Friday, December 6, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 9 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 41st   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

Who’re You Going to Believe – Putin or Your Own Eyes? Sochi Residents Ask.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has said and his subordinates have repeated that “practically everything has been done” to prepare facilities for the Sochi Olympics, but residents of that city say that two months before the games, construction is from finished and that what has been done is in many cases inadequate and insecure. Moreover, they are posting pictures that call into question Moscow’s claims that Sochi is now “barrier free” to the handicapped as the city was required to be to get the Olympics and Paralympics. To make their case, they are posting numerous photographs online contrasting the claims of officials with the reality on the ground.  Among the most comprehensive collections of these are at,,

‘Nobody Can Rule Out a Terrorist Threat,’ Sochi Official Says.  Sergey Domorat, an official of the Sochi city government, told Ekaterina Sokirianskaia of the Internaitonal Crisis Group that “nobody can rule out the terrorist threat” in that Olympic city. Russian officials have boosted security, but they have done so in such a repressive manner, Sokirianskaia says, that “it will be difficult if not impossible to rebuild trust and continue the rehabilitation of insurgents – even assuming there is the political will to do so” (

Security Worries Seen Depressing Number of Foreign Visitors.  Mikhail Delyagin, a Moscow commentator, says that the number of foreign tourists who will come to the Olympic probably won’t exceed 20,000, a fifth of the original estimate and a third of the number of foreign volunteers and athletes. Like many others, he suggests that many of the security measures that Moscow has taken appear more directed at the political opposition than at those who might engage in terrorist actions (

Krasnodar Demands Opposition Weekly Pledge Not to Disrupt Sochi. Security officials in Krasnodar kray are demanding that opposition figures, people who they describe as unfavorably inclined, sign a pledge every week not to do anything that might disrupt the Sochi Olympiad.  The demand initially focused on North Caucasians but now has spread to Russian opposition groups as well. A local lawyer says that the police “don’t even try to hide” that they are doing this because of the Games (

Many Homes, Schools and Even Hospitals in Sochi Without Power, Water and Heat.  Both officials and residents say that many houses, schools and even hospitals in Sochi and environs have been left without electricity, water and heat, the last being a particular problem as temperatures fall to below freezing (,,,,,,, and

Russia Simplifies Visa Procedures for Sochi, Creating Potential Security Problem. By simplifying the procedure for acquiring a visa to attend the Sochi Olympics, Moscow may win friends from those who have faced difficutlties in obtaining a Russian visa in the past, but it has violence can enter the country (

Putin Says Russia Interested in Hosting Special Olympics. Russian President Vladimir Putin says that his country “have everything necessary” to host the Special Olympics and “will discuss it with [his] colleagues who are dealing with it at the international level” (

Contractors Seek to Shift Borders of Sochi National Park. In order to profit from the building of more housing in Sochi, several contractors are seeking to redraw the borders of the Sochi National Park.  Local ecological activists are appealing an initial court decision in favor of the shifts (

FSB Breaks with Putin on Demonstrations in Sochi.  The Russian security service is proposing to allow certain protests to take place in Sochi during the Olympics if organizers secure permission from the authorities. That proposal simultaneously reverses the FSB’s own earlier position and puts it at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin who has ordered that there not be any demonstrations there before, during or immediately after the games.  One reason the FSB may have changed its position is that its officers may hope to get information on groups that had planned to have demonstrations despite Putin’s ban (  and

Sochi Public Bath Turns Out to be a Bordello.  Sochi residents are complaining about the fact that a facility registered as a public bath is a bordello. They have provided photographs to support their contention and say that the neighborhood has become unsafe as a result (

Even Sochi Poets Against Olympiad.  One Sochi poet says that “freedom of speech” is honored only in the breach in Sochi but that local poets are still assembling at a local café and composing poems against the Olympics.  He offers the following quatrain: “I remember that terrible instant/That caused us to laugh/When one joker said/ ‘Here we will conduct an Olympiad!’” (

