WINDOW ON EURASIA: SOCHI COUNTDOWN – 10 WEEKS TO THE OLYMPIAD IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS

WINDOW ON EURASIA: SOCHI COUNTDOWN – 10 WEEKS TO THE OLYMPIAD IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS

Note:  This is my 40th 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 paul.goble@gmail.com  Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Goble
Putin Says Sochi Contractors Will Have to Work Through New Year Holiday.  In the clearest  indication yet that many sites are unfinished and that far more work remains to done before Sochi is ready for the games, President Vladimir Putin told officials at a meeting in Sochi that “much has been done, but things remain far from completed,” adding that ““the New Year holidays are approaching,” but “for you and those working on Olympic sites, the New Year will come after the Paralympic Games end on March 17. For you, New Year will be on March 18” when the Paralympics close. For Russians, that holiday is one of the most sacred of the year. Asking workers and officials to give it up is asking a lot (firstpost.com/sports/crunch-time-putin-tells-sochi-organisers-to-work-through-holidays-1256211.html andkremlin.ru/news/19715).
Half of Vneshekonombank Loans for Sochi Need to Be Restructured or Written Off. Not only is Sochi construction coming in late and over budget, but ten of the 20 construction loans backed by Vneshekonombank are not “performing” and must be either restructured or written off as bad debt, a situation that is exacerbating tensions between the Kremlin and the oligarchs who received many of them.  According to Scott Antel, a Moscow-based financial analys, the oligarchs were forced into “a deal with the devil,” effectively being told “you will do your civic duty and build facilities in Sochi so we can have this coming-out party for the new Russian state. This is your indirect taxation to be allowed to continue with your main business activity.” (bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-26/rich-russians-sparring-with-putin-over-48-billion-olympics-bet.html , businessweek.com/videos/2013-11-26/russia-spends-record-48-billion-on-sochi-olympics, and vedomosti.ru/sochi-2014/news/19268581/olimpiada-trebuet-restrukturizacii).
Putin Says Russians Shouldn’t Be ‘Xenophobic’ about LGBTs.  Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked about recent attacks on LGBTs in his country, said that “we should not create a society of such xenophobia against anyone else, including with respect to people with different sexual orientation.” Russian gay activist Vyacheslav Revin said one can eplain Putin’s statement “in three words: It’s a lie. If he wants to really talk about changing policy on LGBT people, then he can arrest all the ‘Occupy Pedophilia’ participants in all regions of Russia. In doens of cities, there are victims of extra-judicial reprisal and homophobic bullying” (lgbtqnation.com/2013/11/putin-says-xenophobic-attitude-towards-russian-lgbt-people-is-wrong/).
Russian TV Said Conducting ‘Hate Campaign’ Against Gays.  Even as President Vladimir Putin said that promoting anti-LGBT “xenophobia” is wrong, Russian television and especially the Special Correspondent program on Russia-1 has been broadcasting what many observers are calling “a hate campaign” against gays and lesbians in Russia and blaming the appearance of LGBTs in Russia on a well-financed campaign by what it called “a strong homosexual lobby in Europe.”  The program’s host, Arkady Mamontov, used the broadcast to retell the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  “Ever since then, the real name by which homosexuals are known, just so you, our viewers, know, is: They are not gays, they are sodomites,” he observed
Putin Says Russians of All Income Levels Can Come to Sochi.  President Vladimir Putin said that flexible ticket prices and price controls on hotels and restaurants will allow Russians from all income groups to come to Sochi. But many estimates by others suggest that the games will not be financially accessible to many (en.rsport.ru/olympics/20131128/704235277.html  andvesti-sochi.tv/olimpiada/21343-lvesti-sochir-poschitali-vo-skolko-obojdetsja-poezdka-na-igry-2014).
Kozak Concedes Gastarbeiters Remain But Pledges to Remove Them.  Russian Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak who is overseeing the Olympiad for Moscow and who earlier pledged to have all the gastarbeiters working there removed by November 1 now says he is “certain” those remaining will be out “in the course of a month (kremlin.ru/news/19715).
Russian LGBT Group Seeks Approval for Demonstration Backing Putin’s ‘Defense of Gays.’ Nikolay Alekseyev, a Russian gay rights activist, has requested permission from the authorities to hold a rally to “disseminate the words of President Vladimir Putin” in defense of gays.  The application says the group plans to assemble 20 people on December 4th.  On his twitter account, Alekseyev said that “if Moscow authorities forbid us from publicly expressing and disseminating in society the direct quotes of Russia’s president, we will all be witnesses to the complete absurdity of the current situation, absolute disrespect of the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech” (themoscowtimes.com/news/article/activist-seeks-rally-to-spread-putins-remarks-in-defense-of-gays/490057.html).
