Friday, December 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 8 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 42nd 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

German President Says He Won’t Go to Sochi ...  Joachim Gauk said he would not attend the Sochi Games, a decision some called a boycott but others, including the German Olympic Committee, said was a personal choice. Others speculated that he decided not to go because his father had spent time in the Russian GULAG and was harassed for years by the East German Stasi (

... Polish President Won’t Go Either ...  Bronislav Komorovsky says he won’t be in Sochi because as a matter of policy, he does not attend sports competitions abroad (

... Nor Will Vice President of the European Commission. Vivian Redding, the vice president of the European Commission, announced that she is boycotting the Sochi Olympiad because of Russia’s anti-gay legislation (

Czech Republic President Says He’s Going for Athletes Not for Putin.  Milos Zeman says that he will attend the Sochi Olympics because he was invited by his country’s national Olympic Committee but not because he was invited by Russian President Putin (

More Boycotts by Officials Predicted. Russian commentators say that a boycott by athletes is increasingly unlikely but that many officials may choose to stay away either to avoid offending LGBT activists at home or for other reasons – although they said it was unlikely that the EU countries would adopt a common front on this issue ( and

Lady Gaga Reiterates Call for Sochi Boycott.  Pop singer Lady Gaga said in London that “I don’t think that we should be going to the Olympics at all. I mean, I would never take anything away from [the athlete’s] hard work, I just think it is absolutely wrong for so many countries to send money and economy in the way of a country that doesn’t support gays ... It made me very sad to see the pain that some of the gay kids are in in Russia, and for the world to send their finest for the Olympics … I can’t, it just feels so wrong and sad. I hate saying that, because I’m so excited for those like [gay athlete] Tom Daley to go and to win and to rejoice” ( ).

Amnesty International Won’t Call for Sochi Boycott.  The human rights organization Amnesty International said that it would not call for a boycott of the Sochi Games even though the situation with regard to rights and freedoms in Russia is deteriorating (

Sochi Not Yet Ready for Games, IOC President Says.  Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, says that the Russian organizers of the Sochi games still have “a lot to do from the point of infrastructure, facilities and other issues” before they will be ready.  He added that the committee is not “dissatisfied” with progress as of two months before the opening ceremony and remains confident that everything will be finished in time for the competitions (

One Reason for Construction Delays: Some Russian Workers Aren’t Working.  Sochi residents have commented that of every five workers on construction sites in their city, only one appears to be working at any particular time, a pattern all too typical across Russia and one that makes the completion of Olympic projects ever more unlikely. Meanwhile, some Sochi residents note that deadlines for the completion of this or that project are coming and going with increasing frequency and that often when journalists are shown into a completed facility, all the windows of that building look out of places where construction is far from ended (,  and

Sochi Residents Continue to Document Difference between Official Claims and Reality. Sochi residents are taking pictures showing that some of the facilities that officials say are complete are in fact anything but and that the amount of work that will be needed to finish them, if building codes are in fact followed, suggests at least some won’t be ready on time (

Sochi Residents Lack Heat, Clean Water and Electricity as Temperatures Plunge. Now that nighttime temperatures in Sochi are below freezing, residents who lack heat, clean water, and electricity are suffering more than ever before.  The number at any one time is in the hundreds if not thousands, and some have been without these basic services for several weeks. In addition, schools and hospitals are in some cases without heat and light. The streets are icy making any venture out dangerous. Trash continues to pile up. Even internet connectivity has been sporadic in some sections of the city. And some residents say that what with the construction effort, which in many cases has led to the breaking of pipes and power lines on which they depend, their city has been thrown back to “the stone age” after a single winter storm. Some are even taking things into their own hands and building sewer lines away from their homes (,,,

Sochi Mayor Says People Aren’t Unhappy Despite Problems.  Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov denied that people in his city are dissatisfied and unhappy, although he conceded that “there are problems,” something he hasn’t always done (

