Friday, October 4, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 18 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 32nd 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

New IOC Head Says Olympics ‘Aren’t a Marketplace’ for Demonstrations. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said that the Olympics “aren’t a marketplace for demosntrations,” the clearest indication yet that the IOC will take the lead in preventing any protest actions in Sochi.  The IOC’s task, he said, is “to protect the Olympic village.  It cannot be a marketplace for demonstrations for all potential issues in the world, even if they are the best ones, maybe.  Our world is diverse and the Games should be giving an eample that in spire of all differences of all controversies, people can live together and respect each other, and they are not there to create confrontation” (

IOC Says It Has No Basis to Challenge Russian LGBT Law.  Jean-Claude Killy, who led the IOC inspection team to Sochi, said that “the IOC doesn’t really have the right to discuss the laws in the country where the Olympic Games are organized. As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied, and that is the case” in Sochi. In other comments, he said the venues at Sochi were ready and predicted that the competition next February would be “fabulous.”  Meanwhile, new IOC President Thomas Bach said that he accepts the assurances he has received from Moscow officials that controversy over Russia’s treatment of gays will not affect athletes at the game (  and

IOC Charter Meaningless if Russian Anti-Gay Law Doesn’t Violate It, Rights Activists Say.  After IOC officials declared that Russia’s law on LGBT activism does not violate the Olympic Charter, human rights activists like Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said that “if this law doesn’t violate the IOC’s charter, then the charter is completel meaningless.  The safety of millions of LGBT Russis and international travelers is at risk, and by all accounts the IOC has completely neglected its responsibility to Olympic athletes, sponsors and fans from around the world” (

Amnesty International Launches International Campaign to Call Attention to Rights Abuses in Russia.  Declaring that the Olympic flame “casts light on the violation of human rights in Russia,” Amnesty International has called for an international campaign of demonstrations and petitions in the run-up to the Sochi Olympiad. Sergey Nikitin, head of AI’s Moscow office says that all groups who feel offended by the limitations on human rights that the Russian government has imposed need to support this effort (

Human Rights Watch Protests Continuing Repressions against Migrant Workers in Sochi.  Saying that it is “outrageous for the migrant workers who helped to build Sochi’s shinynew Olympic venues to be heredinto detention and deported,” Jane Buchanan, HRW’s associate director for Europe and Central Asia, called for the IOC to send “a clear message that these sweeps are completely unacceptable for an Olympic host city and that abusive detentions must stop immediately” (

Moscow Says Absence of Reference to Gay Rights in Its UN HR Resolution Result of Muslim Opposition.  Aleksey Borodavkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, says that the resolution Moscow has succeeded in getting passed on “the Protection of Human rights via Sport and the Ideals of the Olympic Movement”  by the UN Human Rights Council does not have any specific reference to gay rights because of objections to any such language by Muslim states. He said that the agreed upon language allowed the resolution to collect a record 130 countries in support (

Russia Doesn’t Sign on to UN Declaration Against Discrimination Against Gays.  Eleven countries, including the US, France, Israel and Japan, have signed a UN declaration against discrimination against those of non-traditional sexual orientation. Human Rights First welcomed the declaration.  But among the countries that did not sign was the Russian Federation, the host of the Sochi Olympiad ( ).

Russian PM Complains Air Conditioners and WIFI Connections Don’t Work at Olympic Site. Speaking at the International Investment Forum, Dmitry Medvedev said that the buildings may be pretty but that the air conditioners don’t work and that there is no access to the Internet via WIFI, yet another indication that infrastructure needs have been neglected in the rush to put up high visibility building (

Putin Bears Final Responsibility for Sochi, Russian Sports Minister Says.  Reacting to media suggestions that incoming Presidential Adminstration figure Igor Levitin is now the new “curator” for the Sochi Olympiad, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutkov told that “we don’t have a curator” because President Vladimir Putin is head of the Council for the Development of Physical Culture and Sport and thus has overall responsibility (

Foreigners Using Sochi to Rile Circassians Because Nationalism and Islamism Don’t Affect Them, Russian Says.  According to a Russian commentator, groups in the United States and Georgia are seeking to use the Sochi Olympics as an issue to stir up the Circassians of the North Caucasus because that community has proven itself largely immune to nationalism and Islamism (

