Friday, June 21, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown -- 33 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 17th 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

London Paper Calls Sochi Olympiad ‘Putin’s Calamity Games.’ The Daily Mail says that “collapsing buildings, colossal corruption, [and] contract killings” are only the most obvious aspects of what is shaping up to be a disaster.  The 740-word illustrated article, published as Russian President Vladimir Putin came to London to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron has been widely reprinted or summarized by Russian media outlets (, and

US Sports Columnist Says Sochi has Become ‘Putin’s Mafia Olympics.’ Writing on a blog for The Nation, Dave Zirin says that preparations for the Sochi Games show that Russian Prsident Putin “not unlike the decaying Mafia itself – isn’t nearly as ruthlessly efficient as his legend suggests.” Despite staking his reputation on a successful games, “he’s being exposed as little more than a thuggish front man for a

Russian LGBT Group in New York Calls for Sochi Boycott Nina Long, co-president of an émigré Russsian gay group in New York, says that “LGBT people in Russia are sacred, they live in fer, and we want people to be aware of the issue. If they feel strongly about human righs, they should boycott the Olympicsin Sochi.” Her comments come after the group issued a boycott appeal ( and See also the letter of HRW’s LGBT Rights Program on the issues the games raise at

… But IOC Says LGBT Competitors Will Be Welcome at Sochi.  Despite increasing homophobia in the Russian Federation, he International Olympic Committee says that it is still ready to host gay competitors at the Sochi Games.  But gay activists are not sure. As one put it, “while the rest of the West is going forward on gay issues, Russia is heading in the opposite direction. With the Games less than a year away, there's no way the IOC will want to rock the boat too much. Going forward, however, the IOC must consider a bidding country's record on LGBT issues before awarding an Olympics. No country with Russia's laws should ever get the privilege of hosting again” (

US, Russian Security Cooperation Highlights Threat at Sochi.  An agreement between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin to “join forces” to provide security at the Sochi Games has the unintended effect of calling attention to just how many security risks there are likely to be at a competition held on the edge of the troubled North Caucasus ( and

Weak Transportation Network Makes Security at Sochi a Real Problem.  Although Moscow plans a massive network of security arrangements during the Sochi Olympiad, it may not be able to react quickly to any terrorist challenges because the streets there will not allow its forces pursue anyone seeking to disrupt the games or come to the assistance of those who might suffer from a terrorist attack (

Karachay-Cherkess Lawmakers Want to Make Denial of Circassian Genocide a Crime. Members of the Popular Assembly of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic have passed a resolution calling on the Russian Duma to pass legislation imposing criminal penalties on anyone who denies that tsarist officials committed a genocide against the Circassians in 1864. The Russian legislators are unlikely to take up the matter, but this is one more way in which the Circassian cause is attracting more attention precisely because of the decision to hold the Olympics in Sochi ( Two new articles provide details on precisely what happened to the Circassians 150 years ago at Sochi (

Kozak Acknowledges Some Olympic Construction Far Behind Schedule.  While insisting that Sochi will be ready for the games, Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s vice premier who is overseeing preparations, says that some hotels are far from ready and that he will seek to punish contractors building them unless they bring their projects back on schedule. He also said that a power plant slated to be built in Kudeptsa that local residents had opposed would in fact not be built  ( and ).
Al Jazeera Program Focuses on Circassian Objections to Holding Olympics in Sochi.  Al Jazeera World television broadcasts a 44-minute film on why Circassians oppose holding the Olympicson the site where their ancestors were expelled or even killed by Russian forces 150 years ago.  To view the program, see

Oligarch Wants Moscow to Ensure He Makes a Profit in Sochi.  Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who says his firm has spent 1.4 billion US dollars for Olympic contruction is calling on the Russian government to ensure he makes a profit.  “Such a large-scale project as the Olympics should serve as an example for the development of private-public investment projects,” he says ( and

VEB Bank Head Said Moscow Unlikely to Recoup Sochi Loans. Vladimir Dmitriyev, chairman of the VEB Bank, said that eight of the 19 projects the bank is currently funding are unlikely to show a profit and that as a result the bank is unlikely to recover the loans it has made ( and

Another Russian Olympic Contractor Charged with Fraud.  Sistema, a Russian firm involved in the construction of Olympic sites in Sochi has been charged with conspiracy and fraud for diverting funds intended for those projects into the pockets of the company’s senior officers(

Russian Officials Refuse to Open Case Against Sochi Police Who Tortured a Worker… Prosecutors in Sochi have refued to open a case against Sochi police for torturing a contract worker on an Olympic project after he demanded that the company pay him and his fellow workers their back wages (, and

… But Grozny Presses for Charges Against Those Mistreating Chechen Workers in Sochi. Chechnya’s ombudsman is pressing for the opening of criminal charges against companies and officials who have failed to pay or otherwise mistreated Chechens working on Olympic construction sites, demands that put Moscow, the chief patron of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in a potentially difficult situation (