Another Storm Hits Sochi and Raises Questions about Preparedness.  A winter storm, much less strong than the one that hit Sochi in September, has downed hundreds of trees, flooded numerous streets and underpasses, damaged containment walls, contributed to mudslides, and left thousands without heat, light, or even water. Clean up efforts have been intense but so far not terribly successful, and many residents say they do not expect their city to be “back in operation” anytime soon.  The impact of this storm was intensified by falling temperatures.  If a similar storm hits the region before or during the Olympics, the recent events suggest that there would be chaos (,,

Ever Fewer Russians View Sochi Games with Pride.  A new Levada Center poll shows that the share of Russians who view the Sochi Games as a source of pride has fallen from 68 percent a year ago to 61 percent now, with the number who say they do not view it that way rising fom 22 percent to 29 percent.  More are worried about the cost: In 2011, only 32 percent said the games were costing too much; now 44 percent do.  Moreover, 65 percent are now sure that money is being wasted, and 19 percent say at least some of it is being stolen (

IOC Sends Warning Letter to National Olympic Commitees about Protests.  The International Olympic Committee has sent a letter to the various national Olympic committees remind them of their responsibility to ensure that athletes to not engage in any demonstrations or political gestures during the games.  IOC President Thomas Bach used the occasion to say that he had full assurances from Russian President Vladimir Put that the Russian authorities would not discriminate against any athletes or spctators during the games. He said that he welcomed a Russian plan which he indicated had been under discussion with the IOC for some time to set aside a special place for others who want to demonstrate ( and

Creation of Protest Zones in Sochi Gives FSB a Veto.  The FSB proposed and Moscow accepted what the IOC may have proposed in private: Beijing-like protest zones in which activists could demonstrate if they gain the approval of the security agencies.  The FSB cast this as a security measure, but activists said it almost certainly will be used to prevent any demonstrations or if that proves impossible to isolate them from most of the visitors to the games (,, and

Russian PM Criticizes Russian Anti-Gay Law as ‘Exotic’...  Dmitry Medvedev says that Russia’s anti-gay legislation is a piece of “exoticism” that reflects the current trend of the Russian parliament to focus on the wrong issues. He said the Duma “may offer eotic initiatives but that does not mean that they should be supported.”  Medvedev’s comment is the clearest indication yet that he does not agree with the law that President Vladimir Putin has made a centerpiece of his policies and that continues to cause so much trouble abroad in the run-up to the Sochi Games (

... But Defends Sochi Spending While Acknowledging Corruption.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says that the money spent on Sochi is fully justified because of the need to transform what had been “a very average resort” into a world-class one. At the same time, he acknowledged that whenever large amounts of money are being spent, some people will try to skim off funds for themselves corruptly (

Bloomberg Columnist Blames IOC for Not Blocking Russia’s Anti-Gay Law.  Jonathan Mahler says that “the IOC probably could have stopped Russia from introducing its anti-gas legislation with a single threatening phone call from IOC President Thomas Back to Putin.”  He added that the latest plan by Moscow which the IOC has “welcomed” is setting aside small spaces for any demonstrators.  “This is how the IOC plans to deal with a 2014 Winter Games host country that treats gay people like drug dealers. If the concept sounds familiar, that's because we've seen it before -- no, not in the Warsaw Ghetto -- at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.In order to protest, you had to obtain a government permit. Guess what? Not one of the dozens of applications filed by Chinese citizens was accepted ...  Even if protesters don't wind up in a Siberian gulag, the zones aren't exactly an invitation to free expression: ‘Come on out and be heard before we round you up!’” (

Protest Space to be in a Park in Khost, Sochi Administation Announces. Now that the FSB has secured a change in Vladimir Putin’s directive banning all demonstrations during the Olympiad, protesters who get the approval of the FSB, MVD, and the city administratio will be allowed to use a small park in Khost. Activists note that this arrangement is very much like that which the Chinese used at Beijing, when they denied almost all applications, and that it is up to 100 kilometers from where most fans will be (

