Friday, September 27, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 19 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 31st 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

Heavy Rains, High Winds Shut Down Sochi … A strong storm September 23-24 flooded streets, major highways, railroads, the airport, and residences in Sochi and neighboring areas, felled hundreds of trees, knocked out power stations, water and sewer networks and power lines, closed schools, hosptals and other public institutions, disordered travel, forced a declaration of emergency and the evacuation of  residents, and sparked panic, even though Russian exeperts noted that the storm was not more extreme than many the region has suffered in the past. For pictures of just how devastated the city was, see For details on the disruptions and the damage to various facilities and for pictures that give the lie to the upbeat comments of Moscow and IOC officials, see, among others, ,,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, and   For the sense that the flooding as “an apocalypse” as far a local people were concerned even though experts said that “any reain is Sochi is an emergency situation,” see and

…Sochi Residents, Experts Blame Olympic Construction for Flooding … Sochi residents and construction experts say that the basic cause of the extensive flooding is the way in which Olympic construction has been carried out.  Many natural drainage paths have been blocked, and the city’s 1935 storm sewers have not been modernized, despite official promises to do so.  As a result, the rains, heavy but no heavier than many storms in the region, led to flooding and the destruction of massive amounts of property and infrastructure, including some in direct support of Olympic venues ( Aleksandr Valov, the editor of, told the Moscow Times that “the Olympic infrastructure is not ready to handle these weather conditions,” he said. “This kind of rain is typical for Sochi and happens almost every fall, but this year it was different because of all the new infrastructure, which did not have sufficient drainage for the flood. It is a total [expletive] mess down there. Yes, they will host the games, but it will all be bass ackwards” ( Michael Krendlin, an ecologist with Greenpeace Russia, said that construction had changed water flows and may have changed the ecosystem in negative ways.  According to engineers, it is clear that even the 50 billion US dollars that the authorities say they have spent on the Olympiad was insufficient to deal with the city’s infrastructure ( and that the Olympic planners simply ignored the topography of the area and the need to allow for channels to carry off water in the event of storms (

…Officials Say Clean Up Proceeding ‘Normally’ … City, kray and national officials have all noted that the Sochi flood has not led to any loss of life, although three people have been injured.  No one has yet provided a public estimate of property losses or how much will be needed to repair the infrastructure to the point that it will be able to support the influx of Olympiad visitors.  At present some 1780 emergency service workers are pumping water out of low-lying areas and reinforcing river banks and roadsides ( and

…Zhirinovsky Blames US for Weather Attack on Russia … Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of Russia’s LDPR, said that the storm in Sochi was not a natural disaster but rather the result of an American plot to block the Olympiad by manipulating te weather. “Today,” he said, “only the Americans can affect natural storms” in this way.  Russia has alost the smaecapacity,  but “we as always have not decided to make use of it.”  Unfortunately, he continued, the Americans feel no constraints in this regard (

…Experts Doubt Situation Can Be Corrected Before Games … The problems with Sochi’s drainage and sewage systems, because of the aging base and incautious overloading of its piples, is so severe, Russian experts say, that there is no possibility to take the steps necessary to correct the situation before next February.  The best that anyone can hope for is that there won’t be a storm during the Olympiad and that there will be an inventory completed before the games of the problems that will have to be addressed later (

…Kozak Says No Olympic Facilities were Damaged … Despite photographs showing that many roads leading to the Olympic sites were flooded or even damaged by the flood, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak who is overseeing the Olympiad for Moscow said that no
“Olympic objects had suffered as a result of the storm.” Like the members of the IOC delegation who visited the city during the storm, Kozak said that the Russian organizers had passed thi test of flooding just as they had earlier passed the tests of earthquakes and snowfalls ( Aleksandr Zhukov, head of the Moscow Olympic Committee, however, says that not everything is ready. The main Olympic stadium does not have a finished roof and many transportation arteries and hotels are not ready for use.  Moreover, electric, water, and sewer lines must be installed, and many of them won’t be before after the games (

…And IOC’s Killy Says No One Would Notice if Rains Hit During Olympiad. Jean-Claude Killy, a former Olympian and now a member of the IOC, said that Russian officials had managed the storm so well that “if such rains occur during the time of the Games, we wouldn’t even notice them” ( In other comments, Killy acknowledged that much more needs to be done over the next several months for Sochi to be ready to host the games (

