Friday, October 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 16 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 34th 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

US Said Planning to Use ‘Climate Weapon’ to Keep Sochi Too Warm for Winter Games.  Two Russian intelligence officials say that the United States is planning to unleash a climate weapon to keep the weather in Sochi far above freezing and thus embarrass Russia. The story suggests that Moscow is looking for someone to blame if, as some meteorologists predict, the Winter Olympics in the subtropoics proves to be too warm for sports that require snow and ice (

Sochi Organizers Already Have 30,000 Cubic Meters of Snow in Freezers.  To ensure that there will be enough snow at Olympic venues, Sochi Games officials say they have already put 30,000 cubic meters of snow from last year and will make and put in 420,000 cubic meters more before the games begin (

22 Terrorist Actions in North Caucasus during the Last Year., a news service that covers developments in the North Caucasus, says that there have been 22 terrorist incidents in the region over the last 12 months.  It updates this chronology on a monthly basis (

Storms Show Sochi Must Prepare for Natural Disasters, Officials Say.  The recent storms and resulting flooding show that “Sochi must be prepared” for such disasters, according to emergency situation officias meeting in Krasnodar.  By the time of the games, there will be 1500 emergency services workers there backe up by 24,500 MVD troops and 10,000 other internal troops, officials said ( and

Kozak Says Everything Will Be Ready in Time … Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak says that work on Olympic facilities is “practically completed” and will certainly be done  on time. “Russians can be certain that everything with us is going according to plan” and that there will not be lines in February of the kind that visitors to Sochi now face (

… But Pictures Suggest a Different Conclusion. But pictures taken by residents and visitors suggest a very different conclusion. Buildings and roads are in many cases far from finished, and in some cases, there has been no progress for months.  In the words of, there is only one possible conclusion: those who promise that things will be ready will “not be able to deliver” (  and

Georgians Call for Boycott. Georgians rallied, attended rock concerts, and circulated petitions across the country against participation in the Sochi Olympics because of what they described as Russia’s increasingly offensive approach to Georgia, including moving the border between South Osetia and Georgia proper deeper into Georgian territory and naming one of the Russians who attacked Georgia in August 2008 as an Olympic torchbearer ( and

Georgian PM Says Tblisi Will Boycott Games if Need Be to Avoid Humiliation.  Georgan Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanshvili says that his country will boycott the Sochi Games “if we feel before the Games that the participation is humiliating for us,” but he added that there was no need to be “impulsive” about any decision because the government could announce a boycott at any time (, and

To Make Way for Olympic Facilities, Housing Being Torn Down with People Inside.  In the rush to complete construction, some Sochi housing  is being torn down without  ensuring that there are no people inside, something that has led to injuries. And even when residents are identified in advance, they are currently not being provided with any alternative arrangements. Officials say they lack the funds necessary to provide them (,,, and

Most LGBTs in Russia Have Suffered Because of Their Orientation.  A new poll of more than 2,000 LGBT community members in Russia found that 53 percent had suffered psychological pressure, 15 percent physical violence, and 38 percent discrimination in the workplace.  Those ho conducted it said that “the violation of human right and discrimination against the LGBTs iin this year has born a systematic and all-sided character. There is not one sphere of life in Russian society in which LGBTs have not been subject to discrimination.” Moreover, it found that only one LGBT in 20 has any trust in Russian law enforcement and that almost half – 45 percent – would “not in any circumstances” seek help from the police if they were attacked (

USOC Adds Ban on Discrimination on Basis of Sexual Orientation to Its Charter But Won’t Press Russia.  The United States Olympic Committee voted to add “sexual orientation” to its non-discrimination policy but said that it won’t press Russia on this issue before Sochi. “The fact that we do not think it is our role to advocate for a change in the Russian law does not mean that we support the law, and we do not,” said USOC chief executive officer Scott Blackmun. The USOC expressed the hope that the IOC would update its charter in the near future (

