Friday, October 25, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 15 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 35th 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

Volgograd Suicide Bombing Sparks New Concerns about Sochi Security.  A suicide bombing of a bud in Volgograd that has claimed at least five lives has sparked concerns that this is the beginning of an Islamist-orchestrated series of attacks to embarrass President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government in advance of the Sochi Games and possibly force Moscow to move or cancel the Olympiad.  Some of these theories were offered by Russian officials; other by commentators and experts in Russia and the West. And many of them were expressed in apocalyptic terms. There is as yet no definitive proof for them, although they do conform to what Russian observershave long said: anything that happens in the Caucasus or nearby will be linked to Sochi until the Olympics are completed.  Moreover, there has been no shortage of militant attacks in recent month: 133 people were killed in theNorth Caucasus by them between July1st and September 30th, although these did not have the drama or attack the media attention that the Volgograd incident did.  But the attention the Volgograd case has attracted guarantees that Moscow will increase security in and around Sochi still further with the confidence that most people will support such actions (,,,,,,,,,,, and

Moscow’s Massive Use of Force May Result in Terror-Free Olympiad But Cause More Violence Later, ICG Expert Says. By its heavy use of military force across the North Caucasus, Yekaterina Sokryanskaya, a specialist on the North Caucasus at the International Crisis Group, says, Moscow have ensured that the Olympiad itself will be “quiet” and that there will not  be any terrorist incidents in the immediate facility.   But that achievement, she adds, almost certainly will be followed by an upsurge in violence in the region after the Games end because Russia’s approach has exacerbated the situation there (

Moscow Increasing Pressure on Olympic Contractors to Complete Work.  Despite frequent claims that everything is almost ready for the Olympiad, Moscow officials are stepping up the pressure on Olympic contractors to finish what they have started, something that an Austrian paper is adding to local “nervousness” and adding to the Olympic city’s problems. “Die Presse” says that officials are working hard to ensure security but have not been able to distract attention from turbulence in the area and widespread corruption in the Russian Federation (

European Football Body Wants Russian Team Punished for ‘Racist Behavior’ of Its Fans.  UEFA has called for CSKA Moscow to be disciplined “for the racist behavior of [the team’s]  fans.” The association took that step after Russian fans made racist remarks about Mancheteer City captain Yaya Toure, who is from Cote d’Ivoire, during a match the Russian side lost 2-1.  Toure condemned the fans and the referee for failing to seek to stop the abuse (

Kostroma Girl Burned by Olympic Torch…  A YouTube video showing a 13-year-old girl in Kostroma being burned when the Olympic torch she was carrying went viral on the Internet. The clip showed a group of people in Sochi-2014 track suits rushing to her aid when the flame suddenly exploded ( and

… But Russian Officials Deny What Photographs Show … Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of Russia’s Olympic Organizing Committee, denied the reports. He said that “what the media wrote is not true. No one sustained burns, there was no outburst of flame, and the alleged ’13-year-old girl’ is an adult employee of the Sochi-2014 committee’s law service.” He added that “the flame was too strong, so it was put out and rekindled in the right and proper manner” (

… Sparking Demands by Russian Politicians for Investigation … In the face of this latest failure of the Olympic torches to stay lit and work as intended, Michael Starshinov, a senior member of the People’s Front movement headed by President Vladimir Putin, said that “the assurances of the organizers that it is an ordinary situation when the flame is not lit are unconvincing. Any normal person would have several questions. Why were 16,000 Olympic torches made? How much does each torch cost? Is this price reasonable? And finally, why do they work badly?” (

… And Leading to Admission that Russia’s Torches Have Problems. Although he denied that the Kostroma incident happened as the picture showed, Roman Osin, a press officer for the Olympic torch operation, said that “we admit that the torches have definite problems.” There have been two incidents in which the torch has “exploded,” and they are being investigated so that the problem can be corrected (