US to Send Official Delegation to Sochi But Probably Not Obama.  Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Moscow, says that there is a 100 percent probability that the US will send an official “presidential” delegation to the Sochi Games but that its exact composition is still being discussed and that President Barack Obama is unlikely to be among the dignitaries (,,  and

US Fund Managers Urge Sochi Sponsors to Speak Out on Russia’s Gay Law. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who oversees the state’s $160 billion retirement fund, along with 20 other officials who oversee such funds, send a letter to the major corporate sponsors of the Sochi Games wrote in a letter this week to sponsors of the Sochi Games asking them to speak out about Russia’s anti-gay law Russian commentators have denounced this as an unacceptable effort by the American government to put pressure on the Russian government and one intended to disrupt the games (  and

Navalny Points to Obviously Corrupt Contract ... Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny has identified a Sochi contract that would have given its signatory 604 million rubles (20 million US dollars) for a job to be completed in seven days and pointed out how impossible it would be for the work described to be done in that time frame (, and

... Authorities Say They’ll Look for ‘Doubtful’ Contract. After Navalny made his charge on the basis of official documents, the Russian authorities said that they would look into the manner, identify the prople involved, and rescind the contract.  So far, they have made no announcement of any progress on any of these things (

IOC President Says He’ll Forgo Five Star Hotel and Live in Olympic Village.  Thomas Bach said that he would live in the Olympic Village rather than in the five-star hotel set aside for the International Olympic Committee. He noted that “the rooms [in the village] are in certain respects even better thaan the hotel apartments” as “the uality of the Olympic village is at the highest level” (

EWNC Says Moscow Failing to Keep Its Ecological Commitment. Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus says that the organizers of the Sochi Olympics have failed to live up to their pledges to the IOC to reduce trash and sort it before disposal. The EWNC said that it has evidence that construction waste is being disposed improprerl and that Russian officials are simply lying about what is going on ( and

FSB Officers Harass Czech Journalist.  Officers of the FSB border guards detained Czech journalist Miroslav Karasi for four hours before they were released at the insistence of the press service of the Sochi city government. Karasi and his cameraman were slated to meet with Russian ecological activist Yevgeny Vitishko who himself continues to be the object of official and judicial attack ( and

Moscow Replaces Kabadino-Balkaria Head.  Contrary to expectations, Moscow replaced the head of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic in advance of the Sochi Games, and that has sparked suggestions that more changes be ahead in the North Caucasus in the next few weeks.  But it is possible that the changes in Kabardino-Balkaria were made precisely because of the Circassian connection of that republic – Kabardins are a subgroup of the Circassian nation – rather than the launch of a housecleaning that could destabilize the situation ([tt_news]=41734&tx_ttnews[backPid]=7&cHash=bafeb92490f4bf3aed8bdf04515e7aaa#.UqcK3-JcUUN , and

International Circassian Council Appeals to US Congress on Sochi.  Iyard Youghar, chairman of the International Circassian Council, has sent a letter to all the members of the US Congress stating that “The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi – [Circassia’s] historical capital – gives the Russian government an opportunity to repair its relationship with Circassians. Out people declared 2014 The Year of Grief,’ the 150th anniversary of the Circassian Genocide ... We ask you to appeal to the Russian Federation and the International Olympic Committee to hold a moment of silence for the millions of Circassians who lost their lives in Sochi. We also request that a memorial dedicated to the 1.5 million Circassian victims be built in Sochi” (from the author; full text available on request).