Passing of Olympic Torch Empties Russian Streets Rather than Fills Them.  Russian officials have asked local businesses and schools to close on the day the Olympic torch passes through their cities and villages in order to allow people to watch its passing. But with few exceptions, most people have not done so but used the day off to attend to their own needs (

Olympic Firms Still Not Paying Workers What They’re Owed. Many workers in Sochi are owed significant back wages because contractors have not paid them what they have earned. In at least one case, a firm tried to leave town without doing so, sparking the workers involved to stage a public protest (,  and

Russia’s Federation Council Calls for Cyber Defense at Sochi. Members of the upper house of the Russian parliament have called for the establishment of a cyber defense center to ward off possible hacker attacks, and they have urged recruiting “white hackers” to test the defenses of the city’s electronic infrastructure before the games ( and

Olympic Mounted Police to Wear Jodhpurs. The mounted police who will be in evidence during the Sochi Games will be especially noticeable because they will be wearing jodhpurs, officials say (

Contractual Obligations Mean Russia Won’t Shift to Winter Time Until After Olympics.  In order to meet its obligations to broadcasters and to avoid further expenses, estimated at up to 300 million US dollars, the Russian government will not shift to winter time until after the completion of the Sochi Olympiad (, and

Ecologists, Party Activists to Stage Protest in Moscow over Sochi’s Degradation. Roman Shikarev, a lawyer, says that human rights activists, environmental activists and representatives of Yabloko will be protesting in front of the main government building in Moscow October 18 to call attention to the ways in which Sochi has been transformed froma resort to an ecological catastrophe.Organizers say that it is “possible” Moscow officials have not heard about the problems with trash and damage from construction in the southern Russian city (

State Budgets Too Small Even to Record Environmental Destruction in Parks Near Sochi. Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus says that “neither the national park nor the administration of Krasnodark kray hs money for putting in order the land use documentation” that is essential to track species of plants and animals that are being put at risk or even threatened with extinction because of Olympic construction in areas which are supposed to be protected by law (

Picketing Banned Outside Putin Dacha in Sochi.  Sochi residents have been told that it is illegal for them to picket at the entrance of President Vladimir Putin’s dacha there.  Some—including a 75 year-old woman -- had been doing so in order to try to attract his attention to the destruction that has been inflicted on them during Olympiad construction ( and

Kozak Promises Circassians Their Culture Will Be Represented at Sochi…  During a visit by 50 Circassian leaders from abroad organized by the Russian government, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak promises that Circassian elements will be “broadly represented” in the cultural program of the Sochi Olympics, a pledge that was welcomed by many of them (

… But Meetings Highlight Continuing Circassion Opposition to the Games as Such.  A meeting between the 50 Circassians on the government-organized tour with Naim Neflayshev, a senior scholar at the Center for Civilizational and Regional Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences, called attention to opposition among Circassians to the Sochi Olympid.  He told them that “the majority of Circassian organizations” in the North Caucasus support the games but acknowledged that three – the Circaassian Congress of Adygeya, the Circassian Congress of Kaardino-Balkaria, and the Circassian Congress of Karachayevo-Cherkessia – remin opposed, argying that the Olympiad must not be conducted where a genocide was conducted against their nation at the end of the Caucasus war ( Consequently, despite much media ballyhoo, it seems unlikely that this latest effort by Moscow at neutralizing Circassian opinion has worked as intended (

Circassians in Middle East and Europe Repeat Calls for Boycott.  Circassian organizations in Jordan and Europe have repeated their calls to the International Olympic Committee to live up to its charter and not hold the games in Sochi, the site of the 1864 genocide of the Circassian nation.  We would like to make it clear that the Circassian people lost more than a million souls over a hundred years in defense of their historical territory, and several Circassian tribes became extinct like the tribes of Mequash, Natuhay, Zhaney and Ubyh, plus the displacement and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Circassians to the Ottoman Empire through the port city of Sochi in particular” (, and