Moscow to Buy Israeli Snow-Making Machines for Sochi.  In a report that proves “life is the best anecdote,” Russian officials are purchasing snow-making machines produced in Israel in case the weather doess not cooperate at the time of the Olympics (

Shouldn’t Sochi Be Declared a Disaster Area? Residents Ask.  With all the problems their city has encountered in the run up to the games, one resident has proposed declaring the city a disaster area in order to put things right. Most of the more than 300 people who reacted to this online proposal agreed (

‘It’s Not Our Fault that There Will be an Olympiad’ Sochi Residents Say.  Because of disruptions at the time of the Olympiad, residents in Sochi will have to pay for some schooling that had been supplied by the government. Who is to blame for that? They are asking, given that “it’s not our fault that there will be an Olympiad” (

To Pay for Sochi Games Would Take 642 Tons of 100 US Dollar Bills.  Various people are seeking to give people an image of just how much the Sochi Games are costing.  One person calculates that it would have taken 642 tons of 100 US dollar bills to pay for them. That would fill 11 railway cars. Another way to think about the expenditure is to realize that one could cover an eight meter wide path between Moscow and St. Petersburg with such notes. The games are costing each resident of Russia 372 US dollars, far more than a month’s salary for most (

Sochi City Plans to Borrow in Order to Boost Spending on Olympics. The city government of Sochi has announced plans to boost its spending during the Olympiad, a step that is supposed to take place next week despite the lack of funds in the city’s treasury and the objections of residents who say that they are not being provided with essential services (

Sochi Mayor’s Job is to Keep Residents Pacified Before and During Games.  An increasing share of Sochi residents say they do not believe any of Anatoly Pakhomov’s promises and say that the only role he plays for Moscow is to try to keep the quiet.  But his approach which combines lying to them and reventing journalists from covering meetings between himself and city residents isn’t working. People living in the Akhshtyr region where there continues to be an illegal trash dump say that they won’t stay quiet and will seek to enlist the attention of international journalists to their plight ( ).

LGBT Group Says NBC Seeking to Minimize Moscow’s Anti-Gay Agenda.  Members of Queer Nation organized a protest when former Olympic skater Johnny Weir, who will be an NBC correspondent at Sochi, spoke at New York’s Barnard College.  Duncan Osborne, one of the group’s leaders said that “NBC has had the openly gay Johnny Weir, a former figure skater, and Thomas Roberts, the openly gay MSNBC anchor, make public comments that suggest that Russia’s anti-gay laws are not harming LGBT Russians. But those laws have led to the arrest and imprisonment of LGBT Russians, and have resulted in de facto state-sanctioned beatings, torture, rape, and murder of Russian lesbians and gay men. NBC should stop deceiving the public and tell the truth” (

Putin Sacks Sports Advisor.  In yet another indication that the Kremlin is less than pleased with the supervision of the Sochi Olympics, President Vladimir Putin has fired Aleksandr Abramov as his advisor on sport affairs.  The move follows a decision to distance Sports Minister Vitaly Mutkov from any involvement with the 2018 World Cup competition (

Moscow Wants Internet Companies to Help Block Illegal Podcasts from Sochi. In order to defend the copyrights of NBC and other broaders, Moscow says it is putting in place a system that will allow it to “rapidly block” any illegal podcasting fro Sochi, but the communications ministry adds that it is seeking the cooperation of Western companes like Google and Microsoft to help out (

Sochi City Officials Hold Required Hearings But Violate Law Even There.  Sochi officials have convened a series of meetings with local residents on a variety of issues as required by Russian law, but they have used a variety of techniques to avoid allowing the views of the citizenry to drive their actions, an arrogance that has offended ever more Sochi residents and led them to ask whether Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov will ever be punished (,,, /, and

Embattled Journalist Released from Jail on Promise to Remain in Sochi.  Nikolay Yarst, an ORT journalist who has been detained since last summer ostensibly for possession of illegal drugs but in fact because of his critical coverage of Olympic construction, has now been released on his own recognizance upon his promise not to leave the city.  Charges against him have not been dropped or reduced (

