Friday, January 10, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 4 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 46th 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

Putin Gets Credit for Relaxing Restrictions on Protests ... Having earlier issued a ban on all demonstrations in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin received praise from the International Olympic Committee, some Russian commentators and much of the Western media for modifying that ban to allow protests at special sites in Sochi during the Olympiad if the demonstrations are not connected with the Games themselves and if organizers receive permission from the interior ministry, the FSB and the local authorities, effectively shifting the responsibility for rejecting such applications from the Kremlin to the bureaucracy rather than respecting Russian constitutional guarantees for such meetings (,,,,,,and

... But Activists and Analysts Say His New Rules Won’t Allow Real Ones ... Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Russian opposition, Nikolay Alekseyev, an LGBT  activist, and Lev Levinson, an expert at the Moscow Institute of Human Rights, among others, say that Putin’s latest move effectively  bans all meeetings but allows the Russian president to escape personal responsibility for prohibiting them. And Jane Buchanan, associate director of Human Rights Watch, says that Russia’s move to create protest zones represents “an assault on free speech” rather than a defense of it and should be evaluated as a public relations stunt rather than a change of heart by Vladimir Putin (  and

... And Russian Commentator Lampoons Putin’s Announcement. In a blog post on, Sergey Lunin lampoons Putin’s latest move a “a big step forward,” noting that the inmates of Hitler’s concentration camps could never “even dream” of having such spaces to express their grievances against the Nazis. Creating special zones for permitted protests thus demonstrates “how much humanity has improved” since then, Lunin says (

Putin Promises ‘Total Annihilation’ of Terrorists. In his New Year’s message to the Russian people, President Vladimir Putin promised as he has in the past to “strongly and decisively continue the battle against terrorists until their total annihilation.”  Shortly thereafter, he arrived in Sochi to inspect, among other things, security arrangements that some are calling “a ring of steel” around the Olympic city.  Accompanying him, among others, was Federal Migration Service director Konstantin Romodanovsky who has taken the lead in expelling illegal gastarbeiters and tightening registration requirements for workers from other parts of the North Caucasus and Central Asia (,

Sochi Becomes a ‘Closed City’ on Russian Christmas.  Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decree ordering unprecedentedly tight security for the Sochi Olympiad went into effect on January 7, a “Christmas present” that “killed the holiday spirit” not only in Sochi but throughout the region, according to Vladimir Kimayev, head of the YABLOKO party organization in that city. Many said they agreed with the need for enhanced security but expressed concern that officials were exceeding their briefs, jumping the gun to enforce the decree, over-conscientiously checking documents,and violating the Russian constitution. Some suggested that fences and locks had become the symbol of the resort city, and others complained that restrictions on cars and streets were getting in the way of normal activities for an absurdly long period. Some of these excesses may be ended after a shakedown period, but others are likely to endure.  It certainly did nothing to calm the situation when a senior Russian official said that “all divisions responsible for ensuring the security of guests at the games are being put on combat alert,” a statement many see as pointing to a long siege of the city. At the same time, there have been some lighter moments: One policeman tried to prevent a Soch resident from entering a restroom simply because the man could not produce his documents (

Russian Security Efforts Unlikely to Be Totally Effective, Soldatov Says ... Andrey Soldatov, Russia’s leading independent expert on that country’s security services, says Moscow is using a combination of old-style Soviet control methods and new technologies to defend against terrorism but has done little or nothing to promote what are the most important means of doing so: the collection of significant intelligence about the opposition and the sharing of information among the various government offices involved.  Those are areas in which “the Russian special services have always had problems.”  As a result, security at the time of the games cannot be taken as guaranteed and discussion of the Sochi Olympics has shifted from a focus on sports to one on security.  Soldatov added that he is far from certain whether he personally would go to Sochi under the circumstanes (

