Tag Archives: Olympic Games

Dagestani insurgents claim responsibility for Volgograd attacks, vow to disrupt Olympics

One day before the Olympic torch was to arrive at Volgograd Monday, two Russian-speaking men, machine guns at hand, appeared in a video on the Internet, claiming responsibility for recent suicide attacks in Volgograd and promising that there were more assaults to come in Sochi during the Olympic games.

Last December’s terrorist atacks at Volgograd cost at least 34 innocent lives.

Now, it is the Vilayat Dagestan group that says its members carried out the attacks.

Vilayat Dagestan has been trying to establish a Muslim state in the northern part of the Caucasus mountains.

The two men in the video present so much detail from the two attacks, it leaves Russian investigators with two options. Either somebody leaked the details, an option they consider implausible, or the Dagestani movement has been indeed involved right from the start and its two spokesmen know exactly whereof they speak.

In any case, what the two men had to say contradicts what the Russian police probe has considered the most probable course of events.

Shortly after the train station attack, police were convinced a so-called “Black Widow” named Oksana Aslanov was the culprit. The 26-year-old had been married twice, in both cases to Caucasian separatists, and both of her husbands died in battles with Russian security forces. Russian police found Aslanov’s body parts close to the spot where the bomb had gone off. They hypothesized Aslanov was stopped by security at the train station entrance and seeing she wouldn’t be able to get through, she exploded the bomb she was trying to carry into the station. If she managed to get any further, they said, the toll would have been much higher.

Russian investigators also suspected another person, a 32-year-old former nurse Pavel Pechonkin. The Central Russia native has been suspected of being a part of a terrorist group in Dagestan. According to this theory, an officer stopped him by the security gate at the station, whereupon Pechonkin pulled the trigger.

The two Vilayat Dagestan spokesmen wouldn’t say specifically who the suicide murderers were. They would limit themselves to saying two basic things: it was their group that masterminded the attacks, and it was their group that has a few surprise gifts in store for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In an almost hour-long video, they said (in verbatim translation from the Russian language): “If you stage this Olympiad, we shall give you a present for all that innocent Muslim blood shed all over the world, in Afghanistan, Somalia or Syria. … And we will have presents for tourists who come there, too.”

The two Dagestani spokesmen also said their attacks heeded earlier calls by Doku Umarov, the self-proclaimed Emir (Prince) of the Northern Caucasus region. Russians have considered Umarov a major threat the last 15 years but, according to Chechen president Razym Kadyrov, Umarov was killed recently by what he termed were “Russian agents.”

Kadyrov said he based his statement on intercepted communications between two North Caucasian insurgents who had been debating Umarov’s succession.

Quite understandably, Russian government officials would neither confirm nor deny Kadyrov’s revelation.

Precautions galore

Russian authorities would not, again, very understandably, comment on what security measures they are introducing (or have already introduced)n in Sochi and its environs. Of course, some of them have become obvious right from the start. Thorough searches of anyone entering the area, including whatever they happen to be carrying along, have become regular occurrence. And Russian government’s official newspaper, Rossiyskaia gazeta, has published a few edicts that seem to show the authorities’ ways of thinking.

For example: whoever happens to see anything that seems to look suspicious (no matter how) must inform the nearest security authorities immediately. No face covers are allowed, either.

If you wish to distribute any political or religious literature anywhere, including the venues, you’re out of luck. It’s forbidden.

If you wish to display banners or flags, there is no political or extremist propaganda, commercial advertising or foul language allowed. Who decides what is extremist or foul? Why, government officials, that’s who.

If you are a fan who comes from abroad to cheer her or his country’s athletes on, and intend to use a banner or a flag to do so, you will require a notarized translation into the Russian language to get permission to display your signs of allegiance anywhere. Not only that: a fire department’s certificate confirming your signs of fandom aren’t flammable will be a must, too.

Remember the vuvuzelas (a.k.a. lepatata Mambu in its original Tswana language)? Those were the 65-centimere-long horns used during the recent world cup of soccer in South Africa. Emitting a pretty loud sound (it would be difficult to say it was music), the vuvuzelas will not be allowed in the Sochi Olympic venues. Also off-limits: banners bigger than two metres by a meter-and-a-half. Speaking of which: rods to carry the flags or banners on are limited to 150 centimetres in length.

If you want an exception, you’ve got to ask for it at least two days ahead of the date you want to use it, and there’s no guarantee you’re going to get it. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed you won’t.

Beverage containers that hold more than half a litre of beverage are banned. And security will check whether the fluid contained in the bottle is potable or not. How? We’re supposed to wait and see.

Another couple of hints: there’s no need to carry too much cash on you. In fact, it’s outright dangerous to carry much (never mind too much) cash around. Also, just as they like to say in the airports: keep a constant and vigilant eye on all your belongings. And avoid photographing military or otherwise strategic sites. Based on personal experience, don’t expect warning signs telling you this is a military or otherwise strategic site, either.

The Olympic Games must succeed without a hitch, president Putin has decreed.

Whether the Northern Caucasian Muslim insurgents will obey, now, that’s another matter altogether.

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Will money buy safety in Sochi?

The budget for upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, exceeds $50 billion (all amounts in U.S. currency). Of that, about 60 to 70 per cent would fall victim to widespread corruption and theft, an influential Russian journalist Julia Latynina estimates.