Ecologist’s Case Postponed Until December 19.  Yevgeny Vitishko, an ecologist in the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus, had his appeal delayed again, this time until December 19. He was earlier sentenced to three years incarceration apparently in retaliation for his coverage of violations of Russian law by those building a dacha for President Vladimir Putin (

EAWARN Monitor Ordered Detained Until January 30.  A Krasnodar court has ordered that Professor Mikhail Saava, an EAWARN monitor, be kept in jail until a January 30th hearing. Saava says that he has been charged because of the illegal acitons of associates of President Vladimir Putin.  Andreas Schockenhoff, a German foreign ministry officials, says that Saava’s case is “not a private matter” but a demonstration that Russia is not a democratic state (,  and

Sochi Employer Refuses to Pay Workers Because of Poor Work.  In an unusual and understandable confession that construction in Sochi does not meet the highest standards, one Olympic contractor is refusing to pay a brigade of 30 workers because the work they did was sloppy (

Opposition Mayor Objects to Stadium Construction Plans for 2018.  In a demonstration of the problems that Moscow would face if Russians elected mayors from opposition parties, Yevgeny Roizman, one of their number who is now mayor of Yekterinburg, has objected to a 380 million US dollar plan to renovate an existing stadium for the 2018 World Cup, arguing that “it would be cheaper” to build a new arena in a different place. He said he plans to make that proposal to the governor of his region (

Idea of Tank Biathlon Gains Traction.  Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s idea that tanks from various countries should compete in a “tank biathlon” in 2014 is gaining supporters, Russian media outlets say, because it will allow Moscow to demonstrate the superiority of its tanks over those produced elsewhere to potential purchases (

In Preparing for Sochi, Kremlin ‘As Usual has Forgotten Ordinary People.’  A Russian commentator says that the Rusian government has “forseen it would seem everything” when it comes to Sochhi, but “as usual, it has forgotten ordinary people.”  As a result, the situation in the Olympic city is “unbearable” and will in the coming weeks “will become still worse” (

Bulgarian Takes Lead at EU in Demanding that No One Politicize Sochi Games.  In an echo of a pattern reminiscent of the Cold War, Slava Binev, a Bulgarian deputy to the European Parliament, has called on the international community not to politicize the Olympics at Sochi.  His words were then echoed by Vladimir Chizhov, the permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the EU (

Georgian Athletes Will Go to Sochi But Not Georgian Leaders. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that Georgian athletes will take part in the Sochi Olympiad but that Georgian officials won’t because of the presence of Abkhazian and South Osetian delegations (,  and

The Only Thing that Happens When Sochi Residents Complain about Trash: The Piles Grow Higher.  Resident in the Makarenko district of Sochi say that the only thing that has happened when they have complained about trash in their neighborhood as they have done over the last two months is that the piles of waste contrinue to grow higher (

Sochi Authorities, Despite Promises, Continue to Euthanize rather than House Animals.  An analysis of the Sochi city budget shows that the city, despite its numerous promises in response to protests from Russians and others, is not moving to provide shelter for homeless animals but rather continues to euthanize them (  and

All the New Buses in Sochi Will be Transferred to Moscow After the Olympics. Officials say that the 98 new buses that they have put on Sochi streets will be shifted to Moscow after the Olympics ( and

Fire on Moscow-Adler Train.  A passenger train travelling between the Russian capital and the Sochi area  suffered a fire in one of its cars, forcing an evacuation but without any casualties ( ,  and

Unofficial Olympic Calendar Features Russians with USSR on Uniforms.  An unofficial Olympic calendar in retro style now circulating on the Internet features among other things Russian competitors with the letters “USSR” prominently featured on their uniforms (