Moscow Sends Russia’s Olympic Torch to North Pole … Reflecting President Vladimir Putin’s expansive claims about Russian control of the Arctic, Moscow has sent its Olympic torch to the North Pole.  "In spite of everything the flame burned excellently," organizing committee head Dmitry Chernyshenko said on Twitter. "The weather's warm, just -15 [degrees]." The torch was carried to the pole from Murmansk by a nuclear-powered icebreaker ( and

… But Faces Special Problems with Lack of Roads Along Torch Route. Organizers plan for the Olympic torch to pass through all 83 federal subjects of the Russian Federation on a course said to be 65,000 kilometers long.  But because of a shortage of roads, they will have the torch carried not only by runners, cars and train but also by horse-drawn troikas and other traditional vehicles. Some observers say that it is a good thing that the country has a lot of Zippo lighters to ensure that the torch shows a flame when it is supposed to ( and

Russian Supreme Court Upholds Kozak on Disposing Waste in Akhshtyr Crater.  Despite a protest by Yabloko, Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus, and Sochi’s own Law and Order movement in Moscow, the Russian Supreme Court has rejected an appeal against the decision of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak to allow contractors to dump trash in the Akhshtyr crater near Sochi. Environmentalists pointed out that the nature of the terrain there means that this action destroys one of the beauty spots of the region and directly threatens the safety of drinking water for the residents of the Olympic city (

Sochi Mayor Says District Heads Must Get Trash Problem Under Control.  Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov who has been much criticized for failing to defend his city against the depradations of Olympic contractors has now directed the heads of the city’s districts to deal with the mounting piles of construction waste throughout the city. In addition to esthetic issues, the trash poses a risk to public health because rains carry heavy metals and other poisons from these heaps into the city’s water supply (

Many Sochi Residents Won’t Get Water They Were Promised.  Because Olympic construction required the replacement of seven kilometers of pipeline and because the pipes began to be installed only earlier this summer and not before many facilities were built, residents in the center of Sochi have not had hot water for “almost two months” and are unlikely to see it by the end of November as officials had promised.  This shortcoming is in addition to daily power outages and gas disruptions and underscores that preparations for the Games are not nearly as far advanced as Moscow says. Many residents are not getting cold water either and have to rely on water trucks for their needs ( and

Sochi Man Who Sewed His Mouth Shut Gets Back Pay as Do 30 Co-Workers. A Sochi worker who had not been paid for months took the dramatic step of sewing his mouth shut and staging a silent protest to get pay for himself and 30 of his colleagues.  His actions not only forced Olympic employers to pay the men what they were owed – many workers in Sochi still have not been paid in a timely fashion, activists say – but also called attention to a problem endemic not only in the Olympic city but elsewhere in Russia as well. (,,,,,,,,, and

Moscow Official Concedes Sochi Far from Ideal for Travel Nikolay Asaul, deputy transportation minister, says that Sochi is a tightly restricted space, surrounded by the sea and mountains and without a complete road network.  As a result, he advised that visitors should not use private cars during the Olympiad and said that Moscow’s imposition of strict limits on movement was fully justified (

… Sochi Residents Complain about New Traffic Patterns. Residents of a district in the center of Sochi are circulating a petition clamiing that officials have ignored their interests and needs and changed traffic patterns so that almost all of them need 90 minutes rather than 15 to do their errands by car ( and

Chechen in Abkhazia Says Western Media Misinformed about Violence in North Caucasus.  Eli-Solta Makhmatkhanov, a leader of the Chechen diaspora in Abkhazia, says that “the western mass media are disseminating false reports about the supposed threats to security at the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi.  He said that the region is far more secure than many make out (

Police Check 60,000 Migrants, Detain Many of Them, and Deport 3,000 from Krasnodar Kray.  Kuban Governor Aleksandr Tkachev’s pledge to get rid of all illegal immigrants before the Olympic Games has led to a massive police operation in which more than 11,000 residences have been searched, 60,000 migrants stopped with many detained, and some 3,000 deported, of whom about half are from Sochi. Many of those detained are being kept in tent cities pending their expulsion. The police are now conducting sweeps through markets and businesses to see if there are more “illegals” about (,,,  and