... Other Experts Concur.  Russian and Western experts generally concur with Soldatov’s conclusion, with most suggesting that Moscow may be able to prevent a terrorist attack at the Olympic venues but not block one in outlying areas. Among those taking that view are Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation who says that “Moscow-run security services provide ... poor intelligence work against terrorist targets,” Masha Gessen, a Russina journalist, who says that “the Soviet combination of powerlessness and pretence has been recreated, and Mark Galeotti of New York Univeersity who says that Moscow’s two billion US dollar investment in Sochi security won’t block attacks outside of Sochi.  But he added, as do most, that “insurgents and terrorists have been able to get through what was meant to be impenetrable security by paying bribes or just taking advantage of human weaknesses” (,

Counter-Terrorist Regime Introduced in Stavropol after Bodies Found. Moscow has launched a counter-terrorism operation in Stavropol kray after six bodies were found in parked cars and an explosive device was discovered nearby. Russia’s Investigative Committee and the FSB are conducting a security sweep of the region to try to identify those responsible. Some observers suspect terrorists from the nearby North Caucasus and link this action to the attempts of militants to disrupt the Olympics (  and

Kuban TV Shows How Easy It Would Be for Terrorists to Take the Train to Sochi.  A six-minute segment on Sovetsky Kuban television shows how easy it would be for anyone, including a terrorist, to circumvent the minimal security arrangements at some railway stations (

410 Kuban Cossacks to Help with Sochi Security. The Kuban Cossack Army says it is sending 410 of its community to help provide security ( and

US, United Kingdom Offer Moscow Counter-Terrorism Help.  US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel telephoned his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu to offer counter-terorrism assistnace to help make the Sochi games safe, if such assistance is requested.  Meanwhile, British PrimeMinnsiter David Cameron directed MI-6 to share with Moscow any information it had that could help prevent terrorist attacks against Sochi or during the Sochi Games (, and

FBI to Send Agents to Help Russia with Sochi Security.  James B. Comey, director of the FBI, said his organization is sending special agents and support personnel to provide security at the Sochi Games. Approximately 25 will be based in Moscow while a dozen others will be in Sochi itself  (

No Flights ‘from Outside the FSU’ Except for Charters or Private Planes Now Allowed to Land at Sochi. Among the security arrangements that have now gone into place is a ban on all flights from outside the former Soviet Union to the Olympic city. Instead, all regular passengers from the “far” abroad will have to go via Moscow or St. Petersburg (

Russians Urged to Defend Their Rights But Not If Facing Police Alone.  A Sochi legal affairs expert says that Russians should defend their rights when they think they are being violated but not take the risk of doing so when they are facing the police alone.  That is necessary to overcome among both the police and the population the widespread “presumption of guilt” that many operate under. Any “heroism,” however, should be avoided because it carries with it great personal risks (

Tight Security at Cathedral Where Putin Went Forces Most Residents to Go Elsewhere.  Security around the new Sochi cathedral where Russian President Vladimir Putin attended Russian Christmas services was so tight that, in the words of, “many believersin Sochi preferred to visit” one of the 34 older Orthodox churches in the city or not attend any (

FSB to Retain Meta-Data from Sochi Meta-Data for Three Years.  Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan, Russia’s leading independent specialists on that country’s security services, says that the meta-data that is being collected by Rostelekom for conversations in and around Sochi will be retained for three years by the FSB in its database (

New Ban on Liquids on Russian Aircraft Outrages Some.  In the name of security for the Sochi Olympics, the Russian government has banned air travelers inside the country from carrying anything liquid, including medicines, a move that has outraged some Russians.  One commentator, who said he had been a supporter of the Sochi Games, says that this ban may change his mind.  “Perhaps for [others] there exists another Olympics, but for me,” he said, the games are all about my need and right to carry my medicines with me ( and

US Readies Plan for Mass Evacuation of Athletes from Sochi. USA Today reports that the US government has prepared a plan for the evacuation of American athletes from Sochi in the event of a disaster or terrorist attack and has signed a contract with Global Rescue which calls for, among other things, the preparation of five jets to implement (

