozak Warns Olympic Builders to Finish on Time or Face Criminal Charges.  Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who is overseeing the Sochi Games for the Kremlin, says that contractors must live up to their promises and deliver finished buildings on time or they will face criminal sanctions (

Olympic Contractors Break a Sochi Water Main on Average Every Three Days.  During the first ten months of 2013, Olympic facility contractors have managed to break water mains in Sochi 115 times, or once every three days.  Often that leads to water cutoffs to businesses and residences for days or in some cases weeks.  In many cases, it appears that the breakage has happened because contractors either do not know where existing pipes are or are working too fast to be bothered to check (

Olympic Torch has Gone Out 44 Times So Far.  Russian organizers have had little luck with their much ballyhooed Olympic torch. It has gone out 44 times so far, prompting investigations into the manufacturer, suggestions that the whole thing is a flop or the result of “dark forces,” and the decision by some along its track to meet the torch not with celebration but by clicking cigarette lighters as the runner passes (,,  and

Another Storm Warning Issued in Sochi.  The Sochi area faces its third major storm in the last several months, and officials are asking residents to be “vigilant and to take all necessary security measures.”  The two earlier storms did significant damage to coastal construction and flooded portions of the Olympic facilities.  The clean up from those storms is still going on (

IOC Head Doesn’t Want Any Kind of Boycott of Sochi.  Saying that sports should unite rather than divide, IOC head Thomas Bach said that he very much hoped that there would not be any kind of boycott – by athletes, countries or officias -- directed against the Sochi Games (

European Parliamentarians Said Ready to Call on National Officials to Boycott Games.  European parliamentarians are ready to call on the leadership of the European Union and its constituent countries not to attend the Sochi Olympics, a stance many Russian opposition figures support (

European Olympic Head Calls on Georgia Not to Boycott Sochi.  Patrick Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committee, urged Georgia to refrain from boycotting the games, despite the fact that 30,000 Georgians have petitioned Tbilisi to do so because of what they suggest is the continuing Russian occupation of Georgian territory (

Russian Diplomat Says Sochi Will Welcome Georgian Athletes and Fans.  Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Federation’s permanent representative to the United Nations, says that Russia will welcome Georgian athletes and fans to Sochi “despite the attempts of Georgia” to stir up opposition to Moscow over the Olympiad (

Brezhnev Briefly Considered Cancelling 1980 Moscow Games.  In1975, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev sent a message to the CPSU Central Committee suggesting that it might be a good idea for the USSR to cancel the games, a message he compossed five years before anyone began talking about a boycott.  Brezhnev said that “besides the enormous cost, there may be all sorts of scandals that could tarnish the Soviet Union.” Russian President Vladimir Putin does not seem worried about either the cost or the scandals this time around, apparently certain that Western countries will not object and may even help him celebrate the Games (

Sochi Police Harass Two Norwegian Journalists … Two Norwegian journalists, Reporter Øystein Bogen and cameraman Aage Aunes, who work for Norway’s TV2 television station, the country’s official broadcaster of this year’s Olympics, were harassed by police near Sochi, told they were on a “blacklist” issued by the KGB, and asked during their brief detention “Are you going to say anything negative about the Olympics?” (  and

… Russian Foreign Ministry Apologizes … Following official complaints by the Norwegian government and a media firestorm about this in Moscow and Europe, the Russian foreign ministry officially apologized to the two journalists and said that local law enforcement personnel had “exceeded their authority” (

… But Rights Groups Say More Needs to Be Done to Ensure Media Freedom. But Memorial and Human Rights Watch said that Moscow needed to do more to ensure that journalists would be able to do their jobs free of official pressure. An official of Memorial said that “of course, censorship exists” whatever it is called but that unfortunately, the Russian government is “unconcerned about being condemned for this by the international community. Jane Buchanan of Human Rights Watch said that the IOC should investigate and that Moscow officials should stop all harassment of journalists (,,  and

Chernyshenko Says Russian Olympic Uniforms Rainbow-Colored But Warns Against Demonstrations at Sochi.  Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of Russia’s organizing committee, says that “our official uniforms for Games organizer is full of rainbow color” and that his group “keeps social inclusivity a key for our Games.  At the same time, however, he warned against “any propaganda or any demonstrations” during the Games “in accordance with the Olympic Charter’s Rule No. 50” (