Cossacks Say They’ll Block Gay and Circassian Threats to Olympiad.  The leaders of the Kuban Cossack Voika say that they have the approval of Russian officials to send more of their numbers to ensure security at Sochi and to ward off any threat posed by LGBT activists or Circassians (

Council of Europe Inspects Doping Test Site in Sochi.  A delegation of officials from the Council of Europe visited Sochi to check on the doping test facility there.  Russian officials insisted that the visit had nothing to do with the fact that the World Anti-Doping Agency has demanded reforms there before that laboratory will have its seal of approval.  They also said that 15 foreign experts are being brought in to work with the 70 Russians in the troubled facility (, and

Many European Politicians Won’t Come to Sochi.  Although few European countries are considering any kind of boycott of the Sochi Games by their athletes, few European politicians are likely to attend lest they offend LGBT groups in their own countries, according to Moscow’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” (

Islamist Radicals Said Trying to Recruit in Russia to Attack Sochi Games.  According to both Russian officials and independent analysts like Andrey Soldatov, Islamist groups are sending into Russia special recruiters to enlist people to engage in attacks on the Sochi Games (

Moscow’s ‘Anti-Caucasian Hysteria’ Provoking North Caucasus in Advance of Sochi.  A North Caucasian commentator says that “anti-Caucasian hysteria in the federal media, shortcomings in nationality policy, the use of force to resolve problems, and continuing and unpunished provocatons against ordinary residents of the North Caucasus republics, ad the absence of control over the actions of law enforcement agencies means that the closer the Olympics are, the more difficult the situation in the Caucasus is becoming” (

Historian Calls for Re-Uniting Circassian Lands and Ukraine.  In an article in “Pravda Ukrainy” that may well be a provocation, a Ukrainian political scientist says that the lands of Western Circassia (Krasnodar kray) should be “re-united with Ukraine” (

NoSochi Reiterates Opposition to Violence.  “As the Sochi Games approach,” the organizers and supporters of the No Sochi movement in the Circassian diaspora have released a statement reaffirming their complete rejection and condemnation of all acts of violence or terrorism. The celebration of the Sochi Winter Olympics coincides with the 150 year tragic memory of our annihilated nation.Circassians are concerned today that acts of violence may be committed therefore we disassociate ourselves from any and all radical and violent acts directed toward anyone at the Games that may not operate in the same peaceful and non-violent nature of our movement. We urge anyone who desires to address the unfortunate fact that the Sochi Winter Olympics is going to be held on the soil where the Circassian nation was annihilated, to do so by only peaceful and non-violent means that would cause no harm or suffering to anyone” (

Paralympic Head Calls for Russia to Extend Barrier-Free Approach to Entire Country.  Saying that Moscow had indeed made significant progress over the last seven years in Sochi itself toward creating a barrier-free environment, Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, calls for the Russian authorities to use Sochi as “a blueprint” for what should be done everywhere in that country (

New Video Imagines Signs in Sochi Pointing toward the GULAR and the Lyubyanka.  A new video featuring some of the Welcome to Sochi pictures critical of Moscow’s Olympic effort features a drawing of signs pointing in the direction of the GULAG and the Lyubyanka prison (

Sochi Mayor Now Fourth in ‘Shame of Russia’ Competition. Online voting for the most shameful person in the Russian Federation now has put Anatoly Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi, in fourth place, the apparent result of heavy voting against him by Sochi residents ( and

Despite Upbeat Signs, Public Services in Sochi Lag.  Signs calling on workers in public facilities to smile, work quickly, and perform their tasks according to the rules are useful, one Sochi resident says, when one is standing in long lines caused by such workers who display other and more typical behavior (

Kozak Sets Another Deadline for Expulsion of All Gastarbeiters from Sochi.  Dmitry Kozak, the the Russian vice prime minister overseeing the Olympics, now says all gastarbeiters there will be expelled by January 1, two months later than his original promise.  He also said that “before the New Year,” all Olympic facilities must be ready (