Russian Journalists in Sochi Treated Far Worse than Foreign Ones.  Olga Beskova, editor of “Sochinskiye novosti,” and Irina Gordienko, a reporter for “Novaya gazeta,” say that Russian officials in Sochi are targeting journalists who report on environmental and human rights abuses and treating Russian journalists far worse than they are treating those from abroad whose travails at least attract broader attention. Inna Sangazhieva, Russia projects coordinator for the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, agreed, according to a Bellona report, “saying the veneer of being a foreign journalist in such circumstances offers a modicum of protection that Russia journalists and activists will not have. Instead, they will endure actual arrests, beatings, false criminal charges, kangaroo courts and perhaps disappearances because of their views and efforts to illuminate the truth. What will happen to Sochi when the athletes and international press coverage recede is anyone’s guess” (bellona.org/articles/articles_2013/sochi_preview).Lidia Ranert, who coordinates media training projects in the former Soviet space, says she has encountered problems like those in Sochi before “only in Uzbekistan” (.ng.ru/regions/2013-11-20/1_sochi.html).
New Film Documents Sochi Corruption … A film called “Putin’s Games” produced by a European consortium tells the story of massive kickbacks to the Kremlin during the run-up to the Sochi Games (themoscowtimes.com/sochi2014/Documentary-Highlights-Corruption-in-Sochi-Construction.htmlblogsochi.ru/content/film-ob-otkatakh-na-olimpiade-v-sochi-blokiruyut-v-rossiikavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/234057/and variety.com/2013/film/reviews/putins-games-review-1200886264/).
… Prompting IOC to Object … The International Olympic Committee was so angry about the film tht it demanded the editors eliminate the word “Olympic” in the title or in Archival footage, according to Britain’s “Telegraph” newspaper(telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/10469999/The-film-Russia-tried-to-block-The-threats-and-corruption-behind-Sochi-Olympics.html).
… And Moscow to Try to Bribe Its Producers. Russians apparently liked with the authorities offered the director 600,000 British pounds not to show her film.  That was twice the amount that had been spend on producing it.  Simone Baumann says that she turned it down twice and then didn’t answer her door. “In a society where they think they can buy anything – and usually can – if you ask for a price, you are already a buyer,” she said, explaining her refusal to enter into negotiations to sell her film to the Russian authorities. “You must never ask the price. I simply told him that I was not interested and walked away” (telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/10469999/The-film-Russia-tried-to-block-The-threats-and-corruption-behind-Sochi-Olympics.html).
West Using Circassian Cause ‘to Liberate Caucasus from Russia,’ Moscow Analyst Says. A Moscow analyst says that the West “ascribes high priority to the Circassian theme” and has made the Circassian nationalist movement “among the most dynamic in the post-Soviet space. The goal of the movement is “to liberate the Caucasus from Russia” and to “somehow make Russia pay – morally or materially – for the events which took place two centuries ago.” If Circassia did gain “independence from Russia,” its future would be like “thatof Chechnya under J. Dudayev” (strategic-culture.org/news/2010/12/28/geopolitical-games-around-greater-circassia.html).
Circassians from Around the World Come to Hamburg Exhibit.  Some 300 people, including representatives of Circassian communities around the world, came to the opening of the Circassian exhibit in Hamburg.  The museum’s director said that the world must recognize that in 1864, Sochi was “the last capital of the Circassians” and the site of horrific human suffering.  That is simply a matter of respect as required by the Olympic code and as exemplified by the respect shown to the First Nations of Canada during the Vancouver Games (natpress.ru/index.php?newsid=8562 and kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/234162/).
Circassians Demonstrate in New York’s Times Square Against Sochi Games.  Carryig signs saying “No to Sochi Olympics on the Land of Genocide,” a group of Circassians and their supporters organied a demonstration in New York’s Times Square (facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152073101665701&set=a.342498350700.202812.335082120700&type=1&theater).
Moscow Acknowledges Circassian Opposition to Sochi Games. Russian officials and experts on the Caucasus now acknowledge that “part of the Circassian social organizations both in Russia and abroad sharply criticize the Sochi Olympic project first because it corresponds on the calenda to the 150th anniversary of the final pacification of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire which cost the life or exile of many Circassians and second because the Circassians in their opinion are insufficiently involvd in the preparation of the Olympiad” (rus.ruvr.ru/2013_11_26/Kultura-cherkesov-budet-predstavlena-na-Olimpiade-3605/).