Grozny Conference Says ‘Destructive Forces’ Seeking to Undermine Olympiad.  A conference on “Strengthening the Family and the Development of Sport as a Factor of the Social Stability of Society” said that those countries and other “destructive forces” who want to block the Olympics must be opposed by all people of good will. It declared that efforts to boycott Sochi could only be viewed as “provocations and opposition to the process of restoring peace and stability in the North Caucasus Federal District” (

Regional Development Ministry Continues Effort to Shift Blame from Itself.  Russian regional development ministry officials continued their efforts to blame Gosstroy for the disappearance of money intended for the development of the Sochi Olympic facilities, an effort that has had the unintended consequence of highlighting just how much money has in fact been diverted (  and

Moscow Police Arrest LGBT Activists, Sochi Bans Gay Parade, But Russian and IOC Officials Insist Gays Won’t Have Problems at Games. Moscow police detained ten LGBT activists at the headquarters of the Russian Olympic Committee in the Russian capital ( Sochi Mayor Aleksandr Pakhomov refused to give permission for a gay pride parade in his city ( But two things remained constant: LGBT activists said they would continue their protests in the streets and in the courts ( and both Russian and IOC officials said there would be no problems for homosexuals during the Games in Sochi (

Georgia May Revisit Boycott of Sochi, Some Officials Say.  If Russian or IOC officials do not live up to their promises not to allow athletes or journalists from Abkhazia and South Osetia to take part in the Olympiad, Georgian Foreign Minister Maya Pandzhikidze said Tbilisi may revisit the possibility of a boycott. Other Georgian officials said they were confident that there would be no need for the Georgian government to do so ( and

Putin, in Sochi, Warns Terrorism Can Enter from Abroad.  Speaking to the CSTO summit in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Puti said that “the problem of terrorism spilling from one country to another is absolutely real and could directly affect the interests of any one of our countries.”  He said that many militants now in Syria could come to one of the post-Soviet states and caue trouble.  “The militants [there] did not come out of nowhere, and they will not vanish into thin air” (,0,6190119.story).

Terrorists Won’t Be Able to Disrupt Sochi Olympiad, Moscow Paper Says.  Terrorist groups in the North Caucasus may be able to inflict “not a little” damage by their actions, but they will not be able to “disrupt” the games themselves, according to the editors of Moscow’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta.”  The paper said that officials expect that terrorist activity will increase in the region in the coming months and may involve female suicide bombers (

Anti-Sochi Play Stuns London Audiences.  A play written by Tess Berry Hart to protest Moscow’s anti-LGBT laws and actions has stunned London audiences, according to reviewers.  British audiences are typically quiet, “they sit and clap at the end,” one said.  “But this time, people were going: ‘oh, no!’ [and] ‘shame!’ (

Moscow Not Honoring Promises to Make Olympics Accessible, HRW Expert Says.  Andrea Mazzarino, a specialist on the rights of people with disabilities, said that Moscow has failed to keep its promises to make Olympic venues accessible. Indeed, she said, conversations with handicapped people in Sochi suggest that despite its international commitments, Moscow has done little or nothing in this regard.  Russia has received plaudits for some because it agreed this time around to host the Para-Olympics, unlike in 1980, when it refused to do so arguing that “there are no disabled people in the USSR” (

Human Rights Watch Launches Online Petition to IOC about Sochi.  HRW has launched an online petition demanding that new IOC President Thomas Bach require that Russia live up to the provisions of the Olympic Chater. So far, he and his predecessors have not done so, “they have failed to act but cannot ignore the voices of thousands,” the online petition says (

Roundup of Illegal Gastarbeiters May Leave Many Sochi Businesses Short of Staff. Small businesses in Sochi are complaining that they may not be able to find enough workers to fill all the slots they have in the wake of the sweeping crackdown against illegal gastarbeiters there. They have protested to city and kray officials, but the latter have not yet made any concessions (  ).

 ochi Police Close Another Drug Den.  Police in Sochi have announced that they have identified and closed yet another house where drugs are being sold and used (

Officials Ignoring Russian Laws to Build Highway to Putin Country House.  Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus says that Russian officials are ignoring Russian laws in their rush to build a road to a house that will be use by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  In the process, these officials are destroying rare natural habitats that in some cases are unique (