Foreign Visitors Shocked by Shortcomings in Olympic Construction. As the Games approach, Russian officials are organizing visits to Sochi for foreign journalists and others, but instead of being impressed, many of them say and write that they were horrified by what they have seen (
Russian TV Follows Official Script on Sochi Projects. Sochi residents say that they might be more impressed by the claims of Russian television reporters about their city it if were not the case that the reporters are speaking from texts that appear to be lightly re-written official declarations rather than what anyone can see with the unaided eye (
Perm Museum Director Fired over Anti-Sochi Posters.  Russian officials dismissed Marat Guelman as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Perm after he staged an exhibit featuring posters satirizing the Sochi Games, including one showing a picture of Stalin wearing an Olympic mascot costume and another portraying the Olympic rings as hangman’s nooses (

Expert Says Projects to Protect Sochi Coastline Dangerous and Illegal.  Professor Vyacheslav Maltsev, a specialist on programs to protect coastal areas, says that the plans Olympic officials have come up with to protect the Imeretia lowlands are a threat to that area and violate Russian law on environmental protection (

Circassians Finally Get Pre-Olympic Exhibit in Adygeya – About Events 5000 Years Ago. Circassian activists have long sought an exhibit that would speak honestly about what happened to them when Russian forces occupied their homeland and expelled their ancestors in the 19th century.  The National Museum of Adygeya, citing the upcoming Olympics, has responded with an ethnographic exhibition of ites dating more than 5,000 years ago (

Kuban Governor Nixes New Road to Sochi, Woould Cost 30 Billion US Dollars.  Saying that a new road from Dzhubga toSochi would cost at least 30 billion US dollars, Kuban governor Aleksandr Tkachev said that there isn’t time to complete it before the Olympics. Indeed, he said, it might take “decades” to build all the tunnels and bridges such a highway would require.  But without such a highway, those driving to Sochi will face many problems on the existing and low quality secondary roads (

Drug Trafficking an Ever More Serious Problem in Sochi. Officials have convened a conference of experts to map out a response to drug trafficking in the Olympic city, a problem that some say has reached epidemic proportions with dealers openly selling various drugs on the streets of Sochi (

Central Street in Olympic Venue Sea of Mud When It Rains and Dust When It Doesn’t.  A video shows that as a result of construction, the main street in Krasnaya Polyana is little more than a sea of mud whenever strong rains hit the area and a dusty path when they don’t ( Meanwhile, Sochi residents say that the sidewalks in their city are not safe for anyone to use (

Adler Hoteliers Plan to Charge 1,000 US Dollars a Night for Rooms During Olympics. A survey of hotel operators in Adler found that local businessmen plan to charge 500 to 1,000 US dollars a night for second-tier hotels during the Olympics, far more than luxury hotels cost at present and yet another indication that visitors to the games will face serious price gouging (  

Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Road May Be Even More Expensive than Reported Earlier.  Reports that Russian officials had spent three times as much on the 48 kilometer road from Adler to Krasnaya Polyana as the US did to send an exploring device to Mars may understate the amount involved, according to a report prepared by the Russian Peoples Freedom Party.  If its figures are correct, Moscow has spent almost four times as much (;

Orders to Pull Down Illegal Construction in Sochi Being Ignored.  City officials have called for pulling down 356 buildings, including garages, that were put up without permits or inspections, but so far, observers say, only 42 have been demolished, leaving unclear just when or if the others may in fact be removed before the Olympiad ( At least some of the buildings not yet demolished are large and dangerous to their residents and passers by ( and

Sochi Organizers Sue Sportloto.  Sochi 2014 organizers have brought suit against Russia’s Sportsloto for using the Olympic symbols without permission. They seek 20 million rubles 600,000 US dollars (

World Wild Life Fund says Sochi River One of Ten Russian Sites at Greatest Risk.  Experts of the WWF liste the Mzymta River near Sochi as one of the ten Russian nature sites now at greatest risk from pollution, in its case from oil spills and phenol (

Sochi May Not Have Enough Electric Power.  Russian officials have not taken enough steps to ensure that the the power shortages, brown outs and black outs that have plagued the Sochi area over recent months will not get worse and affect the games themselves, according to one journalist (

Court Refuses to End Journalist’s House Arrest in Sochi. The Krasnodar kray court has refused to end the house arrest of Nikolay Yarst, a journalist who officials say was in possession of illegal drugs but who his defenders insist is being persecuted for his honest discussion of problems at Olympic construction projects (

Saakashvili Doesn’t Want Georgian Flag at Sochi. Even though the Georgian Olympic Committee has now voted to take part in the Sochi Olympiad, President Mikhail Saakashvili says that he is “categoricalliy against” that step and insists that the flag of the Republic of Georgia not appear at that competition (

Activist Who Reported Environmental Depradation in North Caucasus Gets Asylum in Estonia. Suren Gazaryan, a member of the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus who reported on the ways in which Sochi organizers are despoiling the environment there, has been given political asylum by Estonia and continues to speak out about the situation around Sochi (

More Sochi Officials Depart as Speculation Grows Mayor Will Be Ousted after Games. Ever more complaints against Sochi officials about what is happening in that city are appearing in the press, apparently prompting the departure of several more senior officials last week and the lodging of criminal charges against them. But more intriguingly, some Sochi residents are speculating that Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov will also lose his job immediately after the completion of the Olympiad (,, and

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