‘Something Very Bad is About to Happen in Sochi,’ US Blogger Says.  An American blogger says that “something very bad is about to happen in Sochi,” not an Olympic Games but rather “a massive public relations campaign” for Vladimir Putin and his regime (breslanta.com/2013/11/27/sochi-russia-winter-olympics-problems/).
Sochi Residents Collectively and Individually Increasingly Angry at Russian Authorities.  Sochi residents are increasingly angry about the way they are being treated and especially the frequency with which they say they are being lied to.  Some of them are taking part in protest meetings.  One Sochi resident expressed his frustration by saying that he was now “ashamed” of his city and of the country of which it is a part (privetsochi.ru/blog/grazhdannskoe_obhestvo_goroda_sochi/38364.html andxonep.livejournal.com/71922.html).
Russian Officials Continue to Delay Ecologist’s Trial.  Yevgeny Vitishko, an activist for the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus, has seen his trial repeatedly delayed over the past few weeks, and his supporters believe that the authorities, who do not have a real case, simply want to keep him in jail or otherwise legally entangled for the next two months in order to prevent him from exposing more environmental devastation in the Sochi region (sochi-24.ru/proishestviya/ekologu-isportivshemu-zabor-gubernatora-grozit-tyurma.20131122.70965.html  and ewnc.org/node/13105).
Authorities, Population Clash Over Environmental Protection. In a series of meetings, residents complained to Sochi officials about the destruction of the environment during preparations for the Olympiad, and officials engaged in obfuscation, including refusal to specify exactly what the borders are of nature preserves and which laws apply, and parliamentary procedure to declare one meeting invalid. The two sides appear set to continue their battles in the future, although the longer the fight goes on, the more the environment of Sochi will suffer (ng.ru/regions/2013-11-25/100_nature.htmlblogsochi.ru/content/v-gorodskom-sobranii-sochi-221113-goda-proshlo-zasedanie-komissii-po-voprosam-pamyatnikov-pr,
Sochi Organizers Say Prices Won’t Go Up During Games – But They are Going Up Now.  Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Russian organzing committee for the Sochi Games, says that hotel prices will not go up during the games, but local residents have said that local businessmen are boosting prices now on a wide variety of goods and services to create the baseline that Moscow will then supposedly enforce (interfax.ru/tourism/tourisminf.asp?id=343867&sec=1466 and kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/234282/).
BlogSochi Editor Detained for Trying to Photograph Tunnel.  Aleksandr Valov, editor of BlogSochi.ru, was detained by Sochi police while attempting to photograph one of the tunnels under construction in that city. The police told him that he was guilty of violating the law on “specially protected” sites but subsequently released him (blogsochi.ru/content/sochinskii-bloger-byl-zaderzhan-pri-popytke-fotosemki-v-tonnele).
Russian Bankruptcy Law Putting Sochi Apartment Buyers into the Streets.  Because Russian laws on bankruptcy provide little or no protection for those who have purchased apartments in buildings that have not been declared completed, a regular feature of the pre-Olympic period in Sochi, some companies in Sochi are declaring bankruptcy, evicting the residents who have already paid and moved in, and leaving them with no place to go. In several cases, the courts have proved deaf to complaints by such residents (blogsochi.ru/content/ya-iz-sektsii-%22v%22).
Polish Deputy Calls for EU Boycott of Sochi Games.  Marek Migalsky, a Polish deputy in the European Parliament, said at aWarsaw conference entitled “Don’t Play with a Dictator!” that “the Olympiad in Sochi is a classical eample of the use of a sporting event for the legitimation of a brutal regime and that the Europe Union cannot agree to that.” Also in attendance was Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition figure, who said that “if EU leaders would say that we are prepare to come only when you release political prisoners and there are already 70 of them in Putin’s Russia, theen there is a chance that they would really be released. And in that event, at least something useful would come from the Olympiad” (svoboda.org/content/article/25183371.html).
Olympic Construction Breaks Same Water Main for a Second Time. As Russian building firms rush to complete construction projects in Sochi, they seem to be ever less cautious regarding the digging up of streets. On one street in the center of the city, for example, they have broken the same water pipe at least twice in the last two weeks, leaving residents in the area without water (sochi-24.ru/proishestviya/novyj-vodovod-na-ulice-plastunskoj-opyat-povrezhden.20131128.71260.html).