USOC Attracts More Sponsors by Focusing on Domestic Audience.  The US Olympic Committee has won more sponsors for the American team in Sochi by focusing on domestic events in the United States, including a nationwide 13-city “Road to Sochi” tour to be launched in New York City on October 29.  USOC officials say that sponsorship is up, “not only is it bigger than Vancouver; its as big as the London Games in terms of its size and footprint” (

Access to Moscow’s Red Square to Be Restricted for Olympic Event.  Russian officials have announced that they will severely restrict access to Moscow’s Red Square September 30-October 11 for an Olympic festival and the passin of the Olympic torch there (

Activists Say Meetings with Sochi Officials ‘a Theater of the Absurd’ and Vow Action.  Saying that Sochi city officials have made a mockery of public consultations, activists there say that the time of public hearing “has passed” and that those concerned about defending the law and protecting the interests of residents must take other forms of action (

Sochi Officials Launch Media Attacks on Blogsochi Editor. Upset by what Blogsochi has reported about shortcomings in the Olympic city, Sochi officials have begun a black PR campaign against its editor Aleksandr Valov. It turns out Valov say that “there are no problems in Sochi except one – Valov himself” (

Convicted Official Allowed to Serve Sentence Not in Camps but in Private Home. Oleg Sheveyko, former head of the architecture department of the Sochi city government, is being allowed to serve his sentence not in the camps as the courts ordered but in a private home, the latest case of officials protecting one of their own (

Sochi Cafes and Restaurants Told to Serve Ethnic Russian Food.  Sochi officials have told the operators of cafes and restaurants that they should focus on serving ethnic Russian food rather than that from any other national cuisine as the Olympics approaches (

Six Rocket Launchers to Protect Sochi Games. Russian Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin says that six Pantsir-S rocket systems will be arrayed around the Olympic city to protect it against attacks from the air (, and

Canadian Group Calls for Putting Rainbow Colors on Canadian Olympic Uniforms.  Canadians United Against Discrimination at the 2014 Sochi Olympics has called for the Canadian team to wear the rainbow symbol as well as the Canadian flag ( There and elsewhere, anti-Sochi activists are selling t-shirts showing the Olympic rings of Sochi as handcuffs (

Illegal Worker Crackdown in Sochi Nets Legal Workers and Even Tourists.  The campaign to arrest and deport illegal gastarbeiters from Sochi over  the next month has been so broad that in addition to leading to approximately 200 legitimate arrests, it has resulted in the detention of completely legal Russian citizens with residence permits and tourists visiting the Olympic city ( and

No Discussion of Boycotts at IOC, Russian Olympic Head Says.  Aleksandr Zhukov, head of the Russian Olympic Committee, said that “not one of the members of the IOC at any of the sessions [of that group] has ever raised the issue of a [possible] boycott of the Olympic Games in 2014” (

Foreign Leaders Must Not to Come to Sochi if Bolotnaya Protesters Not Freed, Nemtsov Says.  A commentatory on Ekho Moskvy says that a boycott of the Sochi Olympiad is a bad idea but that the Olympics must not be allowed to become a means for boosting Vladimir Putin’s standing nationally and internationally.  Instead, Boris Nemtsov argues, Russian liberals should insist that foreign leaders not attend unless Putin frees the Bolotnaya protesters (

Olympic Contractors Break Major Water Main in Sochi. In their rush to complete work, Olympic contractors have broken a major water main in Sochi and left many residents without water (  ).

3,000 People from Russian Regions to Take Part in Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Some 3,000 people from across the Russian Federation have been recruited to take part in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics and Para-Olympics (

Circassians to Launch Almanac to Acquaint the World with Their Cause.  Circassians in the North Caucasus have announced plans to publish an almanac about the history, culture and political goals of their nation in advance of the Sochi Olympiad which is slated to take place on the site of the 1864 genocide of that people (

Kozak Says Russia Must Not Shift to Winter Time Before End of Olympiad.  Dmitry Kozak says that schedules are so precise that Moscow must not shift from summer to winter time before the Sochi Games are completed (  In another statement, he backs away from his earlier insistence that Sochi residents would be blocked from using their own vehicles in the city during the games (Http://

35 Illegal Workers from Bosnia-Herzegovina Caught near Russian-Abkhaz Border.  Russian officials say they have arrested 35 illegal workers from Bosnia-Herzegovina near the Russian-Abkhaz border. They came on tourist visas but then remained to work at Sochi construction sites (

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