Friday, October 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 17 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 33rd 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

Olympic Torch Goes Out At Least Four Times in Moscow. In the kind of unscripted event that can be far more embarrassing for a government than anything else because it can’t by definition be stage-managed,  the Olympic torch went out at least four times in the Kremlin and then in the city of Moscow on television, threby calling attention to the corrupt ways in which the con,tract for the torches was let, the incautious statements by officials that nothing could go wrong, the greed of torchbearers who wanted to sell theirs online, the efforts of a lighter company to exploit the situation in its advertising, and apocalyptic suggestions that these proved that the Sochi Games were a mistake and a looming disaster (,

FSB to Conduct Unprecedented Surveillance at Sochi, Soldatov and Borogan Claim.  Russia’s leading independent investigators of Moscow’s security agencies, Aleksandr Soldatov and Irina Borogan of,  say in a report that has attracted broad attention in Russia and Europe that the FSB is preparing to monitor athletes and visitors at the Sochi Games in unprecedented and highly invasive ways.  Russian officials insist that security was even tighter at London and is required given the unsettled nature of the North Caucasus, but the Soldatov-Borogan report argues that the FSB is in a position technically and politically to do more than any security agency before it (,

Moscow’s Media Visit to Sochi Backfires. A Moscow-organized visit of Russian journalists to Sochi has backfired with almost all of them reporting that the city is a mess, that security is at absurd levels, and that it is unlikely to be ready in time for the Olympiad.  Still worse, the journalists said that people are not welcome there, that the toilets recall those of Soviet times, and that Sochi hoteliers routinely award themselves several stars when they deserve none, comments that have been picked up by other Russian and international media (

Even Russian Orthodox Priests Now Cast Doubts on Sochi.  Surveys of the religious in Russia have found that a significant number of Russian Orthodox priests think that the Sochi Games are a mistake and that the money being spent there could be better invested in human needs, an unexpected shift in opinion from a group that all too often has been willing to support whatever the Kremlin does and to justify it to their congregations ( and

Moscow Provokes Georgia Into Reconsidering a Boycott of Sochi Games.  The new Georgian government had signaled that Georgian athletes would attend the games unless Moscow politicized them, but that is just what Moscow has done in naming one of its heroes of the August 2008 war against Georgia as a bearer of the Olympic torch.  That action, even more than Russian involvement in moving the South Osetian border, has reopened the issue of a boycott in Georgia. President Mikhail Saakashvili and others are now calling for one, a petition is being circulated demanding it, and protesters have burned the Russian flag and denounced the Russians as occupiers. Others in Tbilisi have appealed for calm, but Russian overreaching in this case may drive Georgia to a boycott after all (,,,,,,,

Moscow Already Embarrassing Itself on Disabilities Issue.  Russian officials are concerned that they will not be able to fill the enormous Sochi venues for the Paralympics that follow the Winter Games ( But whether that fear proves true – and it is worth noting that Moscow did not pursue hosting the Paralympics but was required to host them if it wanted the Olympiad – Russian officials have already embarrassed themselves in Sochi on a matter of importance to the disabled: they have closed that city’s office of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf, having given its officers only two days before being thrown into the streets (

Tishkov Releases Documents Early to Counter Circassian Genocide Claims.  Valery Tishkov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, has released a collection of documents on the Russian conquest of Circassian territories to counter Circassian suggestions that their nation was the victim of a genocide. The selected documents by themselves do not disprove what the Circassians have said, but their early release does suggest that Moscow is still very worried by Circassian activism ( and

Russian Officials Seek to Close Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus.  Russian officials are misuing the courts and police raids to try to close down as “a foreign agent” the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus, a group that has bedeviled Moscow by its reports of illegal actions involving the construction of Putin’s dacha there and other actions (  and

Officials Take a Differentiated Approach to Illegal Buildings.  Ilegal buildings owned by those with connections to the powers that be are generally allowed to stand, while those whose owners lack such connections are torn down with much fanfare, a measure, Sochi residents believe, of the amount of corruption in their Olympic city (

Sochi Officials Fail to Install Water Meters in Apartments.  Construction of apartment buildings in Sochi has been so fast and haphazard that officials have failed to install required meters for each of the apartments in any particular complex. As a result, residents will have to pay a common amount, much as they did in Soviet times, but at far higher rates.  This practice has led to widespread complaints (