Russia’s Torch Travails Continue …  This week, the torch exploded into flame and set on fire the jacket of a bobsled team member, Petr Makrchuk, who was carrying it in Abakan. Some observers suggested that the torch instead of being fixed was in fact becoming ever more dangerous.  And more cartoons and photoshopped pictures of the torch, including one featuring Lenin carrying it, have been appearing (km.ru/sport/2013/11/28/olimpiiskie-igry-v-sochi-2014/726276-olimpiiskii-fakel-podzhog-sportsmena-na-estafesochi-24.ru/sochi-2014/olimpijskij-ogon-stanovitsya-vse-opasnee.20131128.71254.htmlslun60.livejournal.com/38555.htmlslun60.livejournal.com/38270.html).
… But Buddhist Leader Blesses Torch.  There was one piece of good news for the Olympic torch this week: finally, a  religious leader blessed it without qualification. After weeks in which Russian Orthodox prelates have debated whether the torch and other Olympic symbolism is pagan or not, that constitutes what must be a welcome relief for Sochi organizers (nazaccent.ru/content/9811-olimpijskij-ogon-poluchil-blagoslovenie-v-ivolginskom.html).
 ‘Zeus Alone Knows if Torch Will Reach Sochi,’ Many Russians Say. A self-selected online poll found that the largest share of those answering said that “Zeus alone knows” whether the torch will get to Sochi. One in six said it wouldn’t, and just under one in four said it would (www.rupoll.com/wdrfmcfqsr.html#).
Tkachev Says Sochi Ski Resort Equals Those in West. Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev says that the ski resort at Krasnaya Polyana ranks with the best ski resorts in Western countries and thus will give “a powerful impulse” to the development of the entire North Caucasus (sochi-24.ru/politika/tkachev-krasnaya-polyana-mozhet-sravnyatsya-s-kurshevelem.20131128.71224.html).
Rogozin ‘Thinks’ Sochi Checkpoints Will Be Ready by End of December.  In yet another implicit acknowledgement that arrangements in Sochi are running far behind schedule, Russian Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that “on the whole I think that before the end of Decemer all checkpoints of the Russian Border Service in Sochi will work” (sochi-24.ru/politika/vice-premer-priehal-v-sochi-proverit-pogranichnye-punkty.20131128.71232.html).
Russians Say Terrorist Acts and Protests Likely in Sochi.  A Levada Center poll found that almost half of the Russian population thinks that there will be some misfortune during the Sochi Games, with one in four saying that a terrorist incident is likely and one in six saying that there will be boycotts or other protests about Russian human rights policies (sochi-24.ru/sochi-2014/chetvert-rossiyan-opasayutsya-teraktov-na-olimpiade-v-sochi.20131128.71222.html).
Nemtsov, a Sochi Native, May Run for Mayor.  Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov has filed preliminary paperwork to be a candidate in the Sochi mayoral elections on April 26, but observers say that he has not made an irrevocable decision to run and despite widespread name recognition, he would face a serious uphill fight against the preferred candidate of the authorities in Krasnodar Kray (privetsochi.ru/blog/politics_sochi/5.html).
Islamists Arrested in Moscow Said Preparing to Attack Sochi Games …  The arrest of a group of Islamist militants identified as members of the At-Takfir val-Hijra group in Moscow has led one Russian nationalist site to suggest that these militants are part of preparations by the radicals to launch terrorist attacks on the Sochi Games (3rm.info/41451-podgotovka-islamistov-k-putinskoy-olimpiade-v-moskve-zaderzhany-islamskie-ekstremisty-s-oruzhiem-i-vzryvchatkoy.html  and top.rbc.ru/incidents/27/11/2013/891296.shtml).
… But Soldatov Says Case is Unclear.  In an article in “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Andrey Soldatov, Russia’s leading independent expert on the security services, says the recent arrests do not allow sweeping conclusions about the intentions of the militants involved. The weapons and explosives found on them, he says, may be for the commission of ordinary crimes rather than a terrorist attack (ej.ru/?a=note&id=23829).
Moscow Analyst Describes Sochi as “Muddied and Bloodied Aquarium of Conflict.’Oleg Nechiporenko, a senior analyst at the Russian National Anti-Terrorist and Anti-Crime Foundation, says that the Sochi region is “such a muddied and bloodied aquarium of conflict that to pick out any one fish is impossible.” Consequently, it is difficult if not impossible to say who might be prepared to engage in attacks on the Games (xmedia.ex.ac.uk/wp/wordpress/the-ongoing-issues-with-sochi-2014/).