Sochi Gays Say City is ‘Dangerous’ for LGBTs. Vladislav Slavsky, a gay resident of Sochi, says "It is dangerous here. I'm not living my life now, I'm surviving. I always have pepper spray on me when I'm walking. I get attacked from the bushes. It's stopped somewhat recently, but I have been attacked many times from people hiding in the bushes near my house. In the evening when it gets dark they jump out of the bushes, insult me, throw stones and glass bottles at me." Andrey Tanichev, who owns a gay club there, adds that "Before this law was passed, gay people didn't have any rights anyway. Gay prides or even talking about them was unthinkable. Even more so, talking about gays in general was unthinkable. Unthinkable - they simply didn't exist. Like there was no sex in the Soviet Union, there were no gays either. And this law at least raised certain questions among the public. I think that this will not change anything until the regime changes. And I think the regime's attitude towards minorities will not change in any case" (

UN Calls for Social Inclusion at Sochi.  In its resolution calling for an Olympic truce, the UN General Assembly urged Moscow and future host governments to “promote social inclusion without discrimination of any kind,” Andre Banks, executive director of the gay rights group All Out, used the occasion to call for the repeal of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law. ‘If the IOC and Russian officials were serious about making the Games open to all, they would take action before Sochi to reject laws that are leading to a dramatic spiral of brutal violence against gays and lesbians,’ he said (

Moscow Blocks Tribute to Gay Victims of Nazi Germany.  The Russian government refused to allow a Russian gay rights group to hold an event in Moscow to remember gays who were killed by the Nazis. Nikolai Alekseev, founder of Moscow Pride, said that ‘the Moscow authorities are becoming increasingly absurd, and the ban of the rally to denounce the crimes of Hitler and Nazism is more proof of this. [Indeed,] The government is approving of Nazi Germany’s genocidal policies.” Moreover, he said, “the Moscow authorities have actually formalized a total ban on all public gatherings of the LGBT community. They are actively using the federal law banning so-called gay propaganda to justify their homophobic actions” (

Russian Gays Seek Data on Repression Against Them.  The Russian LGBT network is circulating a questionnaire to find out what kinds of repressions Russian gays now face.  Meanwhile, “Otechesvennyye zapiski” has published a large article on the history and current state of Russian homophobia ( and

If Moscow Discriminated against Blacks Rather than Gays, No One Would Go to Sochi, Canadian Commentator Says. Jennifer Good says that if the Russian government had announced the same policies about blacks that it has for LGBTs, no government in the world would consider sending its athletes to Sochi. Racism is fortunately unacceptable, but “sexuality is easier to hide and homophobia continues to make it acceptable to ask people to do so” (

Medvedev Promises ‘Absolutely Safe’ Games.  Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says that “a number of threats exist in our country, so everyone is working as hard as possible - the special forces are working, and the government as a whole is trying to guarantee the absolute safety of the Olympic Games …I believe that's what will happen. But it's clear that we should take a number of other decisions to make sure that these Games are held without a hitch, so that they will be remembered as a spectacular sporting event" (

Chernyshenko Promises ‘Safest Games Ever’ in ‘Friendly Atmosphere.’  Saying that Russian officials will not spy on fans or athletes or embed tracking devices in credentials, Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee, says that “rumors that Big Brother will be watching you are fiction not reality.”  He said that people will be secure and in “a friendly atmosphere.”  Unfortunately, he continued, “double standards exist” and “what is forgiven in one country will be criticized in our case” (

To Attend Sochi Olympic Events, Fans Will Need Special ‘Tickets Bearing Their Names.’  In order to enhance security, Aleksandr Zhukov, the vice speaker of the Russian State Duma, says that fans will need tickets bearing their names that guards will be able to check against their documents. “Each viewer must register in advance,” he said, “and after this will receive a special card.” It is unclear from Zhukov’s comments whether this is simply the fan passport that officials have talked about in the past or a new system in which the individual tickets themselves will have the name of the fan on them (