Circassian Protests Against Sochi Games Dying Out, Abkhaz Expert Says. The protest campaign the Circassian launched in earlier years against Sochi has “almost come to nothing,” Mamuka Areshidze says. Some Circassians always favored the games, and “the Russian authorities have been able to divide Circssian organizations” so that they cannot speak in a unified fashion. As far as Sochi itself is concerned, Areshidze says, “verey few Circassians live there. They remain in mountain auls, and t the Olympics any large rotets or disorders are excluded. The Circassian tribes of the extreme western portion of the Caucasus, the Ubykhs and Shapsugs, who lived along the sea coast were particularly destroyed” and on’t engage in any protests. They prefer to engage in “a struggle by documents” to impress international organizations (

Caucasus Riviera Resort Being Torn Down.  A resort that symbolized Sochi for many since it was built in 1905 is being torn down, producing anger among many residents and visitors.  “We always said that the Riviera is the heart o the resort” and cannot imagine why it had to be destroyed, one resident said.  He added that he had heard but could not confirm that contractors seeking to make even more money decided they could get away with destroying the lovely old building under cover of Olympic construction because that would be quicker and easier than refurbishing it (

Roof of Bobsled Track Partially Collapses Under Snow.  Russian officials spent much of the week denying reports that part of the roof covering the bobsled run in Sochi had collapsed under the weight of newly fallen snow, despite the posting of pictures online which clearly show that part of the roof had in fact collapsed. Some of the Russian denials denied what those reporting had not said, while others failed to address the problem at all. By week’s end the pictues had been taken down from the web, but no journalists had been allowed to see what the situation actually is (, and

Abkhazia Which Had Hoped to Benefit from Sochi Likely to Suffer.  Abkhazia had high hopes that the Sochi Olympics would bring visitors and cash to that breakaway republic and attract attention to its status. But the IOC refused to allow it to field a team, and Russia for security reasons is imposing during the games an almost complete ban on traffic across the Russian-Abkhaz border. Indeed that ban is so comprehensive that officials fear it will prevent the delivery of food and other goods to Abkhazia. They are opening talks with the Russians in the hopes of allowing the needed delivery trucks in ( and

Sochi Organizers Say Internet Will Be Accessible Everywhere But Problems Remain.  Rostelekom and its regional affiliate say that visitors to Sochi will have reliable internet access throughout the city and Olympic competition sites. There are two problems, however. On the one hand, Moscow has already announced that it will carefully monitor all such traffic so that no one sends out moving pictures of the competition.  And on the other, there have been problems with this network even in the last week. After the most recent storm, there was no Internet access in parts of the city, and for whatever reason, the site of the city government is now down “for reconstruction” ( and 

Russian Military Moves Anti-Aircraft Unit to Sochi.  The Russian military has put a special group of anti-aicraft forces in Sochi armed with 3-300B4, S-300PS, S-300PM, Buk-M1, and M22 guns and missiles. Photographs of these armaments are no online ( and

Sochi Gives the World ‘Potemkin Trees.’  Because so many trees have been cut down during Olympic construction and because others have been blown down by recent storms, officials in Sochi have created special mobile trees and planters to hide the  most unsightly gaps.  People in Sochi are now calling these planting “Potemkin trees” ( and

Energy Ministry Rebuffs Efforts to Move Power Station from Kudeptsa. Despite protests and appeals from local residents,the energy ministry says it will not move the power station it has built there because that would impose undue costs on its investors (

Olympic Organizers Deploy Snow-Making Equipment Even as First Storm Hits Region.  Sochi organizers are installing 400 snow canons and other snow-making equipment to supplement the snow that they have saved from last winter and the snow that they hope will fall this one.  Some competitors have expressed concerns that the man-made snow will be of a different density than natural snow and thus affect the outcomes of certain sports (,

Olympic Torch Travails Continue.  As it continues its passage through the Russian Federation, the Olympic torch went out unexpectedly at least three times, sparking derision from some spectators and observer. Some torchbearers used their time in the sportlight to make political points.  And some residents along the way were angry when officials imposed restrictions on the sale of alcohol at the time of the torch’s passing (,

Olympics Should Never Have Come to Sochi, Resident Says.  The way in which construction for the Games has been carried out and the amount of money that has been spent on facilities that may never be used again, a Sochi resident says, mean that it would have been far better if the Olympics had never come to Sochi.  Their arrival has transfored the resort into “hell.” Moreover, Moscow’s argument that the games are bringing investment to the region is at a minimum disingenuous: if the region needed investment, it could have been made far more efficiently without the Olympic costs (

Homeless Animals in Sochi Continue to Suffer.  City officials have not lived up to their promises to build a pound – they are simply rounding up and euthanizing homeless animals – and many workers on Olympic sites when they leave are simply leaving their cats and dogs in trash heaps to die.  A local woman has appealed to all concerned to stop “throwing animals on the street” where they will not long survive and to show by their compassion that they are almost as decent as the animals they have been mistreating (  Помощь бездомным животным ).