The budgeted amount for security of the games exceeds $2 billion. Judging by recent developments, the $2 billion is bare minimum, and the final amount is going to be much higher.

The main issue is whether even that will suffice. Why? Simply because there exist powerful groups that have been of the view that Sochi is not a Russian city in the first place, and that the games are being staged in a territory that was stolen from them. And they plan to do something about it. What something? They are perfectly open: they plan to commit sundry terrorist acts to make these games unforgettable, if not the best in history, as the usual formula at closing ceremonies has it.

Some would say it’s not terrorism. These people are fighting for what’s rightfully theirs.

Let’s put that argument (the one that asks whose country is it, anyway) aside. Other than that, endangering innocent civilian bystanders matches the accepted definition of terrorism with chilling precision.

For comparison sake: the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $6 billion (or more, but – apparently – not more than $10 billion). Vancouver’s original budget called for cost of about $2 billion. Except that budget calculation, resulting from the sheer genius of creative accounting, had been wrong all along.

In any case, the Sochi budget is close to the perfectly abominable cost of the 2008 summer games in Beijing, China (and the 2012 summer games in London). Keep in mind, too, that summer games are several times bigger (and more expensive) than their winter counterparts. So, even accounting for theft and corruption, the Russians will end up paying through their noses for quite some time to come.

No wonder, then, that they are getting somewhat nervous about the terrorist threat. The threat is real.

While intelligence experts are not rushing to link the two suicide-bombers’ attacks that happened earlier this year in Volgograd (earlier Stalingrad, and Tsaritsyn even before that), they wouldn’t say there’s no link, either. With Russian president Vladimir Putin ordering that Russian security forces (from the police to special army units a.k.a. Spetznaz) make their presence known in Sochi, intelligence and security experts fear he had stripped some other Russian centres of proper defences. Only future will tell whether they are right or not.

Leaked figures indicate there will be 42,000 police at Sochi, plus 10,000 armed Interior Ministry officials, plus 23,000 heavily armed Emergency Ministry personnel, to be stationed in border area mountains. The number of Spetznaz people has remained secret thus far. These professionally trained thugs have made their presence known by closing off Sochi to most incoming traffic on January 7, with one month to go to opening ceremonies.

An interesting gallery

Doku Umarov is the name cited by most experts. According to most reports, Umarov calls himself the leader (Emir) of what he describes as the Caucasian Emirate. The entity includes regions in the northern parts of the Caucasus Mountains, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, plus several other, smaller tribes.

While his overall goal is to gain independence for the territory, his immediate objective is to disrupt the Olympic Games and give Russia and its president a black eye to end all black eyes.

If he hopes the Russians would scrub the games before their opening, he would be too optimistic (and naïve), several intelligence experts agree: Putin has invested way too much, not only financially, but also of his personal prestige, in the games. There’s no stopping him other than a widespread calamity, if anything at all. Experts doubt Umarov has the wherewithal to cause anything close to a general calamity. Disruptions? May be. But forcing Russia on its knees? Highly doubtful. Of course, if there are civilian victims, they would quite obviously ignore this fine line between general outbreak of hostilities and individual terrorist acts. Still, who cares about individual victims? Nobody in Mother Russia does. Their motto claims there’s a lot of them (nas mnogo).

Umarov claims the games are going to be staged in places that he describes as burial grounds of millions of innocent Muslims killed in the wars with Russia. Historical data confirms that at least eight million indigenous people died in these wars during the 19th century alone. Umarov told the world it’s his movement’s goal to prevent this sacrilege, using “all the means that Allah permits us to use.”

And here it gets murky.

Ramzan Kadyrov, an incredibly successful bandit-turned-politician and today’s leader of Chechnya, claims Umarov has been dead for years, if not decades. Kadyrov hasn’t offered more proof than his own word, and a new video featuring Umarov seems to contradict his statement.

Not so fast, warn intelligence analysts: the newly-emerged video never mentions Sochi or the Olympic Games. It could have been made years ago for all they know.

Russian intelligence claim they have unearthed a weapons cache that belongs to Umarov’s people. It was somewhere in the Caucasus. Not many know if this was the only weapons cache Umarov’s people had, and even fewer people know whether some of the insurgents’ weapons had been transferred to Sochi for safekeeping long time ago.

To sum up: Russian intelligence claim to have found one weapons cache. That’s all.

Russian intelligence people say they’re not sure Umarov, if he still exists, would be able to mount a large-scale operation to penetrate Sochi and wreak havoc upon the games, once there. They dismiss him as a guy capable of not much more than training new cutthroats. That, they do at their own peril.

And yes, there’s Kadyrov, a bosom friend with French artist Gérard Depardieu, who claims Umarov’s a non-entity.

But if not Umarov, is there anybody else?

Turns out the answer is yes.

Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev, the two Chechen strategists who would have been able to stage spectacular assaults anywhere their hearts desired, have met their maker some time ago. These two guys did groom successors. One such name: Aslanbek Vadalov. Certainly, according to some reports, Vadalov and Umarov hate each other’s guts. They are not on speaking terms, even. Except, again, how do we know whether Umarov is still alive? And how do we know the rumours about their distinct lack of chuminess toward one another are true?