Putin Implicitly Admits Not All Olympic Sites are Fully Ready.  At the start of President Vladimir Putin’s latest visit to Sochi and despite the insistence of Russian Olympic Committee officials that Sochi is ready for guests, aides to the Kremlin leader said he would be focusing his attention on those sites where more remains to be done. One sector that Putin appears to be especially concerned about is the electrical network. He directed the energy ministry to take control of the problem-plagued branch  (  and

Ufa Paper Attacks ‘Liberal Rats’ for Opposing Sochi Olympics.  According to an article in the main newspaper of the Bashkortostan capital, Russian “liberals are competing with each other as to who can spit the most on the approaching Olympics” in Sochi.  These “liberals,” the paper says, ignore the fact that “the Sochi billions work for [Russia’s] economy,” because “the incomes of citizens and the expenditures of the state are one and the same thing.”  Moreover, the paper says, they forget that Russia’s prestigeis on the line as well (

Sochi ‘Tough Sell’ for US Fans Even Before Volgograd.  Tour firms in the United States say that the Sochi Olympiad was “a tough sell” even before the Volgograd violence, with one in Chicago saying it was sending only 50 to Sochi compared to the 350 she organized visits for the Beijing Games.  The location and the possibility of terrorist violence are only part of the problem, she continued. Sochi has problems with local transportation and suffers from the lack of high-end hotels. According to another tour firm in Austin, Texas, Sochi is becoming “more of an event that people are really happy to watch on TV” rather than to attend. Bookings for Sochi are also below expectations, the Association of Tour Operators of Russia says, because of the country’s economic problems. But it suggests there may be a last-minute burst because Russian travelers increasingly have been scheduling their holidays not far in advance but shortly before they go ( and

Olympiad Loses Another Star to Injury.  Despite “tough security measures,” “a vastmedia center,” and a highly orchestrated “torch relay extravaganza,” Russian Sport says, “Sochi’s Olympic organizers found themselves upstaged by a skier’s knee Tuesday, with just one month to go until the Games.Lindsay Vonn, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic downhill gold medalist and one of the Winter Games’ most recognizable faces, will not compete in Sochi after succumbing to a knee problem that has dogged her since at least 2007.Other prominent athletes have withdrawn from Sochi in recent months, including French downhill and giant slalom world champions Marion Rolland and Tessa Worley, but none of them has the name recognition and marketability of Vonn, a big name in her own right who has gained extra exposure through her ongoing relationship with golf star Tiger Woods.” With each such absence, the Games will likely lose some of television audience advertisers are counting on (

Putin Seeks Gold in Anti-Terrorist Effort, US Commentator Says.  Writing in Nashville’s Tennessean, Rachel Marsden says that terrorist threats against Sochi, combine with the Syrian conflict and Islamist violence, “give Russia the chance to assume a leadership role in the struggle againt terrorism” and suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be able to win the gold in that struggle (

Anti-Gay Policies and Attitudes Leading Many Russian LGBTs to Emigrate. Russian LGBTs say that anti-gay attitudes and policies are now so strong that Russia has become “an even tougher place to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual” and that as a result ever more of them are emigrating. Those who remain say that violence against the LGBT community has those who remain thinking “a lot” about doing the same thing (  and

IOC Member Says One-Third of Money Spent on Sochi has Gone Missing.  Gian-Franco Kasper, a member of the International Olympic Committee, says that about a third of the 50 billion plus US dollars spent on the Sochi Olympiad has disappeared instead of being spent as nominally intended. (That would be some 16 billion US dollars, only slightly less than Boris Nemtsov estimated had been corruptly diverted in his book on Sochi.) He also says that Russian President Vladimir Putin views the games as a matter ofhis prestige, that Putin’s recent amnesties and pardons were taken for public relations reasons, and that there will be 50,000 security personnel guarding the games (

