Here come the U.S. Marines? Sochi goes on military footing

Two American navy ships are moving into neutral waters off Sochi in the Black Sea.

Sounds like a report from a military exercise, does it not?

Except it’s news connected to the forthcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The two vessels come equipped with torpedoes, cruise missiles and H-60 Seahawk helicopters.

Should North Caucasian terrorists attack the Olympic Games, as they have been promising to do the last few years, U.S. navy will do their best to evacuate American athletes to safety. In fact, a Boeing C-17 Globemaster, its crew at the ready, is on stand-by at a U.S. airbase in Germany. It could land in Sochi within about two hours of takeoff from Germany. It would take care of those American athletes who couldn’t be accommodated aboard the ships.

According to a CBS television broadcast, the Pentagon has consulted its operation plans with the Russian defence ministry and received no objections.

So much for the peaceful Olympics. The Islamic insurgents have achieved their first objective. When people talk about the Olympic Games in Sochi, the first thing they mention is the security concerns. Maria Sharapova, breaking away from her tennis duties to serve as the Games’ promoter, gets but a scant mention. Even perfectly unsanitary living conditions in what were supposed to be first-class accommodations for foreign guests have taken a backseat. Debates about who is going to win what now seem perfectly irrelevant.

Who cares about medals if the main question becomes: are we going to get out of this alive? In one piece?

Big Brother in action

The Russians have got used to the fact that their authorities know about their every move.

Now, everybody who flies into Russia will have to get used to the same treatment.

This is not science-fiction. This tidbit comes straight from the horse’s mouth. According to Russia’s transportation minister Maxim Sokolov, all airlines whose flights land anywhere in Russia (or near it) have been obligated to supply Russia’s government with information about their passengers. To be more specific, Sokolov added that this information is passed on directly and completely to the secret police (FSB, Federaljnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, a direct progeny of the infamous KGB).

All of the 113 international airlines that fly into Russia have been supplying this information as a matter of fact, said Sokolov, adding there were some issues with the European Union but those have been straightened out, too. Meaning: the EU now toes the line, too.

That Russian airlines had to fall in or else remains an unsaid fact.

And just to be on the sure side, everybody who travels anywhere in Russia (or into Russia, or from Russia, for that matter) ends up in the FSB database. That includes railway and bus passengers and even those whose cruise ships stop but for a few minutes anywhere close to a Russian port.

Also, with the exception of direct flight corridors into and out of the Adler airport, the air above Sochi has been declared a no-fly zone.

That the Russians have been monitoring all telephone and Internet traffic not only inside their country, but outside of it, too, hasn’t been a secret, either.

Not that they are paranoid. The danger exists. But it also gives President Vladimir Putin’s government a unique chance to introduce draconian measures from the past. A past many had hoped they would not live to see ever again.

“If you behave, nothing’s going to happen to you,” runs the official line. Of course, it would be a government official’s job to decide whether you’re behaving or not.

Come to think of it, Putin wasn’t a high-ranking KGB official in an earlier incarnation for nothing. This experience has come in handy.

No bad news permitted

It’s difficult to credit this story out of Southwestern Siberia, but Russian journalists insist it’s true.

All of the Kuzbass mines in the Kemerovo region were ordered to stop all and any operations that could be dangerous.

This is one of the largest coal mining areas in the world. Found in the so-called Kuznetsk Depression between Tomsk and Novokuznetsk in the basin of the Tom River, bordering from the south with the Abakan Range, Salair Ridge from the west, and Kuznetsky Alatau from the north, it’s far enough from Sochi to fear any explosions under the ground could or would endanger the Olympic Games directly.

But they can. Indirectly, that is. Accidents killing scores of miners, mostly because they would be ignoring basic safety measures, have been rampant.

“In order to prevent extraordinary situations as the Olympiad opens, I am hereby ordering the suspension of all mining activities where accidents can happen.”

Thus a cable sent out to all whom it might concern by the region’s governor, Andrei Gammerschmidt, as quoted by local media.

Will this cost be included in the Olympic budget? Kidding, right?

Where are we looking?

Most Canadian media have been busy telling Canadian hockey poohbahs whom to name as replacement for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, a.k.a. Serbian Assassin. He fought a futile struggle, hoping against all odds to be able to rehabilitate his right tibia, broken last November, in time to be able to join Team Canada.

Of course, if he asked any orthopedic surgeon, they would tell him that while admirable, his heroic effort would be wasted. Come the time to hop on the Sochi-bound charter plane, he would be nowhere near to being able to put in one period of competitive hockey. But it gave Canadian sports journalists the chance to talk about tibias as if they knew where to find them, learning even how to pronounce the word properly.

In any case, the important stuff never made Canadian headlines.

What stuff?

Greediness that would make the Vancouver Olympiad of 2010 look like a Boy (and Girl) Scouts’ picnic. Shady deals that would put all of the Olympic Games since ancient Greece to shame. Militarization of the entire enterprise to the point where civilians need not apply.

The wastefulness of it all. The abuse of primitive nationalism to the point of dangerous jingoism.

All the way to putting U.S. navy on alert just outside Russia’s sovereign waters in the Black Sea.

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