Russian PM Imposes Price Controls on Sochi.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signedther  an order banning price gouging by Sochi businesses during the Olympic Games (

MVD Says It Won’t Require Sochi Residents to Register Vehicles.  Earlier orders from Moscow had suggested that Sochi residents would have to register their cars and trucks in advance of the Sochi Olympiad, but an MVD spokesman says that they will not have to do so unless they are going to use them to go to or through Olympic venues.  His statement comes after a series of protests by Sochi residents concerning this administrative requirement. He did not say exactly how those zones would be defined (

German Olympic Uniforms to Feature Rainbow Colors. In a move that LGBT activists welcomed as a protest against Russia’s anti-LGBT laws but that German sports officials said had no such meaning, Germany’s Olympic participants will wear uniforms that feature the rainbow colors that many associate with the LGBT rights movement.  Other countries are following suit: Canada, for example, has rainbow colored mittens for its participants and fans (,0,322006.story#axzz2gbFRKT3e).

Anger Growing in Sochi over Trash Heaps. Olympic contractors are dumping ever larger mountains of trash in open areas in and around Sochi, prompting complaints by Sochi residents who are not reassured by official promises that the construction waste will eventually be removed (

Russian Officials to Paint Only Visible Sides of Housing on Olympic Torch Route. Officials in Dmitrov, a city not far from Russia, say that they will paint only the sides of houses that Olympic torch runners and the media will see and that they cannot guarantee that all the houses will be painted the same color because of paint shortages, a statement that recalls the Soviet-era practice of sprucing up buildings along the routes foreign dignitaries would take and the tsarist-era practice universally known by the term “Potemkin villages.” Elsewhere along the route in Russia, officials say that streets will be closed and security enhanced to protect the runners ( and

Masked Officers Make Unexplained Raid on Sochi Construction Firm.  A group of heavily armed and masked officers conducted a raid against the offices of the Inzhstranstoy Corporation in Sochi. City officials could not provide any explanation although they did speculate that the masked men were looking for documents in a corruption probe (

Moscow to Spend Another 1.3 Billion US Dollars on Formula 1 Road in Sochi.  The final cost of building a Grand Prix race track in sochi will be almost twice what Moscow officials had predicted earlier, and that will force the authorities to come up with yet another 1.3 billion US dollars to complete the work. The money is expected to be spent after the Sochi Olympiad (

FSB Promises ‘Transparent’ Security Measures at Sochi.  Aleksey Lavrishchev, head of the FSB department for Sochi safety, says that Russian security measures there will be “transparent” and will not transform that southern Russia city into “a concentration camp” as security measures did at the London Games. "Daily life inside [controlled] zones will be no different from normal" in Russia, he said.  Tickets and a fan passport will be required for access to venues. And there will be “forbidden zones” accessible only on the basis of special peremission. The FSB officer also said there would be restrictions on protests but insisted that these did not constitute a violation of anyone’s human rights (,,, and

Putin Says Russians Will Never Sacrifice Sovereignty for Better Life. Faced with growing complaints about cutbacks in pensions and other social supports and the argument in some media that these reductions in the standard of living of many Russians are linked to wasteful spending programs like Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russians will never sacrifice sovereignty for a better life (

Sewage Contaminating Drinking Water in Sochi.  As a result of both flooding and inadequate construction, sewage has contaminated the drinking water in many parts of Sochi, sparking angry outbursts from residents and efforts to track down the problem by officials. Moreover, it has sparked some dark humor there with Sochi residents saying that flood water were pumped from the roads to the squares and sewage was redirected from sewer lines to water lines  ( ,,, and
Floods Showed Sochi Infrastructure Inadequate, Recovery Slowed by Official Indifference. An article in Moscow’s “Novyye izvestiya” says that the recent flooding in Sochi shows that the infrastructure of the city is completely inadequate to support a large number of visitors and that recovery from the storm has been slow because of official indifference and thievery and the continued insistence of Moscow officials that everything is fine and that the floods did not damage any Olympic venues (

Ovechkin Won’t Speak Out on LGBT Issues.  Despite calls by Valeriya Novodvorskaya and other Russian human rights activists that he use his status as a leading torchbearer for the Sochi Olympiad and denounce Moscow’s stance on LGBT issues, Alexander Ovechkiin says that he is “just a hockey player” and that speaking about that issue is “something for politicians” (  and

Some US Olympians Speak Out on Gay Laws, Others Remain Silent.  Skiier Bode Miller says that Russia’s stance on LGBTs is “ignorant” and “absolutely embarrassing,” but other US Olympians said they preferred not to get involved on this issue expressing the hope that officials could work something out to protect everyone’s rights (,0,766949.story and,0,1701497.story#axzz2gP0AKe9r).