Romney Says Russia Should Not Have Been Selected to Host Olympiad.  Saying that if it were his choice, Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate, says, he would never have awarded Russia an Olympics because its leaders have not been “particularly collaborative” internationally.  “But it’s not my choice,” he continued. “They are a player on the global stage ... but they do strain the view of people like myself as to their leadership and their characterization of the Olympic spirit.” He said that he had no doubt about Vladimir Putin’s “ability to turn the Black Sea resort of Sochi into a fortress” but that “it’s really the intelligence work that goes into the Olympics months and years before the games” that blocks terrorism.  Romney added that it is his “guess that the Russians have done a pretty good job on the intelligence side of things to keep the most dangerous people away” (,, and

Australian Olympians Told Not to Use Social Networks.  Members of Australia’s Olympic team who have already been told not to travel outside of the route between their residences and places of competition in Sochi have now been directed by officials of their national Olympic committee not to make use of social networks when they are in the southern Russian city.  The latter decision appears to reflect both a desire to avoid the problems some Australian competitors got into with social networks at the London Games and concerns about Russian plans to monitor social networks more intensively than ever before ( and,0,4025327.story#axzz2pKdqRwA9).

Volgograd Explosions Challenge Russian Assumptions about Sochi Security.  Russian officials have expected terrorist acts involving the Sochi Games to take place in or near that city and to be carried out by North Caucasians. Instead, the first major actions directed against the games took place in Volgograd and were implemented by an ethnic Russian, thus calling into question the assumptions underlying most of Moscow’s security planning.  The Volgograd bombings, however, did confirm one assumption Moscow has made: any attacks anywhere in Russia in this period will be linked to Sochi no matter whether they are or not (  and

Nearly 3,000 Russian Citizens have Died from Terrorism Since Putin Came to Power.  Despite Vladimir Putin’s claims that he has brought stability to Russia, at least 2964 Russian citizens have died in approximately 100 terrorist attacks since he became president, according to the Global Terrorism Database, numbers far higher than under his predecessor (

Volgograd Bombings had Three Goals, Turkish Analyst Says. Kerim Has, an expert at the USAK Center for Eurasian Studies, says that the Volgograd bombings had at least three goals: to force a cancellation of the Sochi Olympics or at least make those thinking about attending nervous, to show that Vladimir Putin’s “security concept” is incorrect and inadequate and therefore unlikely to be able to prevent future attack, and to promote ethnic Russian flight from the North Caucasus so that non-Russian and predominantly Muslim nations there will become more predominant (

Russia Today Says Sochi is Ready for Visitors; Photographs Show It Isn’t.  The Russia Today television channel continues to insist that Sochi is “ready to receive guests” for the Olympiad, but photographs taken by residents and posted online show that there are many facilities that are not yet finished and others that have been incompletely or only shoddily completed ( and

Russian Authorities Continue Harassment of Sochi Environmentalists.  Even as protests in support of Yevgeny Vitishko, the environmental activist who has been sentenced to three years in jail, continue in many Russian cities, the authorities in Krasnoyarsk continue to harass his colleagues by conducting an illegal search of the apartment of Natalnya Kainovskaya, who like Vitishko, has called attention to the illegal actions of Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev ( and

Environmentalists Win One Case, Appear to Have Lost Another.  Residents of Shapsug auls near Sochi have won their case in court, supported by Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus, against the excavation of gravel from a river that flows through their region. They won it, however, only after Olympic contractors had pulled so much gravel out of the riverbed that it has affected the ecosystem and at a time when construction is nearly over.  Meanwhile, officials continue to stall through obfuscation another case involving the destruction of areas in the national park there (, and

Public Meeting in Sochi Calls for Mayor’s Ouster, Improved City Services.  Two hundred Sochi residents assembled at a public meeting, which was organized by the Law and Ordeer NGO and the Social Reform Party, at which they called for the ouster of the city’s mayor, Anatoly Pakhmov, for his continuing failure to protect them against Olympic construction and demanded that city officials improve the provision of basic services like electricity, water, sewage disposal, and housing (,,,  and