Meanwhile, Rusian intelligence people, working off the premise that Umarov is alive and well, claim he asked for and received reinforcements of well-trained fighters with experience from Afghanistan and Syria.

Sporting tradition?

The North-Caucasian anti-Russian groups like sports events as grounds to stage their attacks.

Ramzan Kadyrov’s own dad Akhmad, perished when a bomb exploded right under his bottom during a soccer game. It was quite skillfully built into the presidential seat at a stadium at Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

Whether former Russian security service (FSB) chief Nikolai Patrushev was only mischievous, trying to sow discord amongst the Chechens, not many know. He said for the record that judging by the placement of the bomb, Kadyrov’s people (at least, some of them) had to know about the assasination plan.

This wasn’t the only such attack against a government official. Khachim Shogenov, Interior Minister in the Cabardian-Balcar Republic escaped with injuries, when a bomb exploded under his seat during a soccer game.

What’s going to happen?

Some intelligence experts say the entire media coverage has been designed to scare the Russians enough so they call the Olympic Games off. Others suggest that to achieve that goal, the insurgents may throw in a suicide bombing attack here and there, within safe distance from Sochi, just to add some fear to the general atmosphere. These experts use the Volgograd attacks as an example.

Here’s the issue: Putin has staked his integrity, his legend that he happens to be a capable leader, exactly what the doctor ordered for his country, on these Olympic Games. He’s obsessed. To him, Sochi has become synonymous with showing the world the progress Mother Russia has made under his guidance and leadership.

The question is not whether it is worth spending all that money. The question is whether Putin is not only aware of the proper and correct answer but whether he would be willing to act upon it – if he is aware of the implications, that is.

Yes, most of the billions has gone down the drain by now, but still …

By now, security measures as ordered by Putin, himself a former high-ranking KGB officer with experience in espionage and personal security, have reached shocking proportions.

No car is allowed into town without a proper permit. Those permits are being made using some high-technology tools. They would be impossible to fake. In theory, at least.

Besides, on Putin’s personal orders, all construction workers had to leave their sites a month before the opening of the games. If they obey this order, many venues would be left unfinished. Still, orders are orders, and orders coming directly from Putin have this unshakeable character of finality, Russian journalists say. Asked what’s going to happen if the construction workers obey and some venues are not ready by the opening day, February 7, they only laughed: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Another special order has subdivided Sochi into several special zones.

The city that runs more than 100 kilometres along the Black Sea coast, now features areas where locals would have terrible difficulty getting to their homes. Especially if they are unlucky enough to live anywhere close to the Olympic village and any of the venues.

The Sochi National Park is off limits for everybody, and so is the border region close to the Abkhasia territory within the Republic of Georgia.

In addition, anyone wishing to gather in public for a demonstration or any other such objective, has to get a permission in advance from the security service (FSB). This neatly includes everything, including whatever gathering supporters of alternative sexual orientations had in mind. There go the gay pride parades whose specific ban had so many in the West so stirred. Putin’s decree did not include the famous Latin saying that tres faciunt collegium (meaning: three makes company), but one is beginning to wonder.

Besides, at least seven thousand specialized personnel took part in an extraordinary exercise how to handle saving hostages in a hospital. Whether this is based upon he experience of Chechen rebels taking over a hospital in Budyonnyi in 1995, who knows, but some intelligence experts said they could foresee a mass hostage situation with the hostage takers demanding that the Olympic Games be abandoned forthwith or they will kill all those innocent bystanders.

A couple of those analysts said they were not sure Putin would permit abandoning the games even if it cost a few hundred hostage lives.

Which brings us to a somewhat shocking finding: the person responsible to Putin personally for all matters concerning the security of the Sochi Olympic Games is Oleg Syromolotov. Intelligence analysts say he might be good in the field of counter-intelligence, but has got no practical experience in countering terrorism whatsoever.

But that’s logical, at least two intelligence sources said: Putin likes governing by decree, and having got the opportunity to do so, he would use any screwdriver available to tighten the screws on Russia and Russians everywhere, not only in Sochi.

“How many such chances is he going to get?” asked one of these experts rather cynically.

Who cares about Olympic medals, be they gold, silver or bronze? People will spend their time in Sochi in fear, hoping they’re going to survive.

And that has been the terrorists’ objective to begin with.

Olympic omissions stir fans in faraway Europe, too

It’s a strange tradition: hockey fans debate who didn’t make their country’s team for the Olympics, rather than discussing the gold medal parade route for those who did.

Need examples?

Just watch the hand-wringing about Martin St. Louis or Claude Giroux in Canada. In fact, this case has revealed how many amateur psychologists there are in Canada. They keep analyzing Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman’s feelings. How perfectly tough it must have been for him when he had to reveal to his Tampa Bay Lightning star player that he got the short straw.

Or think of the the gnashing of teeth over Team USA executive Brian Burke’s comments regarding Ottawa Senators’ forward Bobby Ryan, as dutifully reported by ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside.

But don’t think for one moment these excesses are limited to North America.

They have a wonderful scandal going on in the Czech Republic, too.

Team Czech head coach Alois Hadamczik named his roster for Sochi the other day.

Czech fans (and journalists) zoomed in on three omissions. How come Calgary Flames forward Jiří Hudler didn’t make it? How about Radim Vrbata of the Phoenix Coyotes? And how could Hadamczik forget about Colorado Avalanche defenceman Jan Hejda?