Sochi Games have Raised the Profile of the Circassians, Analyst Says.  “The ‘Circassian question’ has acquired importance before the Olympiad in Sochi,” allowing Circassian groups to raise a variety of issues of concern to them, according to a commentator.  But “it is obvious that after the 2014 Games, this theme will to  significant degree lose its importance” and the task of the Circassians in the future will be that much more difficult (

Pussy Riot Group Calls for Boycotting Sochi.  Saying that Russia’s anti-gay laws are intolerable,Yekaterina Samutsevich of the Pussy Riot activist group, told Britain’s “Independent” newspaper tht “the Olympiad could have become a source of national pride but tht now what is taking place can only be called right-wing fascism” and therefore should be boycotted by all (

Actress Sigourney Weaver Calls for Gay Protests at Sochi Games.  Sigourney Weaver says that she is against boycotting the Sochi games because of all the athletes who have trained so hard to compete but believes that the Olympiad is “an excellent opportunity to make it clear how the world thinks” about Russia’s anti-gay laws.  The Olympics could be “a great way for some, without trying to be shocking but trying to be exuberant, to show the world what it means to be gay: How can you resist that?” (

10,000 Sochi Service Personnel to Receive Intensify Instruction in English.  To handle the influx of visitors who do not speak Russian, Sochi organizers have organized special English-language courses for 10,000 people who will be working in service and support facilities (

Not Yet ‘Revolutionaries’ But Sochi Residents are Angry.  Sochi residents have adopted an increasingly revolutionary tone in their discussion of plans for a meeting on October 19 to condemn the actions of city officials who have not protected them from the ravages of Olympic construction.  Indeed, their anger is now so great that organiers have told them to leave their signs and weapons at home and to not do anything that could be an excuse for the police to move against them ( The residents of Kudepsta are so upset that they have decided to take things into their own hands and clean up the region because they do not believe that officials are going to pay any attention to their complaints ( And Sochi residents are also upset by the requirement imposed by Olympic organizers that they will  have to carry out most of their business during nighttime hours rather than during the normal business day (

Sochi Mayor Being Investigated by Moscow and Krasnodar Kray.  Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov, who local residents say is both corrupt and insensitive to their concerns, is now being investigated by the Moscow and Krasnodar procuracies. The two have raided his offices and confiscated documents. No arrests have been made, but some in the city expect him to be sacrificed in order to put Moscow in a better light (

Vladimir Pozner Refuses to Become Olympic Torch Bearer.  Moscow journalist Vladimir Pozner has very publically refused an official offer that he serve as an Olympic torch bearer, organizers said (

Only Way to ‘Save’ Sochi Games is for Russian Officials to Stay Away. Commentator Says. Oleg Kozyrev says the only way to “save the Olympiad” is for Russian officials of all levels, up to and including President Vladimir Putin, to stay away from or at the very least remain in the background and let the athletes put on the show.  If that happens, Russians can still be proud of the competition; if not, many of them will be ashamed (

Muslims in Sochi Mark Kurban Bayram in the Olympic Park.  Lacking the facilities to pray inside, hundreds of Muslims, both natives and gastarbeiters, assembled in a grassy area in the Olympic Park for prayers on Kurban Bayram. In contrast to other Russian cities, there were no reports of clashes with non-Muslis (

Russian Buses Made for Sochi Games Said Riddled with Defects. Despite their high price tag, the new buses specially manufactured for the Sochi Olympiad have many defects, some of which are clearly visible but others of which may make breakdowns far more likely (

Russian Nationalists in Krasnodar Want Independent Druzhinniki; Officials Hope to Control Such Units.  Russian nationalist groups want to establish their own druzhinniki units to patrol the kray, but MVD officials want these units to be part of the police system and thus at least nominally under the control of the government.  It appears that both groups are having some success in their pursuit of their different goals, and it remains uncertain which will come out on top (   ).
Electric Power Cut Off to Sochi Hospitals, Other Essential Services.  The push to rebuild the city’s electric power grid has left many residents without power and water for many days, either because officials cut through power lines and pipelines  or because they were rerouting them. Now this process has reached the point that some key social services, including hospitals, are being left without power ( and