Sochi Security Arrangements Draconian, Independent Experts Say.  Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan, two of Russia’s most distinguished independent experts on that country’s security services, say that security in Sochi will be unprecedentedly tight, with 5500 cameras, more than 40,000 security personnel, and various electronic monitoring devices. Moreover, the security services appear committed to further expanding their reach and testing methods that may be used elsewhere (

Moscow to Allow Citizens of 20 Countries Visa-Free Three-Day Visits to Sochi.  Citizens of 20 countries, including the United States and China will be able to visit Sochi and several other Russian cities for three days without securing a Russian visa, a rare example of a loosening of control and one that could be exploited against the Games (

Russian Experts Counter Moscow’s Anti-Circassian Claims.  As Circassians in the North Caucasus have stepped up their demands that Moscow allow Circassians living in wartorn Syria to return to their ancestral homelands, Russian officials have suggested that there are many reasons that they shouldn’t be. Now, a group of Russian experts has provided arguments as to why the five “myths” the Russian government has offered are without foundation and reflect only Moscow’s unwillingness to allow more Circassians into the region in advance of the Sochi Games (

Sochi Investors Demand More Money from the Government.  Apparently using a strategy they have employed before, investors and businesses involved in Sochi construction have told the Russian government that it must provide them with more loans and other assistance if the work is to be completed in a timely fashion.  Some commentators have suggested this “ultimatum” could be rejected and the work would be finished anyway, but others say that the businesses have the government in a tight squeeze and consequently are likely to be bailed out again especially since many politicians and bureaucrats are profiting as well (,, and

Krasnodar Airport to Serve as Backup to Sochi.  According to a document obtained by journalists that officials said was restricted to official use, the Russian authorities plan to restrict air traffic into and out of Krasnodar airport as the Olympics approach in order to have a backup for the Sochi field.  At present, Krasnodar field is working normally (

Environmentalist Arrested, Then Released with Warning.  Andrey Rudomakha, coordinator of the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus, was arrested and then released with a warning. He and his organization have angered officials because of their reports about discrepancies between official claims and reality and about special arrangements that have been made for Vladimir Putin’s dacha (

Local Ecologists Dispute Moscow’s Claim that Sochi Will Be Carbon Neutral.  Local environmentalists say that the trash dumps that contractors are leaving behind strongly suggest that Sochi will not be carbon neutral as Russian officials continue to claim (  and

German Petition Seeks to Protect Sochi’s Homeless Animals from Euthanization.  More than 34,000 people have signed an online petition in Germany calling on Russian officials not to go forward with their plans to euthanize homeless animals in Sochi in advance of the Olympiad (

Russian Commentators Say Sochi Games are for Export.  Vladimir Putin may not get the bounce at home that he is hoping for, Moscow commentators say, because Russians have concluded that the Olympiad is being run not for them but for a foreign audience. Indeed, Oleg Kozyrev writes, the authorities have transformed life in Sochi into “a hell” for residents and have generally ignored the interests and needs of ordinary Russians as opposed to those of the oligarchs. Moreover, he says, “the authorities have no plan to make the Olympiad a holiday for the entire country.” Few Russians can afford the ticket and htel prices. And officials are interested only in enriching themselves and promoting their image of Russia to foreigners who may not appreciate what is actually taking place in the country. Meanwhile, Olympic officials have announced a new 1.5 million US dollar program to promote the Games (, and,

Moscow’s Use of Force in North Caucasus Won’t End Islamic Threat There.  Corneliues Graubner, a New York specialist on the Caucasus, says that “the aggressive security sweeps targeting Islamists” across the North Caucasus “may well disrupt possible plans” by militant groups to disrupt the Sochi Games, but these acitons will do little to end the Islamist challenge. “Putin and his pawns in Dagestan will not be able to shoot themselves out of the Islamist threat. As long as autocratic tendencies and corruption shape the Kremlin’s policies in the North Caucasus, money and time will be wasted, and lives will continue to be lost” (

Victims of Russia’s Anti-Gay Propaganda Law Can Apply for Asylum, Dutch Say.  Fans Timmermans, the foreign minister of the Netherlands, said that Russia’s anti-gay law “has a stigmatizing and discriminatory effect and contributes to a climate of homophobia” in the Russian Federation and thus could become grounds for asylum in his country (