Zdeněk Janda, writing for Czech daily Sport, telephoned Hejda to ask him what he thought of the omission. Hejda said he was disappointed, but added he somehow expected it. He hadn’t seen eye-to-eye with coach Hadamczik when the twain met during the last world championship. By way of explanation, Hejda was critical of Hadamczik’s coaching methods, too. He was used to coaches who would give their players systems to play within, and if there was one thing sorely lacking the last time out, it was precisely that. Hejda went on to say he was much more surprised that he didn’t see Hudler’s name on the roster. Still, Hejda concluded, he wished Team Czech success, and he would be cheering them on.

Now, that’s called sporting.

So far as Hejda’s sentiment regarding Hudler was concerned, Calgary coach Bob Hartley echoed it. Hartley said, tongue firmly in cheek, that the Czechs must have a frightfully talented squad if they could afford leaving Hudler off. They must be prime candidates for gold, Hartley added.

Of course, there’s a minor catch of major proportions involved here: if Hartley knows anything about the Czech players who ply their trade in Europe, be it within the Czech Extraliga or the Russian KHL, or any other top European leagues, Hartley would have second-hand knowledge of their talents at best, if any at all.

Still, leaving Hudler off the Czech Olympic roster has raised more than one eyebrow.

But Hejda was the first of the top players to come out and say openly what many other Czech players would grumble about in private. They just do not like Hadamczik as coach, period.

In fairness, having talked to a few Czech players who had won bronze in Torino Olympics of 2006, their views of their coach were split right down the middle. To some, Hadamczik was anathema and, they claimed, they got as far in the tournament despite his coaching (or lack thereof). Several others said, on the other hand, that they were just fine with Hadamczik’s methods.

One of the major issues amongst the Czech hockey fandom is they hate Alois Hadamczik. Whether those fans know whereof they speak or not is perfectly irrelevant. They are aghast about some of his alleged business dealings, but neither the fans nor the Czech media have ever come up with a single proof of any wrongdoing.

What is it then? It seems Hadamczik just isn’t their cup of tea.

To top it off, Hadamczik named Michal Barinka of HC Vítkovice to the Olympic squad, giving him the spot many Czech fans believed was to belong to Hejda. Now, Hejda himself didn’t even mention Barinka’s name in his interview with Sport’s Zdeněk Janda. In fact, Hejda didn’t mention a single player named to the roster. He didn’t mention anybody but Hudler.

But Czech fans are aware of the minor fact that coach Hadamczik is Michal Barinka’s father-in-law. So, they cry nepotism. Whether they are right or not does not really matter. One would expect that they should reserve their judgement till after the Sochi Olympics. But they haven’t.

Hejda’s NHL coach, Patrick Roy, the one who can’t hear Jeremy Roenick’s criticisms because he’s got his Stanley Cup rings firmly stuck in his ears, joined the chorus. Hejda, Roy was quoted as saying the other day, married the wrong person. He should have married Hadamczik’s daughter, instead of his lovely wife Tereza. His position on the Czech national team would be unassailable.

Judging by reader reactions in the Czech media, some praise Hejda for coming out and saying what he thinks, while others say it’s all sour grapes on his part. How so, they wouldn’t elaborate. The fact remains it was a Czech reporter who called Hejda, not Hejda calling the Czech reporter. And that Hejda didn’t resort to cliches? More power to him.

Hejda himself is now more or less shocked to the point of amusement. He spoke to one reporter. Once. And that single interview has been appearing all over the place since then, in various shapes and forms, soliciting heated reader exchanges wherever and whenever it ran.

William Shakespeare had a fine description for events like this: much ado about nothing.

Olympic organizers ban “unauthorized” use of social media

Somebody’s lying here, and – judging by past experiences – it seems like the International Olympic Committee is the culprit.

Vasily Konov, editor of RIA Novosti subsidiary R-Sport, apparently told a seminar for sports journalists that it was his understanding that any journalist who uses a phone, tablet, or pocket camera to take photos and shoot videos at the Sochi Winter Olympics will be stripped of accreditation on the spot.

Not surprisingly, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), denied Konov’s allegation forthwith, saying that, in fact and on the contrary, it encourages the use of social media.

Oh yeah?

Konov’s agency is part of the Olympic accreditation committee. One would expect its editor to know whereof he speaketh. And he was perfectly straightforward: journalists who use amateur-standard technology to take photos or videos of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics will be kicked out immediately.

At least, that’s what the Russian media have been reporting.

Here’s the tenor of their reports: print reporters using any sort of multimedia would be “considered (in) a serious violation and (that would) lead to their accreditation being cancelled.”

Can hardly be clearer than that, right?

Only journalists who use professional equipment and wear special badges that let them do so will be allowed to do so.

The IOC denial, issued by its spokesthingie Mark Adams was quite straightforward, too. He sent an e-mail to USA Today’s For The Win: “Please take as many photos as you like!” and “Sharing pix on social media positively encouraged.”

That, of course, differs wildly from Russian media’s quotes of Konov’s statements: “Organizers won’t be able to have any effect on normal spectators, but supporters will be banned from bringing reflex cameras and nonprofessional equipment to the competitions.”

