Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Concerns about Ecology, Terrorism Cast Shadow over Sochi Games

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 19 – Russian environmental activists and a major German newspaper today added their voices to those, like the members of the Circassian community inside the Russian Federation and abroad, who object to Moscow’s plans to stage the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.
This morning, activists of the Ecological Watch for the North Caucasus and the Solidarity Movement blocked the construction build of a new road between Adler and Krasnaya Polyana for visitors to the Sochi Games because the builders were illegally cutting down trees in a national park (
Their protest is the latest effort to call attention to the ways in which the Moscow backers of the Sochi games are riding roughshod over even Russia’s relatively flexible system of environmental protection laws, violations that will disturb Russians increasingly concerned about the environment (
The activists have done everything by the book and have avoided any provocatory action, initial reports suggest. They asked the militia to come in order to enforce environmental laws, and they took a series of steps over the last several days which show they intend to press their case through both the courts and the media (
In order to be in a position to do that, the activists have marked all the trees in the park that are protected by law with a red cross, often doing so only a few minutes ahead of the builders who were planning to cut those trees down. And the activists have used a GPS system to record exactly where each tree is located -- in the event that the builders ignore them.
Moreover, the activists have told construction workers that they could face individual legal penalties for cutting the protected trees, although it seems unlikely that they would be convicted by a Russian court. As one of the supporters of the protest said, the government organs involved in this project have “completely forgotten” their responsibilities to obey the law.
But as the same supporter indicated, the activists are not counting on the courts alone. They plan to stage further actions in order to generate support through the media, Russian and international. If Moscow ignores them and its own laws, the supporter said, it will “undermine the authority of the Russian powers that be and the international Olympic movement.”
An indication of yet another reason why some in the international community may be thinking about opposing the Sochi Olympics was provided in today’s “Frankfurter Rundschau.” That influential German paper said that the Kremlin should develop plans to shift the 2014 Olympics from Sochi to another site because of the threat of terrorism in the North Caucasus.
The article pointed to the violence in Ingushetia and suggested that Moscow was losing control of the situation in the region, a development that the German paper said made it likely that the Russian authorities would not be able to guarantee the security of athletes or fans attending the games (
The idea of moving the games or at least some of the competitions out of Sochi was advanced earlier by opposition leader Boris Nemtsov when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of that city earlier this year. In his view, Moscow should use existing facilities in other Russian cities rather than building new ones in and around Sochi.
That idea, which the “Frankfurter Rundschau” appears to have accepted as a way out, may very well gain more traction than proposals by some Circassians to cancel the games altogether given that Moscow’s plans for the Sochi competition will destroy or otherwise desecrate land where tsarist officials killed or expelled Circassians nearly 150 years ago.
So far, however, given the way in which Vladimir Putin has made the Sochi Games his personal project, there seems to be little willingness in Moscow to consider even a partial shift, although the demonstration on the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana highway and the article in the German newspaper could change that.

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