Russian Weather Forecasters Drawing on International Expertise for Sochi.  Roman Vilgand, the head of Russia’s Hydro-Meteorology Service, says that Russia is drawing on the expertise of Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Norway and the EU to ensure that its predictions for Sochi during the games will be the most accurate possible. But he warned that the topography and climate of Sochi make that a very difficult task (

Russian Athletes Must Be Careful in Talking about Politics, Fetisov Says.  Vyacheslav Fetisov, a two-time Russian Olympic champion who is now a senator, says that Russias pay more attention to sports figures because of their popularity and that consequently Russian athletes must be careful in how they talk about public controversies like the anti-gay propaganda law lest they exacerbate the situation (

Moscow Must End Anti-Caucasus ‘Epidemic’ ahead of Sports Competitions, Arab Commentator Says.  A commentator on ‘Arab News” says that “despite the fact that Russia has been a multiethnic country for centuries, an increasing number of Russians today favor the mono-ethnic state suggested by the slogan “Russia is for Russians.” In fact, Caucasus natives appear to be the most-hated ethnic group, as we noted earlier. Those Russians who have targeted people from the Caucasus do not seem affected by their legal status as citizens, or by the fact that Chechnya and other North Caucasus regions have remained in the Russian Federation only because Moscow waged bloody wars to keep them under its rule. If given the chance, most of the Caucasus people would probably be happy to leave Russia forever. As Russia prepares to host the 2018 World Cup, the world spotlight will be trained on how it deals with rising racism. To improve its own image, if not for anything else, Russia needs to move fast to check this rapidly growing epidemic” (

Sochi Visitors Not Allowed to Bring TVs and Much Else with Them. In addition to items banned because they constitute obvious security problems – firearms, poisons, and highly flammable liquids – Russian officials have also banned anti-freeze and brake fluid, meteorological equipment, televisions, thermoses, bicycles, and large flags (

Circassian Repatriants to Serve as Guides at Sochi Games.  Because of their educations and foreign language skills, Circassians returning to the homeland from Syria, Jordan and Turkey will play the role of guides during the Sochi Olympics, accoding to Mufti Akarby Kardanov, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the Adygey Republic and Krasnodar Kray (

Other Muslim Peoples Little Affected by Circassian Opposition to Sochi, Malashenko Says.  Neither Muslim nationalities within the Russian Federation nor Muslims abroad have been much affected by the opposition of some Circassians to the Sochi Games, according to Aleksey Malashenko, a scholar at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies.  They are “either positive” toward the games or “indifferent.”  He said that some in Washington and Tbilisiwere promoting the Circassian position but their actions have declined of late (

LGBT Activists Press IOC’s Bach to Investigate Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws.  AllOut, an LGBT group, has given IOC President Thomas Bach a detailed list of questions it would like him to raisewith Moscow.  To date, Bach has not said whether he will do so or not ( and

Miss Australia Proud to Be a Circassian.  Felicia Jamirza, an ethnic Circassian who was chosen as Miss Australia in May, told a Caucasian news portal that she “always and everwhere” proudly says that she is a Circassian and that she supports Circassian causes  Circassian women have a long record of winning such competitions, most recently in Turkey and the Soviet Union (

Sochi Court Finds for Residents.  In an unusual and high-profile case – Human Rights Watch has reported on it – a Sochi court has found in favor of residents of a building on the city’s Acacia Street that Olympic contractors had prevented them from having access to (

Sochi Tunnels, Underpasses Said Unsafe.  Local people say that several of the tunnels and underpasses in Sochi are unsafe, despite what Moscow claims, either because they do not have the necessary barriers or because they were constructed too quickly and with inadequate materials (, 

Most Illegal Trash Dumps near Olympic Sites or Hotels.  Illegal trash dumps, according to a new map, are located near the sites of Olympic competitions or major hotels.  That makes their threat to public health all the greater (

Pakhomov Lied to Putin about Parking.  Sochi residents say that their mayor, Anatoly Pakhomov, lied to Russian President Vladimir Putin when he said that he had overseen the construction of new parking facilities.  That has not happened as anyone who visits the city can see (