As could have been expected, Konov must have received a phone call or some other kind of communication telling him to mind his own business and not spill any beans that need not be spilled. So, he would later deny that he had made the statements. The story from the user-generated Ridus news outlet was a “monstrous lie,” he elaborated, without going into any further details.

There used to be a popular saying in communist countries, former Soviet Union not excepted: don’t believe any rumours until they’ve been officially denied. It’s still very much alive and well.

But: Radio Free Europe – a pretty reliable outlet that seems to have had its own reporters at the seminar – said they quite distinctly recall hearing Konov saying what Ridus reported him as saying.

Accreditation regulations surrounding the Olympics are (and always have been) quite strict, but what’s going on in Russia sounds perfectly foul. For example, a wildly popular site, Sports.ru, says its journalists were told last August they wouldn’t be accredited. Why? None of their business. The site’s director Dmitry Navosha, has a believable explanation that can be checked by simply looking at the numbers of user visits to those two sites: it happened simply because his outlet beat R-Sport hands down in direct competition.

For the record: RIA Novosti head Svetlana Mironyuk is head of the accreditation commission, and R-Sport boss Dmitry Tugarin is a member.

It would have remained an internal Russian matter, were it not for the undeniable additional fact that independent Dutch journalists working on a long-term multimedia project about Sochi were told last September their accreditations wouldn’t be renewed. To top it all, a crew of Norwegian TV journalists have never received any explanation why the Russian police arrested them on several occasions last October and November, as they were working in Sochi.

Konov never clarified what he had in mind when he remarked he had similar issues with Olympic organizers in London in 2012. But there was no need to.

Remember the scandals in Vancouver in 2010 when the brave Olympians harassed, for example, owners of Greek restaurants that had Olympic-sounding names? Who cares those restaurants had existed long before the group of irresponsible adventurists hatched the idea of applying for the dubious honour of hosting the Olympic Games?

And does anybody remember that nobody, including the NHL, was allowed to broadcast Sidney Crosby’s gold-winning overtime goal because the footage belonged to the IOC and the two television outlets that had created a consortium to buy broadcast rights? Come to think of it, it’s still off-limits.

The IOC can deny as much as it wants. It’s the facts that speak. And they sound louder than any Olympian denials.

Rossiya mama! Bozhe upasi! Flame in space!

History teaches us that modern Olympic Games are much more about nationalistic jingoism and megalomania than about sports, but what the Russians are doing now borders on craziness of cosmic proportions.

Literally: a spaceship known as Soyuz TMA-11M took off from the traditional Russian space centre at Baykonur (which happens to be right in the middle of the steppes – read: prairies – of Kazakhstan). It carries a three-member crew to the international space station (ISS). Also on board: Olympic relay torch.

If you said: HUH? that was the correct reaction. HUH? it is, as it should be, too.

The torch sits in a special box and, upon insistence of Russian space safety specialists, the flame has been extinguished, another breach of Olympic protocol. The idea is to show the world Russia can take the Olympic relay to space and bring it back, all the way to Sochi.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the flame went out prior to the Sochi games. Lit precisely in accordance with rules set by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in the 19th century, lest you thought these were ancient Greek rules, the torch is supposed to keep burning until the end of the games. In this case, it went out shortly after arrival in Russia. A well-wisher from the crowd on a sidewalk helped light it again using a cigarette lighter. How it happened that Russian authorities didn’t call the games off right then and there, because this was a perfectly bad omen, nobody knows for sure.

Anyhow, Russian flight commander Mikhail Tyurin, plus his crew consisting of Koichi Wakata of Japan and Richard Mastracchio of the U.S., docked with the ISS after an abbreviated (six-hour) flight. It used to take a couple of days for a spacecraft to catch up and dock at the ISS.

In any case, the docking has happened successfully, and the station will have to accommodate nine people for four days. Then, Russia’s Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg of the U.S., and Luca Parmitano of Italy will return to earth, bringing the relay torch with them.

To make sure the world sees it all, the handover of the Olympic torch will happen in outer space. Oleg Kotov will pass it to another Russian, Sergei Ryazanskii. To make sure the torch won’t slip away, it has been fitted with a ring and chain. The chain will be attached to the Russian cosmonauts’ sleeves.

In all fairness, this is NOT the first time the Olympic relay has made it all the way into space. American space shuttle took the 1996 Atlanta games torch for a ride, and so did another shuttle, prior to the Sydney games in 2000.

Nothing of the kind has happened since then. All the way to now.

That’s one of the minor issues of major proportions: everybody realized it was time to step back, rather than add even more expenses to the Olympian Olympic bill.

The other issue is how everybody seems to ignore what the Olympic torch relay is all about.

A bit of history: no, it did NOT begin in ancient Greece. A winner there could, should he so wish to indulge, visit a temple of his choice, light a torch to honour his god or goddess, whatever the case may be, sacrifice an animal to honour that god or goddess should he be moved thus, and if his mood told him thus, take part in a general orgy (no women allowed in competition, but no limitations put on their presence in such temple-based and clean fun).

And, by the way, nowhere did it say that the winner, or any participant, for that matter, had to be squeaky clean, meaning: free of drugs of any description. Doping and other methods of cheating were acknowledged publicly, without even a wink-wink, nudge-nudge: let me win this race and my sponsor offers you a job for a year, at so much per, with room and board on him, too.