Many Sochi Residents Continue to Be Without Electricity, Heat, and Water.  Unplanned outages of electricity, heat and water, in addition to all those announced in advance, continue to be the bane of existence not only for many Sochi residents in their apartments but also of local hospitals, kindergartens and other public institutions.  And ever more rather than fewer have to confront torn up streets and sidewalks as Olympic contractors race to put in infrastructure that they did not do earlier.  Some streets have been torn up multiple times, and many sidewalks are dangerous for pedestrians (, and

More Travails of the Olympic Torch.  The Olympic torch continues to be carried across Russia in what was intended to mobilize the population for the Games, but instead, its passage has only highlighted problems. Not only did the torch continue to go out when it wasn’t supposed to, but officials blocked an ambulance to allow it to pass, prompting some to ask “what is more important: the torch or the life of an individual?”  Elsewhere, people put up signs complaining about mafia-control of the courts, hopeful that doing so might attract broader attention because of media coverage of the torch, or about the enormous sums of money being spent on Sochi when basic needs of the Russian population continue to go unmet. In Kirov, one man voiced his frustration by shouting “Go to hell with your torch and take the Olympics with you!” (,, and

Sochi Residents Warned about Wild Dogs, Con Artists.  Anyone walking through Sochi at night should be wary of being attacked by a band of wild dogs, and all Sochi residents and visitors should beware of the increasing number of con artists who are now plaguing the city, residents warn ( and

Sochi Policemen on the Beat Shouldn’t Be Blamed for Excesses, Resident Says.  Residents and bloggers should stop criticizing low-ranking policemen on the beat for the excesses their bosses have ordered, one resident says.  They  “are also people who are suffering from the Olympics.  Just imaine someonewho for four onths has been called away from his home and family and forced to spend New Year’s and Christmas in a barracks.” The resident adds that “yes, there are various kinds of people in the police ... but that’s to be expected as the police are a slice of society and as society is, soo too is the police. Let’s be kind to one another” (

May Sochi Residents Suffer as Little as Possible During the Games.  According to a man with relatives in Sochi, residents there are having a hard time.  “Undoubtedly, not everything [in Sochi] is bad.  A great deal good and necessary has been done,” he says, but only at a high cost to the residents of “the Olympic reservation.”  He adds that he “wants to wish all of them  the ability to survive [the Olympics] and not lose their sense of humor ... In comparison with the years of Olympic insanity behind them, [the time ahead] is a small thing indeed. But they have to be lived through a well” (

Public Protest Prompts Sochi Authorities to Cart Away One Trash Heap.  Sochi residents have long been infuriated by the willingness of Olympic contractors to ignore the law and dump trash wherever they like. Over the past six months, there have been more protests about this than about almost any other issue. Now, for almost the first time, Sochi residents can claim a small victory: Officials have responded and carted away one trash heap, although they have done nothing about the many other and some suspect that contractors will again dump their construction waste in the same spot that has been cleared (

More Bad Weather Threatens Sochi’s Power Lines.  High winds and cold weather in the coming days is likely to harm Sochi’s electricity network, according to city officials. In addition, it is likely to slow construction as well (

German Skier Say Russia Should Never Have Been Awarded the Games.  German skier Felix Neureuther says that “Russia should not have been chosen as the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics because of its poor human rights record,” according to GaystarNews. “It's  not right,” he said after winning a World Cup slalom competition in Italy. “The guys from the IOC should think about where to put the Olympic Games. It's not right to give the Olympic Games to places where they are giving the most money. It should be about the sport, in nations where there is passion” (