Bad Weather and Bad Roads Mean Construction Workers Must Navigate Icy Roads.  Workers employed on several Olympic sites have to walk three kilometers on icy roads because there is no longer any public transportation available to them. Not only is this leading to delays, but it is also puttiing these workers at serious risk of accidents (

Moscow Winning Over Circassian Young, Russian Expert Says. Aleksey Vlasov, deputy dean of the historical faculty of Moscow State University, says that unlike a year ago, most young Circassians now reject the history of their nation offered by activists rather than real historians. As a result, they are more supportive of the holding of the Olympics in Sochi (

Sochi Airport Opens VIP Terminal. To no one’s surprise, the Sochi airport has opened a special VIP terminal more or less on time and apparently finished to handle important visitors to the Games (

Sochi Residents Prepare for Mass Protest Against Mayor Pakhomov. The city’s residents have announced plans for a demonstration this coming Sunday against the Sochi mayor because of his failure to do anything about the shutting off of water, heat, and electricity or about protecting them and their interests against the big Olympic contractors (

Sochi Residency Restrictions May Keep Students from Completing Their Work.  Many students at Sochi State University do not have local registration, preferring to go home every two to three months rather than go through the cumbersome process of obtaining official status. That has been no problem in the past, but now with the draconian restrictions on entering Sochi, some of them may face problems in completing their school work without a major break during the time of the Olympiad (

Another Drug Den Closed Down in Sochi.  Officials say they have closed down a drug den in the city. Apparenty, the operators of this one were selling hard drugs that they had manufactured themselves (

Will Circassians Be Represented in Olympic Ceremonies?  Sochi Olympic officials say that there will be Chukchis, Daghestanis, and Kuban Cossacks at the opening and closing ceremonies, but so far, they have given no indication that the Circassians will be represented despite the fact that Sochi was at one time the capital of Circassia and that Olympic rules require host countries to acknowledge the contibutions of the local indigenous population (

Tkachev Convenes Another Anti-Terrorist Meeting in Sochi.  Aleksandr  Tkachev, the governor of Krasnodar kray, convened another session of his anti-terrorist commission to discuss new steps in providing security for the Games. Press reports gave no details on what they discussed or decided (

Moscow Agency Warns of Avalanche Threat in Sochi.  Russian officials often worry that there won’t be enough snow, but with the first serious snowfall of the winter, Rssi’s emergencies situation ministry said that avalanches are now possible and that “there is a likelihood of problems with energy supplies, communications, housing services, and transport routes” (

IOC, FIFA Should Take Gay Rights into Consideration in Awarding Sports Venues, Activists Say. Former professional basketball player Jason Collins and tennis champion Martina Navratilova told a UN meeting on the occasion of International Human Rigts Day that international sports organizations should take the state of gay rights in a potential host country into consideration when choosing where to hold competitions (

Gay Skater May Not Make It to Sochi.  Openly gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup who had promised to speak out on gay issues at Sochi may not be at the games atall.  He finished 33rd in the international ranks and thus failed by one spot to qualify for an automatic invitation. He could be asked later. LGBT and rights groups are disappointed because at present, no other male athlete has committed himself to speaking out on Russia’s anti-gay legislation (

Moscow Will Oppose Any Reference in UN Documents to Rights of Sexual Minorities.  In a clear indication that Moscow has a broader agenda than just protecting children from gay propaganda, the line that President Vladimir Putin has put out, Russian Deputy Foreign Minsiter Gennady Gatilov says that the Russian Federation will oppose the inclusion in UN documents ofany reference to seual orientation. He said that “the term ‘sexual orientation’ does not have a definition in international law” and its use thus opens the way for various interpretations, incuding support for pedophilia (