Fairness? What is so incredibly fair about, say, a long-distance runner figuring out it’s better to train in high altitudes and come back to the valley only to compete? Come to think of it, what is so fair about one athlete being more gifted than the other?

But to get back to the Olympic relay. To the surprise of many, the idea was hatched in Adolf Hitler’s Reichskanzlei during preparations for the 1936 Olympic Games to be held in Berlin,.

Why the surprise? It’s a Teutonic habit, after all, to use torches all over the place. Just go to see any Wagnerian opera. Torches galore, firefighters at the ready backstage. Come to think of it, firefighters must enjoy these endless sagas more than anybody else.

It was also Hitler’s Reichskanzlei that came up with the brilliant idea that the final runner’s name would be kept secret until s/he accepts the torch to run the final few steps to light the Olympic flame. If you wish to know: the first final Olympic relay runner was a member of the Hitlerjugend, a sporting organization if there ever was one.

And now, the torch has made it into space.

When will this madness end?

Prior to Sochi Olympics, Russia lashes out against terrorism

Nothing beats the principle of collective guilt.

Russian president Vladimir Putin says so, and – as a former high-ranking KGB officer – he should know whereof he speaketh, right?

Putin signed into law a bill that stipulates that whatever harm a terrorist causes, her or his family will have to pay for the damages.

Now, this is not a new legal principle, really, and many a regime uses it even today. Come to think of it, whenever an Israel-based Palestinian terrorist blows her- or himself up causing grief to others, this terrorist’s family loses their home. Of course, if they blow themselves up somewhere with no innocent victims or other people’s property around, just for the sheer fun of it, it’s their issue altogether. So long as someone cleans up the mess after them. And, of course, if the terrorist happens to have come from a territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, her or his family receives a reward (while the terrorist enjoys the company of virgins in heaven). The reward, usually money, comes more often than not from funds provided by the European Union, but that’s another issue altogether.

In modern history, two regimes stand out as regular users of this kind of principle: communist and nazi rules thrived upon it.

Which doesn’t mean that today’s legal systems don’t use it, either. All kinds of laws all over the world punish criminals’ relations, from the closest to the extended, for the perpetrators’ deeds. The only difference between the communist and nazi principle and today’s use is simple. Then, relatives paid even if those considered guilty were still alive. Today, relatives only pay when the perpetrators have either extinguished themselves from the genetic pool of humanity, or somebody has done it for them. Simply put: when they are dead.

So, what’s so special about the new Russian law?

Everything.

Mother Russia has been fighting insurgents in the Northern Caucasus mountains for quite some time. All told, it’s been going on for centuries. The insurgents are mostly of Islamic persuasion, and they have had the gall to strike even within Russia proper from time to time. Several years ago, we witnessed a suicide attack at the Domodedovo airport near Moscow. A few weeks ago, a suicide attack in a bus in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad, originally Tsaritsyn) killed at least seven innocent passengers who had nothing to do with the terrorists’ claims that the Crimea had belonged to them first and the Russians forced them out.

There’s something to think about. History books tell us the battles for the area around Sochi have been the neuralgic point in the wars between Russia and the insurgents in Northern Caucasus at least since the 19th century. At least eight million original (Muslim) inhabitants of the region died during those wars, along with several hundred thousands of Tsarist Russia’s soldiers.

One name should have attracted your attention: Sochi. Yes, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The area that leaders of the insurgents have announced in advance they planned to turn into living hell for everybody who dares be there during those couple of weeks this forthcoming February.

According to sources in Russia (and elsewhere), Putin’s government is sending crack units of the so-called Spetznaz forces into the region. These Russian army’s units seem to resemble American Navy Seals and Green Berets, the British SAS, and many other such outstanding groups, with one minor difference of major proportions. The Russians are much more ruthless than any of their counterparts. Their ruthlessness begins where the others’ ruthlessness culminated and stepped back in horror.

That would promise an all-out war. There goes the so-called Olympic Peace, so promoted by all kinds of Olympians.

The new law seems to have come to accompany the Spetznaz’s brute (and brutal) force.

The psychology is simple: most of the fighters have got used to the idea they might end up dying sooner rather than later. The suicide bombers’ psychology is based on this realization, after all.

But it’s the threat of the attack on terrorists’ relations that, Russian lawmakers seem to hope, will give the perpetrators serious pause.

Whether it will is another question.

Of course, the Russians (Soviets, at the time) know what they are doing.

Years ago, one of the then-warring militias in Lebanon abducted a Soviet engineer. Whether the guy was a real engineer or somebody else, under cover, doesn’t matter. The militia guys took him hostage.

At about that same time, a well-meaning, but otherwise perfectly stupid British priest, Jimmy Waite, came to Lebanon. He would bring peace to the war-torn country, he said. He was kidnapped shortly upon his arrival. The British tried to negotiate his release, having first to find out whom to talk to. The whole affair took years to get settled.

Not so in the case of the Soviet engineer. Within hours of his abduction, several heavily armed gentlemen called on the leader of the group that abducted the Soviet guy. Without preliminaries, they went to business: you shall release our guy within minutes, unharmed and clean. In return, we shall not destroy your family. To prove we mean business, here’s your mother’s ear. Whereupon they presented the militia leader with his mother’s ear, carefully cut off and wrapped in gift paper.