Gay Pride House in Sochi Would Propagandize LGBT Values, Russian Judge Sayss. In issuing an injunction against the construction of a Pride House in Sochi, a Russian judge said that such a facility, already a regular feature of international sports competitions elsewhere, would violate Russian law: “Pride House incites propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation which can undermine the security of the Russian society and the state, provoke social-religious hatred, which is the feature of the extremist character of the activity” (xmedia.ex.ac.uk/wp/wordpress/the-ongoing-issues-with-sochi-2014/).
Sochi Project’s ‘Atlas of War and Tourism in the North Caucasus’ Now Available. A 392-page book with that title, the result of four years of effort by Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen in what they have called “The Sochi Project” is now available for sale online (thesochiproject.org/shop/product/62/). For one of the first reviews, seenewyorker.com/online/blogs/photobooth/2013/11/slide-show-the-sochi-project.html#slide_ss_0=1).
Despite Moscow Media Claims, Sochi Underpass Won’t Be Ready Before Mid-January.  An underpass near the center of Sochi promised several times this year and reported as completed by Moscow media outlets won’t be ready until mid-January, only a few weeks before the games, according to local people who have watched the on-again-off-again construction (blogsochi.ru/content/sdacha-dublera-kurortnogo-prospekta-perenositsya-poka-na-yanvar-2014-go).
Sochi Games Seen Boosting Russian Shares Before Hand and Then Sending Them Down.  A commentary in the Moscow newspaper “Vzglyad” says that shares in companies involved with Sochi construction are likely to rise in the coming  weeks but face “a correction” when the games actually begin.  “No one,” not even those behind the Olympiad, has been able to “change the old exchange rule: ‘buy on the basis of expectations, and sell on the basis of events’” (vz.ru/columns/2013/11/26/660404.html).
Moscow to Spend Another 300 Million US Dollars on Opening and Closing Ceremonies.  The Russian authorities have announced plans to spend an additional 300 million US dollars on the opening and closing ceremonies in Sochi and to add insult to the injury that many Russians feel about Olympic spending, most of this will go to an Italian rather than a Russian company.  Some observers suggest that even this additional amount may not be the last word about what Moscow plans as a media extravaganza (blogsochi.ru/content/na-otkrytie-i-zakrytie-igr-v-sochi-uidet-pochti-10-mlrd-rublei).
KAMAZ Builds Special Armored Vehicles to Provide Security at Sochi.  The KAMAZ factory is building special armored vehicles called Typhoons to provide security at the Sochi Games. The contract for these vehicles was let by the defense ministry in 2010. The vehicles are now being tested by the military and will go into service in advance of the Olympiad (rostec.ru/research/project/3367).
Sochi Businesses Can’t Find Enough Workers or Get Deliveries on Time.  A meeting of the Trade and Industry Chamber of Sochi complained that entrepreneurs in the city often can’t find enough workers to ensure their operation, the result of tightening restrictions on gastarbeiters, difficulties of living in the city, and official obstructionism.  Moreover, participants warned that security arrangements may be so tight that shelves will be empty at the time of the games because delivery trucks will not be able to get through. There is only one road for delivery vehicles to use, it is already the site of long lines, some eleven hours long; and the question naturally arises, the businessmen say, of what conditions will be like during the Olympics themselves. Moreover, possibly with an eye to lining their own pockets, officials have stepped up their “inspections” of local businesses, creating yet another set of problems (sochinskie-novosti.com/%D0%B1%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%81-%D0%B2-%D1%81%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%B8-%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%82%D1%81%D1%8F-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B7%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BC/ ).
Moscow Holds Back 30 Percent of Olympic Tickets for Russian and Foreign Delegations.  Nearly a third of all tickets to all Olympic events are being held back in the expectation that these seats will be filled by Russian and foreign delegations, according to the Sochi 2014 organizing committee.  That will allow the Russian authorities to offer tickets to particular groups of Russian citizens and mean that any decision by officials to boycott games if it is not announced until the last minute may leave many empty seats (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/234194/).
Russian Court Orders Sochi Airport to Provide Handicapped Parking.  Despite Moscow’s oft-repeated and much-ballyhooed pledge that the Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi will be handicap friendly, it has taken a decision by the Adler District Court to  force the airport at the Olympic city to provide specially marked parking places for the handicapped (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/234199/).
Only KPRF Backs Protests against Illegal Trash Dumps in Sochi Region.  Of the political parties which have deputies in the Duma, only the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has chosen to back protests by Sochi residents against trash dumps and the pollution of the Mzymta River, despite widespread acknowledgement that this trash poses a threat to public health long into the future (blogsochi.ru/content/i-vnov-prodolzhaetsya-boi). Meanwhile, residents of varioius parts of the city and beyond continue their protests about the dumping of trash in their neighborhoods (sochinskie-novosti.com/%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BC%D1%83-%D0%BD%D1%83%D0%B6%D0%B5%D0%BD-%D0%BC%D1%83%D1%81%D0%BE%D1%80-%D0%B8%D0%B7-%D1%81%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%B8/).