Circassians Release Two Feature Films about Genocide in Advance of Sochi.  Circassians in the United States and Turkey have produced two full-length feature films about the history of their nation, including the genocide their ancestors suffered at the hands of the Russian military in Sochi in 1864. In addition, they have stepped up their campaign to call attention to the disrespect that holding the Olympiad on the site of mass graves represents ( and

Circassian Says World Leaders Should Not Go to Sochi Because of Genocide.  Abubekir Murzakanov, the president of the Adyge Khekuh Circassian National Movement, has issued a public appeal to the leaders of the world calling on them to refuse to go to Sochi because of the genocide that Russians committed there against the Circassians in 1864. Genocide, he notes, is “a crime against humanity” far more serious than any other form of discrimination (

Circassians Angry about Russian Failure to Acknowledge Their History in Sochi.  Circassian activists in the North Caucasus and the diaspora say Russian organizers have almost completely ignored the history of the Circassian nation in Sochi, despite simple justice and the requirements of the Olympic Charter. Some say that organizers have devoted far less than one percent of their propaganda about the cultural background of the region to the Circassians whose capital Sochi once was (, January 3).

Russian Journalist Implicitly Recognizes Circassian Genocide.  Russian journalist Yuliya Latynina’s statement that “Russians are genetically predisposed ot genocide” represents an implicit recognition of the genocide Russians conducted against the Circassians in 1864, according to Murat Pshikanov, a Circassian activist (

Western Headlines about Olympiad Increasingly Critical.  Headlines like “Are Olympic Visitors Walking iinto a War Zone” and “The Sochi Olympics – the Next Benghazi” reflect increasing criticism in the West of the Sochi Olympiad and especially the security environment of that North Caucasus venue. Such headlines are likely to reduce the number of people likely to travel to the games and may affect how Western governments will react to what is taking place there ( and

Bomb Scare Empties Sochi Shopping Mall. When a package labeled “bomb” was found in Sochi’s Sea Mall, the authorities ordered an evacuation, but they determined that the supposed bomb was a fake. No charges against anyone have yet been filed. This event, however, did have the effect of increasing public fears in Sochi and leading many residents to celebrate the New Year’s either at home or outside other enclosed spaces (, and

Will New Security Rules Allow Russian Postal Workers to Steal More? The introduction of a requirement that all packages addressed to Krasnodar kray during the Olympic period be opened by postal authorities is likely to lead to more theft by employees of that agency.  According to some Russian residents, Russian Post is “a branch of the Bermuda triangle on the territory of Russia,” and the new rules will only make that black hole larger (

Sochi Games Media Center Twice as Large as Moscow’s Red Square.  Reflecting what matters most, the Russian Olympic Committee has opened a 158,000 square meter media ceneter that has space for more than 6500 Russian and foreign journalists (

Will Sochi Become St. Vladimirsburg or VladCity?  American analyst John Brown argues that just as St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin’s native city, was built “in part to be a bulwark against the Swedes int eh 18th century, Sochi can be seen as a possibly misguided realpolitik ‘defense’ against separatism in the Caucasus,” a challenge htat “could spark the flame of the dissolution of the Russian Federaiton.”  Given those parallels, he says, Russian officials might well consider renaming Sochi St. Vladimirsburg or VladCity (

Sochi Leads Russia in Exploitation of Workers, Labor Activists Say.  The mistreatment of workers, including abuses like non-payment of wages earned, in recent months has been worse in Sochi than anywhere else in the Russian Federation, according to labor activists.  And despite suggestions to the contrary, Central Asian gastarbeiters have not been the only victims.  Many Russian workers have also been mistreated, and the complaints of both have beenignored by corporations and officials (

Krasnodar Officials Said Keeping Out Residents of Daghestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. Kaoly Akhilgov a lawyer and activist, says that Krasnodar kray officials have begun to prevent residents of Daghestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia, three unstable regions in the North Caucasus, from entering that region without special permission and say they will continue to do so until the Olympics are over. He also says that Ingush officials are advising residents not to travel to Krasnodar without the approval of their own government  ( and