They took their engineer to safety with them right away.

There’s no reason to think the Russians have changed their ways.

The new law, as published on www.newsru.com, goes straight to the point: if authorities can’t lay their hands on the perpetrator, the family will pay. Besides, if the families aren’t able to prove (beyond any doubt, and who cares about reasonableness) that whatever they own comes from legitimate sources, it’s going to be confiscated forthwith, lock, stock, and barrel.

Whoever gets involved in any shape or form in terrorist training or helping terrorist groups or, Heavens forbid, being their member, will suffer, too. Whoever calls for extremist actions or joins armed groups, and that includes anywhere in the world, so long as Russia feels her interests are threatened, will face the wrath of the country’s new law.

Why that last threat? Russian secret services have admitted quite openly that there are about 300 to 400 Russian citizens actively involved in the civil war in Syria. Perfectly trained, they would pose a serious danger if they came back to Russia in time to show what they learned during the Olympics in Sochi.

Years ago, when Western governments recoiled in horror over atrocities committed by the Russians in Chechnya, Putin himself told them two things: first, the other side does exactly the same things. And secondly, and more importantly, we’re defending everybody, including you, from the “green-coloured danger of Islam.”

What do you think his excuse will be now?

NHL, NHLPA to face the world hand in hand

This is bartering at its best: we gave you the Olympics, and now, we expect goods of same or better value in return.

Here it is: the NHL and its union, the NHLPA, are huddled in New York this week. They are preparing their joint talking points for continuing negotiations with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

The World Cup of Hockey, one of the major topics of discussion, is a given. Expect it to happen in 2016.

Except, nothing is as simple as it looks. For example: the IIHF seems to be of the view that early fall, preferably pre-season early fall (or late summer, preferably pre-season late summer) would be the best time to stage the World Cup. Yet, there happens to be a North American school of thought that would rather see the event take place midway through the season. Here’s the logic: we are interrupting our league’s proceedings in February 2014, just as the battles for the Stanley Cup playoffs begin to heat up. It costs us money (and it cost league programmers a few grey hairs, too, to compress an 82-game schedule so as not to lose a single game and still make sure playoffs begin in April). And we’ve done all that just to send our stars to somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Russia. That’s an aggravation for us more than anything, and it’s costing us money. Having the World Cup midway through the season would help us recoup those losses and then some.

The Olympic Games are the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) cash cow. That august body splits its income with international associations (such as the IIHF), and they, in turn, share it with national federations that are their backbone. The NHL is not an international association. It’s not a national federation, either. It can hardly expect Hockey Canada or USA Hockey to go insane all of a sudden and share their shares with the NHL. When the NHL sees just the broadcasting contracts the IOC has managed to impose all over the world (and never mind the tactics used to achieve that), the league must be going bonkers: all that money, and none of it comes our way! We give them our stars’ prestige, and what do we get in return? Feel free to fill in whichever four-letter word comes to mind here.

In any case, no wonder the NHL and the NHLPA would prefer to have the World Cup staged midway through the season: it might maximize their income more than considerably.

There are at least two options to be debated about how to split the World Cup income. One plan lets the NHL and NHLPA keep their (major) share and let the IIHF divide the rest, whether it be among all of its national federations or only those that sent teams to the event. The other plan would see the NHL and NHLPA keep their (major) share and split the rest among the federations that sent teams to the event, with the calculation based on how far this or that particular team had made it. This option would leave IIHF out of the equation completely, something the NHL and the NHLPA would have no issues with. The other side would not be too enthusiastic about it.

Before even beginning to debate the issue of money, the IIHF cries in response: but we’ve got a world championship in May!

Oh yeah? comes a cynical reply. How about NOT having it during the years the World Cup of Hockey is on? The existing proposals mention either every two years or, and that is more probable, every four years: two years after and two years before Olympic Games.

Here’s the rub: world championship happens to be the IIHF’s cash cow. It doesn’t have to share the loot with anybody but its national federations. Not a cent goes IOC’s way. Again: the NHL is NOT a national federation.

The NHL is not altogether pleased with this arrangement, either. It’s of the view that allowing its players to take part in the world championship helps enhance the event’s credibility. Enhanced credibility equals increased income. Yes, the players who go to take part in the world championship belong to clubs that didn’t make the playoffs or were eliminated in the first round, preferably in four games. Still, they are NHL players, and some of them are genuine stars. What’s in it for us, argue the NHL and the NHLPA, but risks? If a star player gets injured, fine, he gets money from his insurance, but what if he’s not available to his NHL team for a few months next season? Stars bring butts into arena seats. A star’s absence costs the NHL (and, by extension, the NHLPA) money. Well?

Besides, as an aside, the NHL and NHLPA are not at all satisfied with the fact that insurance coverage and sundry matters related to it differ considerably from national federation to national federation. They would like to see something that holds valid for everybody concerned.

There’s another proposal making rounds for these talks. It’s dear to the IIHF, while the NHL and the NHLPA are not so sure. Not yet, at least. It’s the idea to copy the beautiful game (association football, soccer for the uninitiated) and put together something to be known as Champions Cup. Its version on the pitch attract incredible crowds (and broadcast audiences, on television, radio and, these days, in new media). That’s a lot of money.