Despite Promises and Law, Olympic Contractors Continue Taking Sand from Mzymta River.  Despite repeated promises to end the practice and existing Russian laws on environmental protection, Olympic contractors are continuing to dredge the Mzymta River for sand.  “We had been so hoping for a miracle,” nearby residents say (

Main Olympic Stadium a ‘Disaster,’ Moscow News Says. With fewer than four months left to the opening of the Sochi Olympics, the Fisht Olympic Stadium is “a disaster,” according to Ivan Nechepurenko, a Moscow News journalist.  Some of the problems have arisen because officials keep changing the plans; others reflect bad organizing; and still others reflect the fact that infrastructure is being put in after rather than before any construction took place. "They haven't even started to paint the walls inside or lay floors on the concrete staircases," said Aleksandr Valov, editor of local news website According to auditor Aleksandr Piskunov,
"contractors are deliberately procrastinating in order to create a situation in which the government will have to finish the project at any cost." Such delays entail significant risks:
"if the stadium's opening is delayed, the ceremony's script will have to be changed, which will lead to immeasurable reputational and moral losses." At present, officials are conducting rehearsals at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, even though it seats fewer than a quarter of the Fisht facility (

Moscow Says Sochi Faciliies ‘Safe from Natural Disaster.’  In the wake of flooding that overwhelmed much of Sochi, mudslides and earthquakes, Russia’s emergency situations ministry issued a statement saying that its “interagency working group” has concluded that there is “a high degree of safety of Olympic facilities against natural threats”(

IOC Head Promises to Add Gay Rights to Olympic Charter – But Only After Sochi.  In a letter to LGBT activists, Thomas Bach, the new head of the International Olympic Committee, called for a change in the Olympic Charter to include LGBT rights, but he said that such a change would come only after the Sochi Games and that his group could not challenge Russia’s anti-gay law. (

Sochi Man Arrested on Drugs and Weapons Charges.  Sochi officials said they had arrested a 34-year-old resident for manufacturing and sale of illegal drugs and possession of illegal guns as well (

Caucasus Games Provide Athletes, Officials With Another Pre-Sochi Test.  The fourth annual Caucasus Games, which this year took place in Pyatigorsk, provided both athletes and organizers to test their preparations for Sochi. Many of the competitors hope to go on to Sochi, and organizers said they would like to hold similar competitions in other regions of Russia, including the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District (

FSB Holds 15th Meeting on Sochi Security  FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov chaired the 15th meeting his agency has held on Sochi security since 2012 with its own officers and representatives of other force structures.  He said that the perimeter of the Olympic park will be protected by video cameras and electronic warning devices (

Voice of Russian Commentator Dismisses Concerns about FSB Spying at Sochi.  Dmitry Babich, a political commentator for Voice of Russia, said that Russian and British stories about FSB “spying” on visitors to the Sochi Olympics are simply a rehash of “all the things that frighten a reader of the British and American mass media about Russia.”  Moreover, he said, if Moscow analysts Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan were right in saying that the FSB was using “Stalinist methods.”  If that were the case, Babich said, “the last people we would be reading all over the Western press would be [the two of them] because they would be in some other places described by Alexander Solzhenitsyn whom they dislike so much” (

Sochi Not ‘Triumph of the Will’ But Rather ‘Triumph of Corruption,’ Russian Journalist Says.  Vladimir Gechaninov writes that those who compare Putin’s Sochi Games to Hitler’s in Berlin are mistaken because Hitler’s prompted films like Lili Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” while Putin’s are “a triumph of corruption and flunkeyism” (

Sochi Represents Putin’s Effort to Find National Symbol for Russia, Moscow Commentator Says.  Andrey Ivanov says that the Putin regime is “trying to find new national symbols” by organizing things like the sochi Olympics.”  But he suggests that this effort is likely to fail because “no one knows” just what Russia now is (

Sochi Will Be Kremlin’s ‘Apogee of Shame,’ Russian Regionalist Site Says., which serves as a site for the Ingermanland movement says that Sochi is nothing more than “a black hole” through which the Kremlin pours the money of Russians into the hands of its favored oligarchs.  As such, it represents “the apogee of shame” of the current occupants of the Kremlin and “a Putin parody of the Evil Empire” (