Putin Games about Corruption and Banditry, Golts Says.  In a commentary on “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Aleksandr Golts says the Sochi Games organized by Vladimir Putin are about corruption and banditry from beginning to end, beginning with the unlimited funds for lobbying the IOC to get winter games in a subtropical zone and ending – so far – with a crude attempt to purchase a film critical of the games to prevent it from being shown. In between, he reports, businesses have been hit with a requirement that they pay 15 percent or more of the contracts awarded to them to officials in Putin’s power vertical. In all these ways, of course, he concludes, “Sochi is [only] a microcosm of contemporary Russia” (ej.ru/?a=note&id=23816).
Human Rights First Urges White House to Include LGBTs in US Delegation to Sochi.  Human Rights First, a gay rights group, called on the White House to include prominent American LGBTs and their allies on the official US delegation. In a letter to Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, the group said that “the selection of the members of the official U.S. delegations for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics is an important opportunity to signal to Russia and the world the priority the Obama Administration places on equality and human dignity. Those selected for the honor of representing the United States will project the values of our country on the global stage” (humanrightsfirst.org/2013/11/25/u-s-delegation-to-sochi-olympic-games-should-include-lgbt-leaders/).
Kremlin Operatives Take Control of Circassian Group.  According to Khazrail Khanakhok, a Circassian activist, pro-Moscow officials manipulated the vote for members in the governing body of a Circassian group in Adygeya to ensure that it would not criticize the Sochi Olympics but rather support whatever the Kremlin wants (hekupsa.com/mnenie/blogi/2068-khazrail-khanakhok-absolyutno-beznadezhnyj-variant).
Organizers Reject Putin Plea for Yekaterinburg to Host 2020 World Expo.  Organizers chose Dubai over Yekaterinburg to host the 2020 World Expo despite a video appeal by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the English language.  This represents one of the first times the Kremlin leader has been rejected in recent times in his efforts to attract spectacles and athletic competitions to his counry (themoscowtimes.com/business/article/despite-putins-english-appeal-yekaterinburg-loses-expo-bid/490416.html). But Russia may do better in the future because many countries are opting out of such competitions, viewing the costs of hosting competitions and festivals exceeds their value to the despair of some heads of international organizations like the IOC’s Thomas Bach(newizv.ru/sport/2013-11-22/192892-ne-vremja-dlja-igr.html). In Russia itself, there is also growing opposition with the residents of St. Petersburg saying that the only beneficiaries of such games are corrupt officials (newsland.com/news/detail/id/1280935/).
Sochi Roundtable Says Circassians Will Have a Role During Games.  A rountable organized by the North-South Center for Political Analysis in Sochi said that “It is clear that culture of Circassians will play a well-desrved role in the upcoming Olympic Games.” Chachukh Majid, vice president of the International Circassian Association and head of Adyge Khaseh of the Black Sea Adyghe-Shapsugs, added that “the small” ethnicity Shapsugs has full opportunity to preserve national culture, traditions, customs. The palette of colours of Olympic Sochi will have a piece of unique culture of our people.” None of the participants, however, said exactly what that role would be besides providing the names for some of the venues (vestnikkavkaza.net/articles/society/47976.html).
Putin Miscalculated on Sochi and the Circassian Issue, Expert Says.  John Colarusso, a specialist on the North Caucasus at Canada’s McMaster University, said that Vladimir Putin’s decision to hold the Olympiad in Sochi “handed the Circassians a silver tray upon which to air their grievacnes to the world.  It’s a genuine blunder on the part of Putin,” who Colarusso said, is “otherwise fairly astute as rulers go” (cbc.ca/news/world/russia-s-sochi-olympics-awakens-circassian-anger-1.1263009).
HRW Says Corporate Sponsors Have Failed to Speak Out about Rights Abuses at Sochi.  Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human rights Watch, says that major corporate sponsors have failed to speak out about the various rights abuses associated with the Sochi Games, preferring instead to hide behind IOC and Russian government assurances. Those assurances, Worden said, “are vague and misleading.”  For eample, what Vladimir Putin says is a law to protect children is in fact a signal to support anti-gay activism and thus is “a flouting of Olympic rules” (hrw.org/news/2013/11/18/russia-olympic-sponsors-muted-sochi-abuses).