British Foreign Office Advises Gay Actor Not to Travel to Russia.  The British foreign office advised Sir Ian McKellen, who is openly gay, not to travel to Russia because of that country’s anti-gay laws (

Russian Meteorologists Now Forecasting Demonstrations.  In one of the more perverse moments on Russian television recently, a meteorologist has said that the weather explains the demonstrations in Kyiv because research has shown that “bad wweather incites people to conflict.”  One wonders what such forecasters will predict for Sochi, a city which often is the site of serious storms (

‘Russia Today’ Will Fulfill Novosti’s Commitments at Sochi, Kiselev Says.  Dmitry Kiselev who heads the agency that Russian President Vladimir Putin created in place of RIA Novosti says that his group will fulfill all the commitments that its predecessor made to the International Olympic Committee (

‘Survival Games’ in Sochi for Some Residents.  Yury Prygunov, a 75-year-old resident of Krasnaya polyana, is featured in a new film about how difficult life has become for Sochi residents since the start of Olympic construction.  The film’s maker says that Prygunov, like many other people there, is engaged in “survival games” and can hope for little more anytime soon (

Rounding Up of Illegals Continues; More Seized at Borders.  Russian officials continue to seek out, detain and expel illegal gastarbeiters in Sochi, and border guards continue to arrest some who try to sneak back in because there is still a demand for their work as contractors race to try to complete the Olympic infrastructure (

Stratfor Publishes Assessment of Sochi Security.  Stratfor, the US-based analytic center, has pubished an assessment of security challenges at Sochi and the moves that Moscow has taken to meet them (

Sochi’s Problems Aren’t So Bad Compared to Other Winter Games, Moscow Analyst Says.  Every Winter Olympics has had difficultie, including overspending and other scandals, and consequently Aleksandr Klyuchnikov suggests, no one should see what is taking place in Sochi as unusual or especially bad (

Moscow Steps Up Pro-Sochi Propaganda among North Caucasians. Russia is trying to generate additional support for the Sochi Olympics by conducting propaganda among North Caucasians and their diaspora communities suggesting that they should take pride in the fact that the games are occurring in their homeland both broadly and narrowly conceived, according to two Russian journalists (

Russian Says Circassian Bands ‘Killed for Inependent Circassia’ in 1979.  Circassians pressed for the return of their diaspora populations from the early 1970s, but Soviet officials were reluctant to agree because they feared an influx of Islamic radicals.  The Soviets were right, a Russian writer says in criticizing Circassian aspirations now and calls for allow Circassians to return to the North Caucasus from Syria and Jordan, because as early as 1979, an illegal armed formation “killed [people in the North Caucasus] in the name of independent Circassia” (

One Circassian in Four Opposes Sochi Games, Poll Shows.  A Russian scholar says that polls in Adygeya suggest that a majority of Circassians support the Sochi Olympiad but that one in four opposes it, a number that he suggested will decline if Moscow makes a  concerted effort to explain the real history of the Circassians and thus dispel the ideas being put out about “a genocide” in 1864 (

Russian Skier Banned for Two Years Because of Drugs.  Anna Orlovskaya, 18, who was a Russian champion last year and a contender for medals at Sochi, won’t be at the games because she has been banned from competition for two years for breaking anti-doping rules (

Film Documents How Sochi Woman Lost Her Home and Land.  A Russian documentary shown in Moscow traces the sad history in which a Russian woman in Sochi not only lost her home but the land under it as a result of the machinations of Olympic builders and the collusion of officials in violation of Russian law (

Sochi Official Admits Footbridge in Center of Town Unsafe.  A Sochi official acknowledges that a footbridge in the center of the city should not be used because it was improperly constructed and is unsafe. He said that official had given orders for it to be fixed but thatthese had not been fulfilled and consequently Sochi would soon have no choice but to close down this much-used but unsafe bridge (