Ecologists Must Demand New Environmental Standards for Olympics, EWNC Lawyer Says.  Yulia Genin, a lawyer for the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus, says that “Olympic Games more often will take place in countries like Russia, China and Brasil where environmental compliance is weak. The damage might be irreparable. And it is high time for human rights and environmental NGOs to unite … At this point of human development, the Olympics is a hypocrisy. We need to change it. EWNC is already doing so. And it is not as difficult as it may seem: public can change giant Nike’s or Apple’s policies. Why are the Olympics any different? Massive media coverage, protests and legal tools are available for such change and support of organizations like EWNC” (

Medvedev’s Sochi Price Freeze Won’t Stop Increases, Experts Say.  Businesses are already finding ways to work around the price freezes Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called for in advance of the Sochi Games. Consequently, while his order may offer new possibilities for corruption, it will not halt price increases (

Russian Tradition of Lying Harms the Olympics, Moscow Commentator Says.  Yevgeny Zubarev says that “the problem of the Sochi Olympic torches is not htat they go out. That has happened at other Olympiads. And it is not in their high cost: those for the London games cost more. The problem is in the habit of lying which has not left the representatives of the Russian elite, not is bureaucrats, not its businessmen, and not the journalists of government mass media” (

Russian-Ukrainian Boxing Match Shows How Raw Ethnic Feelings Are.  A recent fight between Vladimir Klichko, a Ukrainian boxer, and Aleksandr Povetkin, a Russian one, and the reaction of Russian fans shows just how close to the surface ethnic tensions are and how a sports competition can enflame them into violence, according to a “Novaya gazeta” commentary ( and

Sochi Residents Hope They Can Expel Kubantsy After Games.  Sochi residents are upset about many people who have arrived to exploit the economic possibilities that the Olympic construction projects offer. Some of those are ethnic, but many are just regional. And among those Sochi residents would most like to see go away are people from the Kuban region (

‘Independent  Journalism Forbidden’ in Sochi, Journalists Without Borders Says. The international media watchdog organization, Journalists without Borders, has begun a campaign to call attention to the increasing suppression of media freedom in the Russian Federation. The campaign is called “Independent Journalism – the Only Forbidden Form of Sport in Sochi” ( and

Human Rights Watch Offers Alternative Olympic Torch Route in Russia.  HRW has launched an online effort to call attention to human rights abuses in the Russian Federation by suggesting a map which moves not along the Olympic Torch route approved by the Kremlin but rather from one site of abuse to anther ( and

Sochi Games Uniting Circassians, Activist Says. Despite or perhaps because of their opposition to holding the Olympics on the site of the Russian genocide against their nation 150 years ago, Circassians living in the North Caucasus and the countries of the Middle East and Europe are now more united than at any time since their expulsion from their homeland in 1864, according to a Circassian activist. That has created a new reality with which the Russian government will have to cope long after the Olympics are over, Merissa Khurma says  (

Rains Wash Out Road to Illegal Putin Dacha.  Recent storms have wiped out the road to the site of the Putin dacha that is being illegaly constructed on the territory of the Caucasian nature preserve, according to Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus which has attracted international attention to this travesty of justice (

In China, Corrupt Officials Get Punished; in Russia, They Get Protected, Sochi Activist Says. Roman Shirakyev compares the treatment of a Sochi official convicted of corruption with that of a Chinese official convicted of the same thing. In China, the corrupt official was sentenced to a long term in prison; in Russia, the official got off via appeal (

Moscow Journalist Urges Russians to Buy Dachas in Spain, Not Sochi.  Having just visited the Olympic city, Aleksandr Kolesnichenko, an editor at “Novyye izvestiya,” says that he has concluded that the situation in Sochi is so bad that anyone thinking about buying a vacation home should choose a site “somewhere in Bulgaria or Turkey or in Spain” before wasting his or her money in the southern Russian city (

Unlike Moscow 1980, Sochi 2014 is ‘Shameful Page’ in Russian History, Blogger Says. Nikolay Yaremenko, a former editor at Moscow’s Sports Radio, says that even though there was a boycott, the Moscow Games in 1980 were still a bright spot in the country’s history but adds that the Sochi Games next year promise to be “a shameful page of contemporary Russian history” even if there is no boycott. That is because the games feature all the problematic elements of the current Russian regime (

Canadian TV Airs Program on How Putin Won Sochi Games for Russia.  The CBC showed “Putin’s Road to Sochi,” a two-hour examination of how Vladimir Putin, by means of intense personal lobbying, won the Olympiad for Russia.  According to one reviewer, the program was “a jaunty, sardonic doc that will eventually knock you off your skates” (