Sewage Lines Block Planned Reconstruction of Sochi Riverbank.  Sewage lines along the Sochi River apparently are the reason why officials have not gone ahead with their plans to reconstruct the embankment there.  As a result, an area that was supposed to be beautiful and ready by September 15th of this year is ugly and unfinished ( and

Planned Closure of Three Higher Educational Institutions in Sochi Creating Problems.  The closure of three university-level institutions in Sochi will leave many students without a clear path and many instructors without jobs, local people say (,  and

Sochi Threatened by Too Little Snow or Too Much.  Because it is located in a subtropical zone, many have worried that there won’t be enough snow at Sochi for the games and have taken steps like saving snow from last winter and purchasing snow-making equipment.  But because Sochi is so topographically complicated, the conditions for avalanches, should there be a lot of now, are “nearly perfect,” experts who have investigated the region say.  Officials are erecting special pipes to try to prevent them (,  and

Moscow 1980 and Sochi 2014 More Alike than Many Think.  The Games in both Olympic cities, a Moscow Times writer says, “have been plagued by bureaucratic headaches, calls for a boycott and numerous scandals, including authorities "cleaning up shop" at the expense of residents. But whereas the 1980 Moscow Olympics were a cause for concern for Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev — prompting him to write a letter to his future successor Konstantin Chernenko about the "enormous amount of money" to be spent on the Games — the Sochi Olympics seem to be a call to bravado for President Vladimir Putin” (

Circassians Increasingly United Within Russia and Beyond, Activist Says.  In a long and detailed two-part article, Samir Khotko documents the fact that Circassians are using the run up to the Olympiad to overcome Soviet-imposed divisions and restore their national unity.  He says that they have benefited from increasing ties with the diaspora in Turkey, Jordan, and Syria and from the repatriation of even the limited number of Circassians who have been able to return.  As a result, the Circassian national movement, especially if it receives support from those three countries, is in a better position than it has been since the 1864 genocide (

Many Sochi Facilities to Be Handed Over to Gazprom.  Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says that many Olympic facilities will be handed over to Gazprom and other corporations after the games, a statement that has left many in Sochi troubled as to what will be the fate of their city in the out years (,,  and

Chechen-Ingush Border to Be Demarcated After Sochi Games.  Dukuvakha Abdurakhmanov, the speaker of the Chechen parliament, says that the demarcation of the border between the two republics will take place after the Sochi Olympiad, the latest decision that is being postponed because of the competition (

Moscow Insists 80 Percent of Olympic Spending was for Infrastructure.  Vladimir Kozhin, President Vladimir Putin’s administrator, and Dmitry Kozak, the vice prime minister, both insist that approximately 80 percent of Russia’s spending on Sochi has been for infrastructure and thus will be available for use by residents and visitors for many years to come. But exactly what is infrastructure and what isn’t has not been clearly defined ( and

Russians Fear They May Not Get Pensions after Sochi.  Many Russians are expressing concern that their government will not have enough money to pay them their pensions because of its spending on Sochi. Officials say their worries are misplaced but acknowledge that cutbacks and sequesters are entirely possible because of economic difficulties (

New US Clothing Line Highlights Opposition to Discrimination at Sochi.  A clothing line, developed by American Apparel and backed by LGBT organizations and at least three dozen athletes, supports the Principle 6 campaign against Russia’s anti-Gay laws.  Principle 6 refers to the paragraph of the Olympic Charter that says sports do “not discriminate on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise”  ( and

Russia’s Olympic Torch Travails Continue.  Not only does the Russian torch continue to flame up and go out, but it has suffered other indignities as well. Some Russians are using its passage to demonstrate on behalf of other issues, one prominent torch bearer almost missed his assignment when he slept through his alarm, and officials timed price increases for public transportation to coincide with its passage, limiting turnout and leading many to identify the torch with that rather than the Olympics (,,, and

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