Turkey to Help Provide Security in Sochi.  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Taiip Erdogan told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Ankara will help provide security for Sochi. Among the areas of cooperation, experts suggest, will be monitoring the actions of Circassians living in Turkey (islamnews.ru/news-142997.html).
Russian Meteorologist Says There Will Be Snow at Sochi.  Roman Vilfand, head of Russia’s Hydrometeorology Center, says he cannot yet give a prediction of whether snow will fall during the Sochi Games but he is certain that there will be “snow on the Olympic courses in any case” as a result of earlier snowfalls (vestikavkaza.ru/video/Roman-Vilfand-Na-Olimpiade-v-Sochi-sneg-budet.html). To ensure this prediction is correct, Russian officials are making plans to seed the clouds just before the Games (blogsochi.ru/content/mchs-predupredilo-slovo-%22shtorm%22-vyzyvaet-paniku-u-pravitelstva-i-golovnye-boli-u-naseleniya).
Sochi Winter Olympics to Feature Swimming.   For the first time in modern Olympic history, a winter games will open “unofficially” five days early in order to allow for time for competitions normally associated with summer games: swimming.  According to the Russian Olympic Committee, swimmers will enter the “icy” waters after the Olympic torch arrives in the city (sochinews.net/olimpiya/1563-olimpiada-v-sochi-2014-otkroetsya-na-5-dnej-ranshe.html).
Krasnodar Airport, Backup for Sochi, Limits Operations to Allow for Upgrades. Because the airport in Krasnodar will serve as the backup field during the Sochi Games, it is currently undergoing upgrades, something that is limiting the time of its daily operations and forcing the rescheduling of flights (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/234128/).
Russian Olympic Winners to Be Paid 200,000 US Dollars Each.  Russian athletes who win gold medals at Sochi will be paid 200,000 US dollars each, two-thirds from the federal treasury and one-third from Krasnodar kray. Those who win silver and bronze will receive proportionately less (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/234125/).
Sochi Residents Won’t Be Charged for Bad Water.  Those residents of Sochi who had evil-smelling and colored water flowing into their homes won’t be charged for that, officials say, but the system set up to issue refunds is sufficiently cumbersome that many of those who had water of all colors of the rainbow and smelling like feces may never see these refunds (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/234085/ and sochi-24.ru/ekonomika/oplatu-za-nekachestvennuyu-vodu-mozhno-spisat.20131125.71070.html). Meanwhile, many residents aren’t getting any water, heat or sewage services at all (privetsochi.ru/blog/komunalka/38211.html).
Sochi Represents in ‘Concentrated’ Form Russia’s Problems.  A blogger says that nothing that is occurring in Sochi is something Russians elsewhere have not seen, but it is the case that “we encountner there an unusually high concentration” of these problems and therefore they attract more attention than they do when seen elsewhere (varfolomeev.livejournal.com/817089.html).
IKEA Drops Lesbian Couple from Its Russian Catalogue. Fearing prosecution by Russian authorities, the Swedish furniture firm IKEA dropped a photograph showing a lesbian couple in its Russian-language capital.  Queerty.com speculated that they had perhaps replaced that photograph with “a hastily photoshoppped image of Stalin hanging out with friends.” And it said that IKEA’s lawyers feared “running afoul of [Russia’s] anti gay propaganda laws. “In essence, they’re ‘just following orders,’ another historical reference wwith absolutely no negative baggage whatsoever, Queerty.com said (http://www.queerty.com/ikea-admits-cooperating-with-russian-gay-purge-20131121/).
US Anti-Gay Activist Praises Moscow, Says Gays Behind Violence.  Scott Lively, an anti-gay activist in the US, says that the Russian government deserves praise for its anti-LGBT legislation and that “The guys that are beating up gays in Russia—and it’s not any more prevalent than it ever has been really and it isn’t all that prevalent at all—but the ones that are doing it are butch homosexuals who are beating up effeminate homosexuals, the same thing that happened in Germany; this is gay-on-gay crime.” He added that while the “United States is becoming a gay Soviet Union” and “collapsing into totalitarianism with a heavy gay emphasis,” Russia is emerging as “a great Christian country thanks to their laws suppressing gay rights.” “I’m taking some credit for this,” he said (lgbtqnation.com/2013/11/anti-gay-activist-scott-lively-gay-people-are-behind-anti-gay-violence-in-russia/).
Anti-Terrorism Exercise Continues; Muslims Harassed. The counter-terorrism exercise Moscow announced two weeks ago continues, with ever more reports of harassment of Muslim parishioners, gastarbeiters and journalists (kavpolit.com/utomlennye-solncem-terroristy/).