Duma Deputy Wants to Ban Football Matches in North Caucasus Lest They Spark Ethnic Violence. Oleg Nilov, the deputy head of the Just Russia fraction in the Russian State Duma, has called for the introduction of a ban on football matches in the North Caucasus because such competitions often feature nationalist signs and slogans and end in violence, including the burning of national flags.  He suggestd that the authorities might introduce rugby as an alternative competition. LDPR head Vladimir Zhirinovsky archly suggested that having curling competitions might be even more effective (

Russian Officials Say Sochi Identity Emerged Only After 1864.  An article by a Russian specialist on the Caucasus ignores the fact that Sochi was a Circassian city before the 1864 genocide tsarist officials conducted against that nation, thereby whiting out most of the history fo the city, and suggests that the Sochi local identity now so much in evidence is the product of the influx of ethnic Russians, Cossacks and other nationalities (

Russians Still Upset about Sochi and Summer Time.  Ordinary Russians and many Duma members remain upset that Moscow signed contracts with foreign firms to cover the Sochi Olympiad that in effect require the entire Russian Federation to remain on summer time until the games conclude. Various commentators and deputies are considering proposals that would allow at least part of the country to change sooner, although government opposition makes it unlikely any of these ideas will be realized (

US Human Rights Campagn Launches ‘Love Conquers Hate’ Effort Against Russian Anti-Gay Law.  The Human Rights Campaign, the largest US gay right group has launched a campaign featuring actors, actresses, past Olympians and other sports stars wearing Russian-language “Love Conquers Hate” T-shirts. Among those taking part are Jonah Hill, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kristen BellmFergie, Kelly Osbourne, Ricky Martin, Kevin Bacon, Doutzen Kroes, Anthony Bourdain, Tim Gunn, Perez Hilton, Todd Glass, Jonathan Del Arco, Amanda Leigh Dunn, Ana Matronic, Olympic swimmer Craig Gibbons, NBA basketball player Jason Collins, country singer Maggie Rose and soccer players Jozy Altidore, Lori Lindsey and Megan Rapinoe. The group is calling for the repeal of Russia’s anti-LGBT propaganda before the Sochi Games begin (

Amnesty Says Olympic Torch Throws ‘Light on Human Rights Violations in Russia.’ Amnesty International says that Moscow’s decision to have the Olympic torch pass through all the federal subjects of the Russian Federation has had the effect of highlighting human rights violations of all kinds in that country.  Had there been no torch parade, many aspects of this dark side of Russian life today would have remained hidden at least to the international community. Sergey Nikitin, the Russian Federation representative at Amnesty, says that “the Russian authorities must not use the Olympics” as a screen to hide such abuses and that any efforts by them to do so are totally unacceptable and a violation of the Olympic Charter (

Putin Spends Billions on Sochi But has No Money for Children With Cancer, Shenderovich Says.  Viktor Shenderovich, a Russian writer and commentator, says that it is totally unacceptable that President Vladimir Putin is prepared to spend “billions” for the Olympiad but can’t come up with government funds to help children with cancer.  As a result, he said, he probably won’t watch these games(

10,000 Copies of ‘Misha and His Moms Go to the Olympics’ to Be Sent to Russia.  A US firm based in Michigan plans to mail copies to children in Moscow and Sochi of a coloring book about the adventures of a Muscovite boy named Misha and his two lesbian mothers at the Olympics. In the book, Misha makes friends from around the world,,, even as Russian police beat a gay couple for holding hands and two straight female medal winners kissing on the awards platform. It also shows a terrified Misha being dragged out of hs home by police, a dramatic illustration of efforts by Duma deputies to legalize the seizure of children from gay parents (

Moscow’s Claims to the Contrary, Sochi is Anything But Invalid Friendly.  The Russian government has not lived up to its promises to ensure that people with physical disabilities will be able to move about the site of the Olympics and Paralympics, local residents say.  There are many places which still require going up and down long flights of stairs, a clear violation of Moscow’s commitments to the IOC but not something the IOC has complained about (