Manezh Demonstrators Unfurl “No Sochi” Sign at Moscow Demonstration.  A Moscow protest in support of those arrested for the May 6 demonstration I the Russian capital included a banner with the slogan “No to the Olympiad.” Police arrested 28 of those taking part ( and

Old Believers’ Cemetery Survives in Sochi Olympic Complex.  Although Russian officials have never expressed concern that Olympic construction may disturb the graves of thousands of Circassians who died in Sochi and environs in 1864, they thankfully have not destroyed an Old Believers’ Cemetery that is now surrounded by Olympic venues but remains intact (

Sewage Leaks in Sochi Too Widespread and Serious for Local Officials to Correct.  Local officials have turned to Moscow for help in blocking the leaks in Sochi’s sewage system that continue to cause smells and spark complaints from local residents. According to officials, there has not been any serious effort to upgrade the sewage sytem since the end of the Soviet Union (

Old Sochi Sign Says ‘Rossiisky;’ New One Says ‘Russky.’  A non-Russian has called attention to the fact that the original sign for Sochi’s Japanese garden uses the word “rossiisky,” which is a political rather than ethnic term for Russians, while the new sign put up by Olympic organizers uses the term “russky” which is an ethnic rather than political one. “So are we non-ethnic Russians or ethnic ones?!  I had thought we had a multi-national country!” (

Putin and Lukashenka Play Ice Hockey at Sochi Venue.  Russian President Vladimir Putin teamed up with his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, to play ice hockey against a group of Russian all-stars. Putin and Lukashenka were in red; the all-stars, in white (

Moscow Made Promises about Sochi But Things Turned Out Like Always, Blogger Says.  According to Sochi blogger Valeriy Suchkov, Moscow pledged to liveup to the principles of the Olympic Charter and promote “the harmonious development” of the city, “but in the execution of [the Russian] bureaucrac, any good deed is transformed into its opposite.”  So far, the Russian bureaucracy has violated the rights of the city’s residents, destroyed their city,  and deprived them of the right to run their own affairs” (

Krasnoyarsk Procuracy Opens Hotline for Reports of Rights Abuses.  The procuracy of Krasoyarsk kray has set up a hotline for residents and visitors to report abuses of civil and human rights during the Olympics and Paralympics (

Sochi Blogger Detained for Writing Down Police Names and ID Numbers. Police in Sochi detained Aleksey Kuzmin, a Sochi blogger, for writing down the names and identification numbers of some of their colleagues.  They did so even before the imposition of new stricter security rules on January 7 when in Kuzmin’s words, they were given “carte blanche” to harass everyone and anyone in the region (

Moscow has Allowed Most Facilities from 1980 Olympiad to Decay.  Given that Moscow has repeatedly insisted that the facilities it has built in Sochi for the Olympiad will be maintained and used for decades to come, several Russians decided to visit the facilities that Moscow built for the 1980 games and see what has happened to those.  Their photographs which have been posted on the Internet reveal “a sad picture” of neglect, disuse and decay and suggest that whatever the Russian authorities say, the situation in Sochi a decade from now will be equally “sad” (

US Olympians Worried about Security at Sochi. In the wake of the Volgograd bombings, US  speedskater Tucker Fredericks says that he is “just going to stay in the bubble ... go to the oval,and go back to my room. And that’s it.” His teammate Jilleanne Rookard says she hopes that Russia’s desire to avoid “national embarrassment” will provide some protection but told the Associated Press that she is worried about the likelihood that spectators will not hav similar protection.  “We worry about our parents, our family, our friends. They’re going to be normal tourists. I’m scared for them” (

Russian Athletes ‘Trying to Figure Out’ How Best to Use Sochi’s Four Kinds of Snow.  Aleksandr Schastnkh, a Russian Olympic skier, says he and his colleagues are studying the four different kinds of snow that will be on the runs in Sochi – incuding 16 million cubic feet of snow saved from last year – so as to have “maximum acceleration” and give Russian athletes the best chance at the games (