Putin Won’t Change Government Until After Sochi Games, Zyuganov Says.  KPRF chief Gennady Zyuganov says that Putin has long planned to replace the Russian government headed by Dmitry Medvedev but that he won’t “touch” doing so until the Sochi Games are over lest changes disorder the administration (vesti.ru/doc.html?id=1158902&cid=5).
Local Prosecutors Powerless against Moscow’s Intervention.  A Krasnoyarsk prosecutor has acknowledged that he would not have allowed such a minimum punishment for a Sochi official had those higher up on the power vertical intervened to protect that official after her trial (blogsochi.ru/content/prokuror-krasnodarskogo-kraya-leonid-korzhinek-%22priznalsya-v-bespomoshchnosti%22-po-ugolovnomu).
Sochi City Day Doesn’t Go Well. Despite Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov’s upbeat claims about improvements, Sochi City Day this year did not go well. A fountain that was supposed to be ready didn’t work. And officials had to concede that the city administration was deeply in debt because of poor tax collection (blogsochi.ru/content/byuvet-u-zimnego-teatra-ne-dostroili-no-otkryli-ko-dnyu-goroda-sochisochi-24.ru/politika/pahomov-novaya-infrastruktura-uzhe-sluzhit-sochincam.20131122.70984.html and sochi-24.ru/ekonomika/gorodskoj-kazne-sochi-ne-hvataet-deneg.20131121.70947.html).
Prague Says It Can’t Afford Czech Olympic House in Sochi.  The government of the Czech Republic says that it lacks the funds to open a national Olympic House in Sochi, an indication that governments no longer see spending on such things as a sacred cow that cannot be touched (vesti-sochi.tv/olimpiada/21227-u-chehii-ne-hvataet-deneg-na-svoj-lolimpijskij-domr-v-sochi-).
Russians Will Have to Register in Sochi Face to Face.  The requirement that Russians register with the authorities if they are in Sochi for more than three days has now been clarified. Despite the hopes of some, they will not be allowed to register via the Internet  but will have to come to the central registration office to do so, apparently a decision reflecting security concerns (vesti-sochi.tv/olimpiada/21225-zaregistrirovatsja-v-sochi-cherez-internet-na-vremja-igr-ne-poluchitsja).
Moscow Plays Up Intra-Circassian Divisions.  Russian officials are playing up tensions between the Abaza, historically a subgroup of the Circassians who some Russians insist now want their “own place in the sun” and the broader Circassian community by highlighting the support of the former for the Sochi Games which Abaza leaders say will take place on Abaza lands and the supposed involvement of the latter in the elimination of three Abaza districts in Soviet times (facebook.com/groups/418134964913502/permalink/613301585396838/).
IOC Head Promises Toughest Drug Testing Regime Ever at Sochi.  Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said national Olympic committees must ensure that their athletes do not use drugs because the IOC is imposing the toughest drug testing regime ever at Sochi.  He did not say whether the temporary suspension of the Russian drug testing laboratory had yet been lifted (insidethegames.biz/olympics/winter-olympics/2014/1017103-sochi-2014-achievements-will-be-overshadowed-if-involved-in-doping-scandal-bach-warns-european-countries  and kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/233867/).
Computer Records Should Clear Yarst, Lawyers Say.  Nikolay Yarst, an ORT correspondent who has been pursued by Sochi prosecutors for months because of his coverage of events involving preparation for the Olympiad should be cleared, his lawyers say, by the results of an investigation into computer records. At the very least, the lawyers add, prosecutors will  have to re-cast their charges against Yarst (blogsochi.ru/content/delo-zhurnalista-yarsta-treshchit-po-shvam).
Even Sochi Bird Park has Cost Overruns.  The Ornithological Park in Sochi will cost 3.4 times the original estimate, an indication of the reality that everything in that Olympic city costs more and takes longer to complete than officials originally estimate (blogsochi.ru/content/vo-skolko-oboidetsya-byudzhetu-ornitologicheskii-park-v-sochi).
Mutko, Admitting Problems with Sochi Construction, Removed from World Cup Preparation. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko concedes that infrastructure in Sochi is far from complete, despite all his earlier upbeat promises.  He said things will be ready by January 7. But perhaps because of this, the Russian government has removed him from the chain of command preparing the 2018 World Cup competitions that will take place in Russian cities (zvestia.ru/news/561224  and ura.ru/content/svrd/20-11-2013/news/1052169340.html).
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