Sochi Officials Stockpiling Blood and Medicine for Games.  In order to be prepared, Sochi officials have begun stockpiling supplies of blood and medicines for the Sochi Games (

Police Block Circassian Action in Defense of Homeless Animals.  The plight of homeless animals and the willingness of officials to kill rather than take care of them continues to rile people in the North Caucasus and elsewhere in Russia. A demonstration in Maykop on behalf of the rights of animals, however, as unable to begin before police moved in to confiscate the banners and signs of those taking part (

Greeks Protest Passing of Olympic Torch to Russia.  Several dozen LGBT activists organized a peaceful demonstration in Athens against the passing of the Olympic torch to Russian officials. The protesters held signs saying “Homophobia is not int eh Olympic Spirit” and “Love is Not Propaganda” (

Sochi Officials Continue to Persecute Worker Who Complained of Beatings.  Mardirov Demerchyan, a Sochi worker who said that he had not been paid by his employer and then was beaten by police when he did so, continues to face charges in the Olympic city.  Officials have now charged him with making false accusations against the police despite photographs on the internet showing that he suffered a seirous beating (

US State Department Cautions LGBTs about Russia.  On its web page about travel to the Russian Federation, the US Department of State says that “discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread in Russia. Harassment, threats, and acts of violence targeting LGBT individuals have occurred. Government officials have been known to make derogatory comments about LGBT persons. In June 2013, the State Duma passed a law banning "the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors. Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100). Foreign citizens face similar fines, up to 15 days in jail, and deportation. The law is vague as to what will be considered propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations. As a result, commentators have suggested that the law may make it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public. Violence against the LGBT community has increased sharply since the law was passed, including entrapment and torture of young gay men by neo-Nazi gangs and the murder of multiple individuals due to their sexual orientation. Many view this legislation as encouraging such violence, with the majority of attacks against members of the LGBT community going unreported” (

Moscow Blocks FIFA Investigator from Entering Russia.  The Russian authorities have blocked FIFA’s chief investigator, Michael Garcia, from entering Russia as he examines voting procedures for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup competitions.  It appears likely that the ban was imposed because of Garcia’s  involvement witht the US prosecutor of Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout (

Bolotnoye Case Could Be Continued Until After Sochi.  Because of Western attention to Russia’s crackdown on all dissent, the case involving participants in the Bolotnoye protests may be continued until after the Sochi Olympiad in order to avoid providing supporters of such groups with yet another occasion to protest, lawyers say (

Does Putin Secretly Wish for a Sochi Boycott? One Canadian blogger has suggested that Vladimir Putin may secretly hope for a boycott because it is the only way that Russia could run up a big medal count.  As the blogger puts it, Russians are prepared to forgive Putin almost anything except a clear defeat ( Бойкот Олимпиады?..).

New Book on Sochi Genocide Out in Germany.  A new book, “Der vergessene Volkermord: Sotschi und die Tragodie der Tscherkessen” by Manfred Quiring has been published in Germany and is available via (

Roundup  of Gastarbeiters in Sochi Continues ‘Like Clockwork,’ Officials Say.  The roundup of illegal foreign workers in Sochi is going ahead “like clockwork,” those involved in its say, with the numbers now under detention before expulsion exceeding plans.  But other observers note that this effort is spreading fear among the population and concerns about contractors about what will happen next, whether this crackdown will spread to other parts of Russia, and, more immediately, whether the departure of gastarbeiters will allow the Olympic contractors to finish on time (, and

Economic Conditions Seen Decaying in Sochi Region After Games.  Despite Moscow’s suggestion that the Sochi Games will give a permanent boost to the economy of Sochi and the Noth Caucasus, a new study concludes that the number of entrepreneurs will decline in the Kuban by seven or eight percent in 2015 alone, an indication of further recession ahead (

Russian Figure Skater Wants to Compete as Estonian at Sochi.  Aleksandr Zaboyev wants to obtain Estonian citizenship and compete for that country along with his Estonian partner Natalya Zabiyakol. Zaboyev’s supporters are already preparing his application to do so (

Sochi Games Point to End of Russian Federation Just as 1980 Moscow Games Did for USSR, Some Say.  Russians have a penchant for the apocalyptic, and some of them say that the problems that have been revealed as well as those that have been exacerbated in the run-up to the Sochi Olympiad suggest this competition could easily anticipate the end of the Russian Federation  just as the pomp and circumstance of the 1980 Moscow Games did for the Soviet Union ( and

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