Moscow Spending 520 Million US Dollars per Event at Sochi, Four Times as Much as Beijing Did. Sports exports say that the two best measures of the cost of the Sochi Olympiad are the one that indicates that the Russian government is spending on average 520 million US dollars on each event, four times as much as the Chinese government did and the other that shows that there has been a cost overrun of 500 percent in the Russian case, almost three times as much as the Olympic average of 180 percent.  Such figures compensate, as some others do not, for changes in the number of sports represented in the competitions (

Islamist Hacker Group Threatens a Cyber War Against Sochi Games.  Anonymous Caucasus, a radical Islamist hacker group that has already broken into the sites of Sberbank and the Bank of Russia, says it will launch a cyber attack on Sochi as part of a broader “Pay-Back for Sochi” campaign to disrupt the competition (

LGBT Group Urges German Olympians to Identify Themselves as Members of Sexual Minorities. The Union of Lesbians and Gays of Germany has appealed to members of the German Olympic team to declare themselves to be members of sexual minorities as a way of protesting Moscow’s anti-gay laws and policies (

Overstretched, Moscow Using Military for Police Work in North Caucasus. To cope with security challenges that have stretched its police resources to the limit, the Russian government is now using uniformed soldiers as police in Stavropol kray (  as discussed in

Putin’s Constant Visits to Sochi Part of His Effort to Create ‘Simulacrum of a Big Russia.’  Citing Ilf and Petrov’s observation that “parallel to the big worl in which live big people and big things there exists a small world with small people and small things,” commentator Ilya Konstantinov says that President Vladimir Putin’s constant visits to Sochi, visits that are not strictly necessary given that other officials could condct such inspections, are part of the Russian president’s efforts to create “a simulacrum of a Great Russia”  (

Snow Leopard, Symbol of Sochi Games, Near Extinction in Russia Because of Poaching. President Vladimir Putin says that the Russian people chose the snow leopard as the mascot for the Sochi Games because it is “strong, powerful, fast and beautiful,” but experts say that there are probably only about 40 of them living in Russia where they have been pushed toward extinction by poachers who sell their skins for 20-30,000 US dollars” in Moscow and Beijing (

Sochi City Government Alienating Small Business. Despite the fact that small businesses provide 50 percent of the jobs and half of the income of the city, the Sochi city government under Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov has failed to support them, members of the business community say. Worse, he has taken steps that give all the advantages to big firms in advance of the Olympiad.  As a result, some small businessmen say, they want him to leave office as soon as possible and are totally alienated from the Olympic effort.  One said that  “even if [he] were in Sochi during the Olympiad, [he] would watch it only on television” rather than attend any of the competitions ( and

Cartoonists Having Field Day with Sochi Games.  At the date of the start of the Olympiad approaches, cartoonists both in the Russian Federation and abroad are increasingly focusing on Sochi and in a highly critical manner.  For some examples, see the collection of cariacatures at and also th cartoon aat

After Olympiad, Sochi to Be Left With Bills It Can’t Pay and Facilities It Can’t Support.  Even as many Sochi residents say they will be glad when the Olympiad is over, officials and analysts are pointing to the fact that Sochi faces a horrible future after that: enormous investment requirements in infrastructure like water, electricity and sewer lines which haven’t been fully updated despite the games and which broke down more than 1,000 times last year, the end of tax revenues from Olympic construction firms that will be departing, rapidly falling real estate values and tax revenues, the likelihood of numerous bankruptcies and the tearing down of hotels and other buildings constructed for the Olympics, and the city’s limited ability to expand given its location.  As a result, many have concluded that Sochi will decay and relatively rapidly unless it can somehow attract a continuing flow of major international events and competitions to attract outside investment, a flow Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to promote but may not be able to sustain (  and /

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