Russian Opposition TV Drops Saakashvili’s Reference at UN to Circassian Genocide.  Speaking to the UN General Assembly, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said among other things that “the Georgian Parliament has recognized [in May, 2011] genocide of Circassian people – one of the most unknown and tragic pages of history of the world, when the whole nation was wiped out because their land was needed by the Russian Empire” (  But in its coverage of the Georgian leader’s speech, Moscow’s opposition television Dozhd dropped any mention of his remarks on that point, a measure of Russian sensitivities on that issue (

Saakashvili Says Putin Using Anti-Gay Policies to Win Support in Former Soviet Space… Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says that Russian President Vladimir Putin has “nothing to offer his former zone of influence; he has no soft power. So what he’ telling them is this: ‘OK, Europe s promising you much more, it’s a better market, they might give you subsidies, they might give you lots of new opportunities and openings. But what you should know is Europe is all about gay rights.  If you go to Europe, your family values will be undermined, your traditions will be destroyed. So we as an Orthodox world should stick together” (

…and to Demean Georgia.  Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says that Moscow is using the games to demean Georgia and that Georgians and others should be asking themselves just what price the new government in Tbilisi may have paid to take part in those competitions after his government earlier had announced plans for a boycott (

Sochi’s Gay Scene Still Vibrant But Likely Heading for Decline.  Although Sochi’s gay scene is far more vibrant than one might expect given Moscow’s anti-LGBT stance, many of those who had taken part of it in the past or who still do today are now focusing their attention on places outside the borders of the Russian Federation because of increasing hostility to LGBT people in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Most of those involved say that local officials are unlikely to move against it lest that spark protests in advance of the games ( and ).

Russian Oligarch Complains Moscow Hasn’t Reimbursed Him for Sochi Expenses.  Vladimir Potanin, head of Interros, says that the Russian authorities promised to pay him for the additional expenses he has incurred at the Rosa Khutor resort because of security requiremets imposed as a result of the Sochi Games but that so far Moscow has don’t paid him anything.  Russian officials dismisses the claim saying that his resort is not an Olympic project and therefore expenses there do not have to be compensated by the government (

Russian Sports Commentator Says It’s Time to Stop Criticizing Sochi Preparations and Get Behind Team Russia.  Stepan Chaushyan, a senior Russian sports commentator, says that the time has come to stop finding fault with this or that problem in Sochi and to get behind Team Russia and cheer it to victory at the Olympiad (

Kasyanov Urges European Leaders to Stay Away from Sochi.  Former Russian Prime Minsiter Mikhail Kasyanov says that European leaders should stop “embracing” Russian President Vladimir Putin and not come to the Sochi Olympiad lest they give him a propaganda victory (

Russian Orthodox Object to Pagan Prayers at Olympic Flame Ceremony.  Some Russian Orthodox clergy, including a few hierarchs, have complained about the prayers to Zeus offered at the Olympic flame lighting ceremony, but other say that this is just a tradition and does not constitute an insult to Christian believers (

Blogger Says Mishka has Deteriorated Since 1980. A Russian blogger has compared and contrasted the image of Mishka, the Olympic talisman both in 1980 and 2014, and concluded that the new Mishka is less athletic and more suspicious of others, thus symbolizing the trajectory of Russia over the last 34 years (