Chechnya to Spent 15 Million Rubles on Olympic Torch Run in Republic.  Grozny has announced that it will spend 15 million rubles (500,000 US dollars) to spruce up the route that the Olympic torch will pass through Chechnya and for other activities associated with that action (

Russian Olympic Team Official Says She Hasn’t Set Medal Quota. Media reports to the contrary, Svetlanda Gladysheva, president of the Russian skiing and snowboarding federation, said that she has no plans to set a medal quota for Russian competitors.  “I very much want the gold of these Games, but I do not know who it will be and in what discipline.” She added, “I have my own medal plan in my heart, but I’m not going to announce it” (

Sochi Employers Given Suspended Sentences for Hiring Illegal Foreign Workers.  A Sochi court has given suspended sentences to two businessmen for hiring without the necessary paperwork illegal foreign workers. Because the sentences were suspended, it is unclear how much of a deterrent they will be to others (

Cossacks Arrive in Sochi to Enforce Immigration Laws.  A group of Cossack druzhinniki have arrived in Sochi to help police enforce laws against illegal gastarbeiters (  ).

Sochi Port Hasn’t Been as Busy as Planned.  Olimpstroy had planned for the Sochi port to process more than 14 million tons of cargo between 2010 and 2013, but so far it has handled only “a little more than three million tons,” a shortfall that has meant that the construction group has not earned the money it had counted on to pay back loans to Moscow banks (

Medvedev Urges Better Support for Sochi Investors. Responding to complaints from some oligarchs that they have not been compensated for their work on the Olympiad, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has called on his government to develop a program to ensure that they are (

Gay Activists Protest Russia’s Anti-LGBT Law at Met Opera.  Some 100 activists from Queer Nation interrupted the opening of Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” at New York’s Metropolitan Opera to protest Russia’s anti-gay legislation and its impact on the Sochi Olympiad (!/story/review-protests-gowns-met-season-opens-eugene-onegin/).

Two Elkin Cartoons Make Fun of Russia’s Olympic Torch Problems. Two cartoons by Russia’s Elkin make fun of the Olympic torch run in Russia. One, calling attention to the fact that the torch keeps going out, shows a gas station attendant filling up the torch. Another, reflecting ethnic clashes in many parts of the country, shows a torch runner being surrounded by others carrying torches that clearly are going to be used not for the Olympics but to guide attacks on minorities (

Sewage Spilling Out into Sochi Street.  Because of problems with re-routing water and sewer lines, human waste has been spilling out into a major Sochi street, something passers by have noticed because of its “specific smell” (

Many More Russians May Get Pardons in Advance of Games.  Moscow’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says that the biggest winners from the Sochi Olympics may be those in Russian prisons and camps, including political cases like Pussy Riot, Yukos, and the Bolotnoye affairs. President Vladimir Putin may increase the number of pardons to attract positive attention to himself in the run-up to the Olympiad (

Western Leaders Must Not Give Putin a Victory by Coming to Sochi, Kara-Murza Says.  Commentator Vladimir Kara-Murza says that the West cannot do much to help Russia move toward democracy but that it “must not interfere.”  And to avoid doing that, he says, Western leaders must not in any case give Russian President Vladimir Putin a victory by attending his pocket Olympics in Sochi (

New Book Details Sochi Games Problems.  A new book, edited by Bo Petersson and Karina Vamling, “The Sochi Predicament: Contexts, Characteristics and Challenges of the Olympic Winter Games in 2014” (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013) has now been released (

UK Paralympian Says He’s Ready to Go to Jail to Protest Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws.  Lee Pearson, who has 10 Paralympic equestrian gold medals and who is gay, says he is ready to go to jail if that will throw “a global spotlight on the violent crackdown on gay rights in Russia which followed the introduction of repressive laws by Putin’s government” (

German Demonstrators Call for Boycott of Sochi Games.  A demonstration in front of Berlin’s Reichschancellry called for Germany and other Western governments to boycott the Sochi Olympiad to protest Moscow’s increasingly repressive policies (

