Caucasus Unrest Threatens 2014 Olympics

In less than ten days, between June 5th and 13th of this year, three high-ranking local officials in Russia's Caucasus region were assassinated.

First came Adilgerei Magomedtagirov, the Interior Minister of Dagestan.  Next was Supreme Court judge Aza Gazgireyeva of Ingushetia.  And finally, again in Ingushetia, former Vice Premier Bashir Aushev.

No sooner, a few months earlier, had Russia declared "mission accomplished!" in the war-torn breakaway republic of Chechnya than it was flinging a huge new military force into the area to push back a new outbreak of violent insurrection.  In nearby Dagestan and Ingushetia, attacks on police and government officials are a daily occurrence, perhaps emboldened by the precedent Russia set when it supported secession from Georgia by Abkhazia and Ossetia last August.

Then, early Monday morning, yet a fourth major attack: Yunus Bek Yevkurov, the president of Ingushetia himself, was critically wounded when his motorcade was attacked by a suicide bomber while driving through the city of Nazran.

In 2014, the International Olympic Committee plans to hold the Winter Olympics Games in the city of Sochi, smack dab in the middle of the broiling Caucasus cauldron. Already, Sochi has seen a terrifying series of terrorist bombings that have claimed six lives and injured at least 50.  Shamefully, world media has woefully failed to report these attacks.

So it was perhaps not surprising that Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of security for the Sochi games, thought he could get away with the following whopper, which he told Reuters a few weeks ago:  "Sochi is the summer residence of our president and prime minister, that says everything.  This is one of the safest and most secure places in Russia and it's the state with the highest security level." 

It's clear, then, that the Putin Kremlin has blinders on where Sochi's security is concerned, unwilling to acknowledge the serious risks that might cause the IOC to rethink the whole project.  That means the world's amateur athletes could be in serious danger if they are sent to Sochi four years from now.

And even if Russia were willing to honestly confront the security risks, its stunning economic collapse over the past year would leave the country unable to solve the problems they present.  For this reason, the world has no choice but to find a new location for the 2014 games.

The global recession has hit Russia four times harder than it has the U.S.  Strapped for cash, Russia's development plans in Sochi are woefully far behind, and the chief of the projects has already been replaced twice.  The government's budgetary reserve fund is on the verge of exhaustion, meaning Russia will soon be plunging into massive deficit spending, and it will have no choice but to start cutting corners in Sochi and everywhere else in the national budget.  Security may well be one of the first casualties of that necessity.

It's a horrifying prospect, and besides security there are many other compelling reasons to divest Russia of the games.  

First, the Putin regime has been sternly criticized for cavalierly disregarding the legal rights of Sochi residents as it confiscates their property to make room for Olympic installations. 

Second, the regime's infamous aggression against nearby Georgia last August, including the annexation of Ossetia and Abkhazia, has been condemned by every major nation on the planet and ought to disqualify it from hosting the games.

Third, widespread poverty in Russia (which does not rank in the top 150 nations of the world for adult lifespan) means the diversion of precious economic resources to the games is something the country simply can't afford in a time of serious recession. 

And finally, there's the regime's dramatic rollback of civil rights and liberties within Russia itself.  Reporter Yelena Maglevannaya has been driven into exile after the regime attempted to prosecute her for reporting on the use of torture in Caucasus prison facilities, and the regime has threatened various newspapers in the region with closure because of similar reporting.  Human rights attorney Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anna Politkovskaya were both assassinated because of their efforts to champion political rights in the area.

Russia should not be rewarded for these transgressions by being allowed to host the games, nor should it be permitted to place the lives of the world's amateur athletes at risk just to achieve a public relations stunt.

Kim Zigfeld blogs on Russia at La Russophobe and writes the Russia column for Pajamas Media. She can be reached by e-mail at
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