Dutch Critic of Sochi Denied a Russian Visa.  Rob Hornstra, a Dutch journalist who has been working on the North Caucasus for five years, and who together with his colleague Arnold Van Bruggen, has prepared a series of critical reports about Sochi, has been denied a Russian visa. As part of their Sochi Project, the new men have prepared a book entitled “The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus” that will be released in November.  According to the Huffington Post, the book “tells the story of imperial pleasure palaces converted to proletariat sanatoriums during seventy years of Soviet power and of the more recent transformation of the sub-tropical summer capital into a "world-class" winter capital. It tells the stories of everyday residents -- karaoke singers, nightclub dancers, pensioners, veterans and resort workers -- and the disappearance of their homes under the construction of an Olympian Potemkin village. It tells the story of ecologists concerned about the environmental effects of Putin's vanity fair and of transvestites at Sochi's only gay club - none of whom can be expect a warm welcome from an authoritarian regime that jails whistleblowers and human rights activists and overly open homosexuals. Most exceptionally, it also tells the story of life on the other side of the mountains from Sochi. This is a story of ethnic strife, disenfranchised minorities and families destroyed by ongoing conflict in the North Caucasus” (, and

Turkish Journalist Detained, then Expelled from Sochi Airport.  Fehim Tastekin, a Turkish journalist who has criticized the Sochi Olympics, was denied entry to the Russian Federation and then expelled from the country after waiting three days.  He says that the authorities told him he could not return at any point during the next five years.  According to Tastekin, he has reported that “the Olympic venue, Kbaada, is the plain where the armies of the czar paraded in victory after they massacred 50% of Circassians and deported 90% of the other half. The Russians call the area Krasnaya Polyana, or ‘Red Field.’ It is obvious why the color is red. Sochi takes its name from the annihilated Circassian tribe, the Shache. Sochi was the capital of the political commonwealth proclaimed by Western Caucasian peoples who kept up the resistance after the 1859 surrender of Imam Shamil. Sochi’s original possessors, the Ubykh people, were wiped out. In nearby Shapsugia, only 12,000 people are left today from the 600,000 indigenous people. That’s why the Circassians say ‘don’t play over the bones of our ancestors.’ What is especially offensive to the Circassians is that the Kuban Cossacks, the vanguard force of the czar, are used as the indigenous people theme in the Olympics” (

Petition Criticizing IOC on Russia’s LGBT Campaign Continues to Gain Support.  The All Out online petition criticizing Moscow for its LGBT campaign and the IOC for failing to require the Russian government to live up to the Olympic Charter has now gained more than 68,000 signatures. The effort says that the IOC’s failure to press Russia on this suggests that for it, “lesbian, gay, bi and trans people just don’t count.  Equality doesn’t work like that, so their position needs to be clear” (

Ian McKellen Denounces IOC’s Deference to Moscow on LGBT Issues. British actor Sir Ian McKellen says the IOC’s conclusion that Russia’s approach to LGBT issues “doesn’t violate the Olympic Charter” is cruel and outrageous.  It represents, he says, an effort by the IOC to avoid its responsibilities. “As a gay participant in the opening ceremony of the London Paralympics in 2012, I am angered by the International Olympics Committee’s announcement that harsh Russian anti-gay laws do not transgress its own Sixth Fundamental Principle of Olympism that “any form of discrimination is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement”. In Russia, it is now effectively illegal to speak about homosexuality in public. That means that openly gay visitors to Russia, including Olympians, are only welcome if they bring their closets with them. I agree with the Human Rights Campaign that ‘the IOC has completely neglected its responsibility to athletes, corporate sponsors, and fans’” (

Animal Rights Activists to Protest Sochi Plans to Kill Homeless Animals.  Animal rights activists plan to demonstrate in Krasnodar against the plans of officials in and around Sochi to kill homeless animals rather than protect them in shelters, according to Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus (

Sochi Residents Increasinglly Angry about the Future.  Sochi residents say that Moscow has failed not only to build Olympic sites in a way that does not destroy the natural beauty of their city but has also failed to make reasonable plans for the future, leaving them to try to find a way to pay for the upkeep of these sites and otherwise cope with what some of the call the destruction of their home town (

Russian Special Forces to Use Yamaha Vehicles, Dogs for Sochi Security.  “Izvestiya” reports that the Russian special forces units in Sochi will have five Yamaha Viking 540 IV vehicles to help them provide security for the games. The paper says that Russian vehicles of the same class are not nearly as good ( Guards will also make use of specially trained security dogs during the Games (

Ukrainian TV Airs Program Critical of Sochi Games.  Ukraines 1+1 channel broadcast a program saying that preparations for the Sochi Olympiad have been poorly planned and implemented, that water and sewage problems have been ignored, and that residents of the city are suffering as a result (