FIFA to Take Steps Against Discrimination in Russia before 2018 Competition. While this move will do little to help improve the situation at Sochi next February, the International Football Federation has announced that it is planning to take steps to ensure that competitors at the 2018 cup championships in Russia do not suffer from racism or discrimination of any kind (

Cossacks to Replace Police in Stavropol During Sochi Games.  The authorities in Stavropol kray, an increasingly restive region in southern Russia, have announced that they are hiring Cossacks to take the place of regular police there during the Sochi Games.  Apparently, the Stavropol police force will be sent to Sochi.  This is the clearest indication yet that Moscow is having to scramble to backfill the places of those it is dispatching for security in Sochi (

Moscow Sets Fines for Motorists in Sochi During Games.  The Russian government has set special fines for motorists driving in Sochi during the Olympics, fines whose size has already drawn fire from local residents who fear they will be victimized as a result (

Sochi Residents Say Moscow has Entered Them in New Olympic Event – Survival.  Faced with continuing and in some cases worsening water, sewage, power and heating shutoffs, torn up streets, cracked sidewalks, official malfeasance and other overbearing actions, rising prices, increasing restrictions on their movements, residents of Sochi say that they have been entered against their will in a new Olympic sport – survival.  Many add that the only benefit they have from the games is that they don’t have to pay the sky-high hotel prices, but some of them are losing their homes and many are outraged by the way in which construction has transformed and not in a good way their home town (,,,,,,,

Circassians to Have Only Marginal Place at Sochi Games. Ruslan Gvashev, chairman of the Shapsug elders organization, says that Moscow’s promises notwithstanding, the Circassian nation of which his Shapsugs are a subgroup will have only a marginal place in the celebration of the Olympiad.  He adds that Moscow has mislead the International Olympic Committee, the international community, and many Circassians about this and points to the unwillingness of officials in Sochi and nearby regions to register Circassians as an indigenous people or otherwise include them in public discussions.  Gvashev says that he is especially outraged that the Sochi administration has not been willing to talk about the preservation of a Circassian cemetery there or take steps to counter the rising tide of xenophobia among ethnic Russians in the North Caucasus (

Russia Lacks Historical Data on Sochi Weather.  All of Moscow’s predictions about the weather in Sochi next February suffer not only from the difficulties of making longterm forecasts but also because Russia has had a weather station in Sochi  for only the last ten years and thus lacks longterm data and because the station itself is some 1600 feet below where the competitions will take place (

Blogger Transforms Sochi Countdown Clock into Barometer of Spending on Olympiad.  By replacing days with billions, hours with millions, minutes with thousands, and second with dollars, a Russian blogger has posted online a picture of the Sochi countdown block that transforms it into a clear display of just how much money Moscow has spent on what is far and away the most expensive Olympiad in history (

IOC Calls on Russia to Investigate Trash Dumps in Sochi.  Given Russia’s zero waste pledge to the international community, members of the International Olympic Committee are expressing deep concern about reports that Olympic contractors continue to dump waste in various parts of Sochi and that this waste represents a threat to public health.  ''If this is true, I am astonished,'' Gerhard Heiberg, a senior Norwegian IOC member and marketing commission chairman, told the AP on Thursday. ''This would be a breach of confidence between the Russian authorities and the IOC.''  Canadian IOC member Dick Pound called for urgent action to determine the safety of the water supply. ''If you're the IOC, you say, `Look, we've got this report. We're not in a position to assess it, but if it's true, this really does compromise your own citizenry and it compromises the games. Could you please give us a quick and reliable report on what the hell is going on?'' (

Putin May Use Sochi to Dump Medvedev, KPRF Says. Sochi members of the KPRF in the Olympic city say that Russian President Vladimir Putin may use problems with the Olympiad as an occasion to fire Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his government. They offer no specific evidence for their prediction (

Sochi Contractors Still Not Paying Many Gastarbeiters.  Despite promises and government intervention, a number of Olympic contractors still have not paid back wages to many immigrant workers (

Illegal Migrants Still in Sochi. Despite government pledges to round up and expel all illegal immigrants in Sochi by November 12, officials concede that they have not been able to do so, in part because despite the huge dragnet they have not found all of them and in part because businesses need their labor to this day ( and

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