Russian Ecologist who Fled to Ukraine Says Sochi Preparations Inadequate.  Sergey Volkov, who earlier served as a consultant for the Games but fled to Ukraine after his comments infuriated Moscow, said on the BBC that Moscow has neither protected the environment around Sochi as Olympic rules require or taken steps to ensure that there will not be natural disasters such as mudslides or building collapses during the games (

Foreigners Dominate Bookings on Sochi’s Floating Hotels.  Sixty percent of the cabins of the five cruise ships that will be used as floating hotels during the Sochi Games have already been booked.  Foreigners have booked 60-70 percent of them, with Russians hiring the remainder, officials say (

Olympic Torch Continues to Go Out.  The Olympic torch continues to flame out as runners carry it through the Russian Federation.  As a result, says, people along the route are now carrying matches to help relight it if that happens (

Sochi Police Deny Raiding Yabloko Office.  In a case of “who are you going to believe, us or your own eyes?” Sochi police say they did not raid the kray offices of the Yabloko party despite the posting online of pictures showing that they had (  

Trash Heap Near Sochi Likely to Poison City’s Water Supply.  An illegal dump of waste at Akhshtyr is likely to poison the citys water supply because the pile of debris contains both heavy metals and other wastes that are likely to be carried into the aquifer by rain, ecologists warn ( ).

MSNBC’s Maddow Breaks with Parent Company on Sochi.  Rachel Maddow denounced on her program Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, beginning the segment with a picture of one of the times when the Olympic torch went out on its journey out of Moscow.  Journalists wondered how NBC, MSNBC’s parent company, will handle this given that it has paid 775 million US dollars for television rights to the Sochi games and 3.6 billion US dollars for subsequent Olympiads (

In Orwellian Comment, Russia’s Sports Minister Says Sochi’s Weakness is Its Strength.  Vitaly Mutko said that the Sochi Olympics would be especially well organized because the city’s lackof any infrastructure when Moscow bid for the Games was “a weakness” that had become “its strength” because it allowed the Russian government to come up with what he said was “the most efficient Olympic city design” ever.  In other comments, he said that he did not know of any country that was planning to boycott the competitions ( and

Russian Orthodox Church Says Olympic Flame has No Sacred Meaning.  Responding to the complaints of some Russians that the Olympic ceremony and flame are pagan, Vladimir Legoyda, head of the Patriarchate’s information department, says that these things are “simply a spectacle” with no spiritual meaning (

Boycotts Used to Reflect Geopolitical Struggles; Now, They’re about Gay Rights, Frolov Says. Russian commentator Vladimir Frolov says that a generation ago, Olympic boycotts were about things like Afghanistan, but now “the arena of the sharpest clash of civilizations has become the theme of single-sex love” (

St. Petersburg Center to Prepare Northern Peoples Exhibits for Sochi.  The State Polar Academy’s Center for the Support of the Preservation and Development of the Cultures of the Indigenous Peoples of Russia is preparing exhibits on Russia’s Northern Peoples for the Olympiad (

“Россия” Not “Russia” Movement Organizes Protests across Russian Federation.  A group that objects to having the name of the country displayed on Olympic uniforms in Latin script has organized protests in “more than 15 cities” across the country and sent petitions to the Russian Olympic Committee and Sports Ministry on the subject (

Russian Government Blocked ‘Sochi Project’ Exhibit.  A Moscow gallery had to cancel an exhibit by Dutch photographer Rob Hornstra and writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen after the Russian government denied them visas (

Athlete Ally, All Out Launch ‘Principle Six’ Campaign.  Athlete Ally and All Out have launched a campaign named after the sixth provision of the Olympic Charter banning discrimination and have received declarations of support from 15 US Olympians.  The groups say that the symbol and syllables P6, which could be worn as a sticker or woven into clothing could become something like the Livestrong bracelet, “a ubiquitous motif that doesn’t spell out a whole philosophy but has an unmistakable meaning and message” (

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