Officials Say Illegal Workers Spread Crime and Serious Diseases. In order to win support for what they are doing, Russian offiicials say that illegal gastarbeiters are not only responsible for many crimes – 700 in Sochiduring the last three months alone, they say – but also are spreading diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and syphilis (

Sochi Residents, Tourists Among Those Arrested as Illegal Immigrants. The drive to round up and expel illegal gastarbeiters in and around Sochi is so broad that it has led to the arrest of legal residents and tourists, forcing local rights groups to take up their cause as well. Accordinng to one Russian tourist who was arrested in the sweep, the police squads ignored the documents he and others offered and took them to the station because of their “’ethnic’” looks. “Wewere just in Sochi for three days of vacation; how can they treat tourists like that?”  He added, “I’ll nevergotoSochi again, even to the Olympics. The Olympics can go to hell” (

Special Security Measures Introduced at All Mayor Facilities in Sochi. Olympic organizers say that special security arrangements have been put in place at all venues and support facilities as well as hospitals and cultural facilities. These include surveillance cameras, metal detectors, and regular police patrols (

Border Security Zone Lifted as Other Security Measures Imposed.  The FSB has lifted the border security regime that had governed Sochi and its regions up to now as officials have put in place new and tougher security arrangements in the city. The change allows a more differentiated approach with tighter security in some places than in others and with “forbidden zones” like the area along the Abkhaz border (

Olympic Rail Security Center Established at Adler Station.  A special center to conduct security screenings of those arriving in Sochi by train has been set up in Adler station.  The inspectors are supplemented by 492 video cameras in the station itself, and they will be backed up police at an additional 96 checkpoints, officials say. They add that Sochi’s security system has “already shown its effectiveness” by identifying and allowing for the confiscation of more than 800 guns and other dangerous items since the first of the year (

Sochi Police Arrest More Drug Traffickers.  Faced with what appears to be an upsurge in the sale of a variety of illegal drugs, Sochi police have arrested a group of eight people involved with selling a drug known as “spice.” The leader of the group had been a legitimate businessman, police say, but he decided he could make more money with little risk by supplying illegal drugs to the population there (

Georgia Continues to Support Circassians.  Despite suggestions that the change of Rgovernment in Tbilisi would change Georgia’s approach to the Circassians in fundamental ways, the Georgian authorities continue to support the Circassians, honoring one of their leaders, extending citizenship to more than 350 Circassians from the diaspora, hosting Circassian scholarly meetings, and supporting  a center for Circassian activities (,  

Georgians Remain Divided on Sochi Boycott. The Georgian government continues to say that it will not take part in the Olympiad if Russia takes actions that insult and demean Georgia, but it says that there is no need to make a decision yet.  As a result and because of political passions stirred by the presidential election there, people in Georgia continue to organize rallies and circulate petitions across the country for a boycott ( and

Russian Sports Minister Says Georgia Won’t Boycott Sochi.  In what may be efforts to pressure Tbilisi, Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s minister for sports, said that he does not believe Georgia will boycott the games, and a commentator in the “Moscow Times” suggested that a Georgian boycott would be a bad idea ( and

Chechen in Abkhazia Says Western Media Misinformed about Violence in North Caucasus.  Eli-Solta Makhmatkhanov, a leader of the Chechen diaspora in Abkhazia, says that “the western mass media are disseminating false reports about the supposed threats to security at the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi.  He said that the region is far more secure than many make out (

Independent Circassian Activists Say Pro-Sochi Comments Don’t Reflect Nation’s Attitudes.  Independent Circassian activists in the Middle East, Europe and the United States as well as those in the North Caucasus say that a tour of Circassian “leaders” organized by Moscow and resulting in calls for the Sochi Games to go forward does not reflect the views of the Adygey nation. They say that the calls were completely scripted by Moscow and designed to detract attention from the genocide the Russians committed against their nation in 1864 in Sochi and to weaken the Circassian national movement ( and