Price Overruns Elsewhere in Russia Now Described as Following ‘Sochi Scenario.’ Cost overruns at Sochi have been so large that people elsewhere in Russia are talking about the rising price tags for other projects as following “the Sochi scenario,” a measure of the ways in which events in Sochi are having an impact on Russian thinking more generally (

Moscow Said Playing Up Olympic Event in Greece to Distract Attention from Sochi Failures.  Anatoly Baranov, the editor of FORUM.msk, says Moscow has played up the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece as a way to district attention from its inability to clean up after the recent flooding and its failure to build Olympic facilities in a timely and safe manner ( But media attention to the torch lighting ceremony generated a non-story, with many outlets reporting that the torch could not be lit on the first attempt. In fact, the first attempt, officials said, was not intended to light the torch (  and

FSB Changes Boundaries of Border Zone around Sochi.  As part of its security arrangements for the Sochi Olympiad, Russia’s FSB security service has changed the boundaries of the border zone in Sochi, something that its officers say is intended to make things easier for visitors and residents butthat others suggest may complicate the lives of both (

Communist Site Denounces Post-Olympic Plannning for Sochi.  The South-Worker website says that Moscow has failed to build the Olympic sites with an eye for how they will be used after the games are over. As a result,it suggests, many of them will simply fall into disuse, an “irresponsile” crime given how much money Russia has spent on them and a terrible burden on local people and on those who will visit the Sochi area after March 2014 (

Moscow to Spend Another 230 Million US Dollars on Sochi.  The Foreign Economic Bank of Moscow says that the Russian authorities will be spending yet another seven billion rubles (230 million US dollars) on several as yet unfished Sochi Olympiad projects (

Photos Show Sochi Builders Putting Up Concrete Block Wall without Cement.  A Youtube clip shows workers in Sochi finishing up a construction project there by simply putting one concrete block on top of another without cementing them together and then covering them with stucco so that no one can see this violation of construction rules or speculate that almost anything could lead that wall to collapse ( ).

Moscow’s Efforts to Save Sochi Beaches are In Fact Destroying Them.  In the latest example of “we had to destroy the village to save it,” Russian ecologists say, Moscow’s efforts to “save” the beaches of Sochi are in fact destroying them and effectively closing beaches visitors to Sochi have used for decades (

Putin Wants Most of All to Avoid a Munich Scenario, Markedonov Says.  Russian analyst Sergey Markedonov says that because President Vladimir Putin views the Sochi games as “a demonstration of the return of the Russian Federation to the top league of world politics,” he will do everything possible to prevent a terrorist attack at the time of the games like the Black September attack at the 1972 Munich Games,  recognizing that such an attack could undercut his standing at home and abroad (

Kasparov Says Putting Rainbow Flag on Coca-Cola Cans ‘Best Way’ to Ruin Putin’s Day. Games.  Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and Russian opposition figure, says that the best way to ruin Putin’s Olympiad is for Olympic  sponsor Coca-Cola to put a rainbow flag on all of its cans to be sold to fans (

Construction of Road to Putin Dacha Continues as Special Operation Violating Russian Law.  Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus says that construction of a highway to Vladimir Putin’s personal dacha violates Russian laws in at least two ways.  On the one hand, it is destroying key flora and fauna that are protected by Russian legislation. And on the other, to hide what is going on, the dacha is being misdescribed as a scientific center to distract official attention from any violations (

Georgian PM Says Moscow’s Moving of South Osetian Border Connected to Sochi Games. Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili says that as far as he knows, “everything that I now happening involving the placement of barbed wire is related to the Olympics” rather than being about something else.  He adds that Tbilisi is doing everything it can to promote security for the Olympiad, including arresting North Caucasians Moscow says with terrorist connections ( ).

Moscow Plans to Close Ports in Sochi During Games.  The Russian transportation ministry says that it is preparing to close access to the ports of Sochi and Gelendzhik during the games as as a security measure (

Moscow May Allow Private Security Firms to Do Screenings at Sochi.  The Duma is working with the Russian interior ministry to prepare a law that would allow private security firms to play a role in the inspection of the bags of visitors to the Sochi Games (

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