Why not go for it, full speed ahead? Again, there are numerous issues about competences, responsibilities and shares, and then, there’s one overwhelming fear: what if the Stanley Cup champion loses a game to, say, Lithuania? What’s the public going to say? How will it play in Peoria? as the cliché goes.

The NHL (with NHLPA’s approval, it seems) has already told the IIHF not to even bother dreaming about the league’s participation in the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea. Let’s have the World Cup, instead, the two groups say. Having the Olympic Games in South Korea does nothing to enhance the worldwide appeal of hockey, they seem to be saying, but having the World Cup in markets that cherish the game, now, that changes our views on international cooperation beyond belief.

Speaking of markets, the NHL (and the NHLPA) is not too sure that staging season-openers overseas (in Europe or in Japan) is the way to go. Financial returns have been far below overwhelming, and the players are not too happy about coming back and plunging, heads first, into the season without much time to adjust to the jet lag of at least six hours.

It’s going to be a long, complicated and difficult path before the NHL and the NHLPA reach a binding agreement with the IIHF. The interesting thing at the moment is that the league and its union are writing a joint songbook so they can sing in unison. The other interesting (and as important) thing is that neither side has mentioned it’s all about sports. There might be an occasional expression of trust that this or that helps enhance the game and spread its popularity, but it’s always quickly linked to revenues that this or that might bring in.

Well, at least they are sincere about it.

Emir Umarov: We will attack at Sochi

When the NHLPA demanded assurances from the International Olympic Committee that the Sochi Olympics next February will take place in a safe environment, its negotiators knew whereof they spoke: the games were in serious danger. They still are.

Doku Umarov, leader of insurgents operating in the nearby Caucasus mountains, has ordered his faithful to prepare for attacks against the event.

Umarov and his group have been fighting for years to split the northern Caucasus region from Russia, so far without much success.

“The Russians want to have it right over our ancestors’ remains, over the bones of many, many Muslims buried in our territory by the Black Sea,” Russian journalists quoted Umarov as saying earlier this year. “We’ve got to stop them no matter what methods we use.”

Umarov calls himself Emir, using a title of high office adopted throughout the Muslim world. In its original, it means “commander,” “general,” or “prince.” Emirs are usually considered high-ranking Sheikhs, but in monarchic states, the term is also used for Princes.

Umarov has claimed his group’s responsibility for several recent terrorist attacks. Some of them took place deep within Russia proper. They included the suicide attack at the Domodedovo airport near Moscow more than a year ago. That attack claimed at least 40 victims.

From the historical point of view, Caucasus tribes used to occupy precisely those areas that include Olympic sites. They were pushed away by Tsarist Russian armies. According to historians, at least eight million people died during the battles for the Caucasus mountains only during the 19th century. That would constitute about a half of the entire indigenous population of the region, plus more than 100,000 Tsarist Russian soldiers.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has ordered last February that his country’s security and military forces in the area go on the highest level of alert.

According tu several sources, one of the assurances that went a long way to persuade the NHLPA to eventually agree to its members’ Olympic participation, was an order to place units of “Spetsnaz” in the area. “Spetznaz” is an abbreviation for “spetsialjnoie naznachenie” (special tasks). These are Russian army’s elite units that somewhat resemble the U.S. Green Berets and Navy Seals, and the British SAS, except that the Russian take the cake so far as ruthlessness is concerned.

About a year before the opening of the Sochi Olympics, an explosion at the traffic police control stop at North-Caucasus autonomous republic of Dagestan killed four police officers. Russian soldiers would later track down and shoot to death four persons suspected of the attack. No public reports are available to confirm whether the four suspects have really been the perpetrators of the Dagestan attack.

Russia has been battling the northern Caucasus islamist insurgents for the last 10 years, since the time it managed to wrestle the control of Chechnya, whose separatists it had fought in two wars for the last two decades. Sochi is situated at the western-most area of the Caucasus region. Violent incidents in the area have been reported almost daily during the last few years.

In May 2012, Russian secret service, the FSB (successor to the KGB) reported it thwarted several Caucasus terrorists’ plans to attack the Olympics at Sochi. FSB said then that it found and seized 10 weapons storage facilities in nearby Abkhasia. They found hand-held ground-to-air missiles, grenade launchers, flame throwers, guns, hand grenades and explosives. The agency said the weaponry was supposed to be transferred to secret caches in and around Sochi. FSB said at the time that Umarov was the mastermind of this complex supply network. It also said he was in close co-operation with the secret services of the nearby republic of Georgia, an accusation the government of Georgia has steadfastly rejected.

It doesn’t help matters, either, that Georgia itself has been involved in conflicts with Russia over the nearby region of Ossetia.

And, of course, it doesn’t help matters, either, that nobody knows whether these were all weaponry stores the Caucasus terrorist groups have prepared, and whether anybody knows anything about weapons already smuggled into the Sochi region.

The NHLPA would not meet a request for comment on the matter. This would be understandable. We’re talking about delicate security matters, with lives of innocent civilians at risk.

One question remains open: is the NHL’s participation at Sochi worth the risk? Considering that talks have been going on about other international events, with the NHL and NHLPA getting the biggest chunk of the pie, unlike in the Olympic arrangement, it’s the same song and dance all over again: this is NOT about sports. This is about money.

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