Sochi Residents Launch Anti-Pakhomov Web Page.  Sochi residents angry at Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov for what they see as his total disregard of their interests and involvement in widespread corruption have launched a webpage “Typical Pakhomov” ( to call attention to his actions and inactions and the gap between what he promises and what actually happens (

Olympiad and Paralympiad Will Be Invalid Friendly, Leader of Russia’s Deaf Says.  Despite the fact that the Sochi authorities pushed the local blind society out of its longtime headquarters and that pictures on regularly show that Olympic facilities do not meet the standards for the handicapped that Moscow had pledged to observe, Stanislav Ivanovm vice president of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf, says that Sochi will be “a comfortable barrier-free milieu” for the handicapped (

Multi-Child Families Demonstrate to Demand Land Alotments.  More than 50 members of families with large numbers of children staged a demonstration in Sochi to demand that the authorities give them the land parcels that Russian law says they are entitled to but that local officials have not distributed.  Participants said that Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov and his regimehad provided “insufficient support” to large families in other ways as well (

Russia’s Laws ‘Treat Homosexuals as Less than Human,’ Commentator Says.  Gregory Koch, a columnist for, says that “it is true that Russia’s laws and practices treat homosexuals as less than human; it is true that this needs to change; [and] other nations should put pressure on Russia to change these laws.” But a boycott of the Sochi Games is “not the way to do so.” If gay athletes like New Zealand’s speed skater Blake Skjellerup take part and win, “then some Russian swill realiz that perfectly productive and normal human beings can be gay.”  That will be “a much more powerful message” than not taking part (

Calls for Olympic Results to Be in Russian are ‘Pseudo-Patriotic,’ Moscow Sports Writer Says.  Nikolay Yaremenko, former chief editor of Moscow’s Sports Radio, says that the calls by some Russians that all results at Sochi between Russian teams and others be listed in Russian and Cyrillic rather than as now in English and Latin script abbreviation like “Rus-Pol” for “Russia-Poland” are a shameful example of “pseudo-patriotism” and should be denounced rather than encouraged (

More Sochi Investors Demand that Moscow Bail Them Out.  Private investors say they need the injection of more money from the Russian government if they are to make a profit and finish construction by December 25, the new completion date Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak has set, one almost 11 months later than Moscow originally pledged to the IOC.  The investors say that they deserve more help because of the high cost of consturction in complexmountainous conditions, the underdeveloped engineering and transportation infrastructure, the lack of fixed specifications for many projects, inflation, and problems with labor supplies and construction materials.  It remains unclear whether and how Moscow will do so, especially given the Russian government’s current budgetary constraints (

Cartoon of Olympic Skier Going Through Gates Defined by Terrorists Goes Viral. A cartoon showing a downhill skier going through gates formed by terrorists carrying guns and a backdrop of the Olympic rings as targets has gone viral since its appearance on a Turkish site ( Another cartoon, this one produced in Russia, shows Mishka, the Sochi symbol, as a stereotypical North Caucasian militant (

Krasnodar Kray Recruits Workers to Help Finish Landscaping in Sochi.  The government of Krasnodar has called for 30 people to join with their own shovels and other tools a work group that will help finish landscaping around the Olympic sites in Sochi, yet another indication that Moscow is putting pressure on regional officials to finish and that construction is not quite as far along as the Russian government insists (

Sochi Now Features ‘Concrete Rivers and Dirty Shorelines,’ Residents Say.  Sochi residents say that contractors building Olympic facilities have been so careless that the rivers through the city are filled with concrete dust and the shorelines of these rivers are increasingly contaminated as a result. They have complained to prosecutors who have so far refused to confirm what the residents have provided pictures of (

IMF Says End of Sochi Construction Will Hurt Economies of Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  Because those three countries are the source of so many gastarbeiters in Sochi and because these workers are sending home a major portion of their wages, these countries will sufer economically once construction ends and the monetary transfers cease.  According to the fund, there have been as many as 100,000 workers on Sochi construction sites over the past year, with as many as 70 percent being from beyond the borders of the Russian Federation (