Sochi Residents Continue Fight to Save Their Green Spaces.  Despite games played by Sochi officials, Sochi residents have succeeded in achieving a few victories through a clever use of the courts, the media and demonstrations.  They have not won all  their battles, but their leaders believe that they are going to win more of them, at least in part because officials do not want to face the bad publicity that the activists are capable of generating about them (

Sochi Defender Admits High Costs but Says City Better for Winter Games than Russian North.  A blogger who often writes in defense of the Sochi Olympics says that it is true that the road built to carry peopllel from Sochi to the Olympic venue in Adler did cost more than the flight to Mars, but he says that that is all right because “this is not a normal road,” but one with tunnels and bridges.  In another comment, he says that the subtropical city is the perfect site for a Winter Olympiad because places in the Russian North would simply be too cold for competitions (Мифы_об_Олимпиаде_в_Сочи).

Despite Gaps, Sochi Now More Accessible than It Was, Paralympic Officials Say.  Sochi is far better prepared to receive people with physical handicaps for the Paralympic Games than it was only a year ago, despite “numerous and at times even curious” gaps and shortcomings in the construction program.  Given the base from which that program started, officials say, Sochi is a model for other Russian cities which have done far less ( ).

Sochi Orthodox Church, Built at Top Speed with Taxpayer Funds, to Open on Christmas.  A new Russian Orthodox Church that officials originally claimed was being finance by private contributors but in fact has been paid for by the government will open by the end of December because of a special “shockwork” program of construction, officials say.  Many residents are angry that their taxes are going for this and that the Church is being finished even though many of the facilities they use are not ( and

Georgian Airlines to Resume Tbilisi-Sochi Flights Before Olympiad.  Airzena has announced that it will resume flights between the Georgian capital and the Olympic city on February 4 to accommodate Olympic visitors (

Russian Ambassador to Canada Says He Hopes Canadian Hockey Team Loses at Sochi.  Georgy Mamedov, Russian ambassador to Ottawa, says that he is “quite confident” that Russia will win the gold in hockey at Sochi and consequently he said he “vehemently wish[es] you failure” in that competition (

Ukrainian Biathlon Winners Put ‘For the Maidan!’ on Their Flag.  Having won a biathlon competition in Austria, Ukrainian athletes wrote “For the Maidan!” on the Ukrainian flag they carried,an indication of their support for the demonstrations that seek a European orientation for their country (

Sochi Olympics May Not Be Able to Attract Enough Doctors.  Officials say they will pay doctors who come to Sochi a total of only 11,750 rubles (400 US dollars) a day for salary and expenses if they come to the games to help out.  Given that a mid-range hotel costs 9,000 rubles (300 US dollars) a day, many may decide that this is not worth their time.  What this highlights is the proclivity of Russian officials to pay for glitzy things that will show up well on television but neglect essential services (

Tkachev Offends Sochi Residents with Slighting Remarks.  Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr  Tkachev said that Sochi and environs were “unpromising places” and “unattractive” until Olympic construction began, words that have offended many longtime Sochi residents who have always insisted that their city is beautiful (

Film Kremlin Tried to Block Shown Only Once in Russia.  The film, “Putin’s Games,” which documents corruption, waste, and authoritarian methods in the lead up to the Sochi Games and which the Kremlin tried to buy off its producers in the hopes that it would never be shown, has in fact been screened in Russia but so far only one time (

Putin ‘Playing with Fire. Olympic Fire,’ KPRF Commentator Says.  Russian President Vladimir Putin is “playing with fire. Olympic fire,” something that everyone knows is dangerous, Aleksey Parfyonov says.  As the Olympiad shows, the Kremlin leader is creating “two Russias,” one wealthy and cossetted and a second and much larger one whose needs and rights are ignored by the first.  Although he says he doesn’t want to draw a parallel between Sochi 2014 and Berlin 1936, the commentator suggests that there are some ways in which one cannot avoid doing so (

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