Sochi Residents Stockpiling Food and Water Because of Planned Travel Restrictions.  Sochi residents who have “become accustomed not to trust the authorities” on anything are currently stockpiling food and water because they believe that Moscow’s plan to divide the city into two large security districts and 15 smaller ones with checkpoints at their borders will make it impossible for them to do any shopping during the Games.  Officials say that such concerns are misplaced and that Sochi residents will be able to move about although they concede that the streets will be full and public transportation fully loaded ( and

Russian Nationalist Calls for Moscow to Counter Foreign Criticism of Anti-Gay Law.  Aleksey Pankin, a nationalist historian, says that the Russian government has failed to respond adequately to Western criticism of the law imposing penalties for “homosexual propaganda” directed toward young people.  He calls the Western campaign a form of information homo-colonialism” and says that if Russia launches a major public diplomacy effort, it will find that it has many sympathetic supporters of the law in Western countries (

Russian Central Bank Sells Three Kilo Gold Coin to Commemorate Sochi.  Moscow has minted a three kilogram gold coin in honor of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a coin that was sold to an anonymous buyer from the Russian Far East for 232,000 US dollars.  The Central Bank will issue a total of 21 special coins made of silver, 13 of gold and three of non-ferrous metals for a total minting of some 50 million commemorative coins in all (

New Zealand to Appoint Special Diplomat to Deal with Russia’s Anti-Gay Law.  At the suggestion of Labour MP Louisa Wall, New Zealand has announced that it will appoint a diplomat to ensure that citizens of New Zealand who participate in or attend as fans the Sochi Olympiad and Paralympics will not be targeted by Russian authorities under the terms of Moscow’s anti-gay law. New Zealand officials are especially concerned because one of the members of their Olympic team, speed skater Blaker Skjellerup, is openly gay (

Sochi Olympic Site Gets First Snow – A Dusting.  The mountains where the Sochi Olympics will take place got their first snowfall of the 2013/14 winter, an event that has attracted attention only because it was so little and because Russian officials are so concerned about having enough snow next February that they are stockpiling snow in special refrigeration units (,0,907237.story#axzz2iJWeFkbi).

George Takei Says IOC Failing to Uphold Olympic Charter.  George Takei, an openly gay actor who has sought to have the Olympics moved from Sochi because of Russia’s anti-gay law but who opposes a boycott because of its consequences for competitors, says that “the International Olympic Committeeis spinelss. They need to have some backbone because they are charge with upholding the Olympic creed, and smething should be done with the membership of the IOC” (

250,000 Sign Petition Calling on Coca Cola to Denounce Russia’s Anti-Gay Law. The virtual community has collected morethn 250,000 signatures on a petition calling on Coca Cola, one of the major sponsors of the Sochi Olympiad, to denounce Russia’s anti-gay law and practices ( and

Olympic Facilities Look Finished If You Don’t Go Inside, Sochi Residents Say. Sochi residents say that many firms which claim to have finished their Olympic projects have gotten away with it because few of those inspecting what they do go insie. Anyone who does, the residents say, will see instantly that the sites, including the Media Center that was supposed to be operational as of August 20th,  are far from finished, and they provide videos showing just how much more work needs to be done ( and

Openly Gay NBC Correspondent Heads to Moscow.  Thomas Roberts, an openly gay NBC correspondent, says he will co-host his network’s coverag of the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and thus test Russia’s anti-gay laws.  He said he agreed to go because showing up is “a huge, visible opportunity for LGBT people,” adding that “courage is contagious … We must be visible, we must show up, and, as Harvey Milk said,we must ‘give them hope’” (

Russian Sports Minister Seeks to Lower Expectations for Russian Team.  Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s minister for sports, says that there will not be any “miracles” at Sochi for the Russian team and that he will be pleased if Russia ranks near the top even if it does not win as many medals as host teams typically do (

Another Storm Destroys Sochi Sea Wall. Yet another fall storm destroyed the recently reconstructed sea wall in Sochi as well as downing trees and power  lines, simultaneously adding to construction difficulties and underscoring how problematic the weather can be in that subtropical city nestled between the sea and the mountains of the North Caucasus (

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