Tag Archives: Sochi

Deeply Bound to Ukraine, Putin Watches and Waits for Next Move

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MOSCOW — The sudden collapse of the Kremlin-backed government in Ukraine has for now delivered a profound setback to President Vladimir V. Putin’s strategy to deepen political and economic ties with the country and thus keep it from embracing Europe.

Even as Russia celebrates the closing of Olympic Games that defied some dire expectations, Mr. Putin now faces the task of reasserting Russia’s influence in a country that it considers a fraternal ally, one with deep cultural, social and political connections that bind it to Moscow’s orbit regardless of its new government.

Russia still has enormous leverage and close allies in Ukraine, particularly in the east and on the Crimea Peninsula, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and a sizable ethnic Russian population that views the leaders of the political uprising that toppled President Viktor F. Yanukovych with disdain.

That has raised fears that Russia would use the disenchanted populations there as a pretext to intervene to reverse Ukraine’s new trajectory — even militarily, as the Kremlin did in two ethnic enclaves in 2008 in another former Soviet republic, Georgia.

The fears have been so palpable — and the subject of endless speculation in Ukraine and here in Russia — that President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, warned in a television interview on Sunday that it “would be a grave mistake” for Russia to use force. “It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate,” Ms. Rice said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

How exactly Russia responds remains to be seen, but the turmoil is certain to further strain relations with Europe and the United States, which officials here have denounced for meddling in Ukraine at the expense of Russia’s vital interests. At the same time, the United States and Europe have accused Russia of trying to impose its will there.

Mr. Putin’s envoy refused to sign the agreement mediated on Friday by three European foreign ministers to end two days of carnage in the capital, Kiev, only to have the agreement overtaken by a political upheaval that threatens to undercut Russia’s influence over any new government.

The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, complained on Sunday that while Mr. Yanukovych had honored the terms of the agreement — which called for new elections and a return of constitutional powers to the Parliament — his political opponents had not. Instead, the Parliament has effectively seized power and is now rushing through an emboldened series of votes that have provoked rage among Russian lawmakers and commentators.

“It’s a confusing situation,” Mr. Peskov said in a telephone interview from Sochi, where Mr. Putin attended the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. “We have to figure out what we are facing there. Is it a coup or what?”

Mr. Putin has not yet made any public statements about the latest events, as is often the case when he is confronted by unexpected challenges or crises. “Let’s wait and see,” Mr. Peskov said.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Yanukovych have spoken several times in recent weeks to discuss the situation there, but Mr. Peskov said he did not know whether they had spoken since Saturday, when Mr. Yanukovych’s legitimacy evaporated and he fled Kiev, leaving protesters swarming through his opulent presidential compound.

It is clear that Mr. Putin has followed the crisis intently, even as he attended to the Olympic festivities that he clearly has relished as a symbol of a new Russia. On Friday he met with his national security advisers on Friday and a day later dispatched two Russian lawmakers to a regional party congress in Eastern Ukraine that had been called to rally opposition to the new political authorities in Kiev.

Vladimir Lukin, the envoy Mr. Putin sent to Kiev at Mr. Yanukovych’s request during the negotiations with the Europeans, returned to Moscow and criticized the European foreign ministers for siding with “the nationalist-revolutionary terrorist Maidan,” referring to the square that has been the nucleus of the protests, and not the “legitimate government that they recognized.”

Only hours before the closing ceremony in Sochi, Mr. Putin spoke by telephone with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. The Kremlin said in a statement only that they discussed the situation in Ukraine, Germany’s foreign office went further, saying that the two leaders agreed that “the territorial integrity of Ukraine must be preserved.”

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry for a second time in two days, and Russia later announced that it had recalled its ambassador in Kiev because of “the deteriorating situation” in the country. The State Department released a statement saying that Mr. Kerry expressed support for the votes in Ukraine’s Parliament and called on Russia to support the transition now underway.

As in Ukraine itself, there were already some signs that Russia had given up on Mr. Yanukovych, but that hardly meant that officials in Moscow would welcome the new government that emerges. Russia’s Foreign Ministry posted a photograph on Twitter of a World War II memorial being toppled in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, joining the many Lenin statues that have been pulled down. “Nazis comeback,” it said in muddled English.

A vote by Ukraine’s Parliament to curtail the Russian language’s role in its school curriculum, one of a flurry of new laws adopted, also prompted a similarly ominous warning from one of Russia’s deputy prime ministers, Dmitri O. Rogozin. “The main enemy — the Russian language,” he wrote on Twitter. “Then — all Russians in Ukraine. Then — all who are for a union with Russia.”

Others sounded more tempered. Russia has suspended the $15 billion in financial assistance it pledged to Ukraine in December, but its finance minister, Anton Siluanov, said Sunday that it was still possible to continue with the loans once a new government was formed. He also said Russia would abide by its current contracts to provide natural gas, something it has previously used as a lever when relations soured.

In the end, of all the problems that threatened to overshadow the Olympic Games in Sochi — terrorism, construction delays, even the weather — the one that materialized in Ukraine was one few expected.

Sergei A. Markov, a political strategist who advises the Kremlin, criticized what he called the “cynical geopolitical games” that European leaders have played in Ukraine, but also suggested that Russia, too, needed a new approach now. “It’s simply necessary for Moscow to reformat the Ukraine element of its foreign policy,” he told Interfax.

Deeply Bound to Ukraine, Putin Watches and Waits for Next Move – NYTimes.com.

Sochi in sequence | Reuters

France's Anne-Sophie Barthet clears a gate during the second run of the women's alpine skiing giant slalom event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center February 18, 2014.

Sochi medal wrap-up, Day 2: 15yo figure skating prodigy secures Russia’s first gold

Russian figure skating team, gold medal, celebrates on the podium during the Figure Skating Team Flower Ceremony at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 9, 2014

The second day of the Sochi Olympics was marked by the host country winning its first gold medal in the new team figure skating event. Norway remained in the lead in the overall medal count, followed by the Netherlands, the US, Canada, and Russia.

Follow the latest updates from Sochi here

Norway ended the day with a total of seven medals, with the Netherlands, the US, Canada, and Russia following with four medals each.

Russia’s spectacular win was secured after dominant performances by 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya and Evgeny Plushenko, among others, who won five out of eight events as a team. Canada received silver, and the US won bronze.

Lipnitskaya, who won the free skate with a score of 141.51, received a standing ovation. Her win pushed Russia 11 points ahead of its closest rival – Canada. The 15-year-old became the world’s youngest figure skater to ever win a gold medal.

The teen is the youngest Russian athlete to win a medal in Winter Olympics history.

The gold in the women’s 7.5km biathlon sprint was won by Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina. Kuzmina’s performance was virtually flawless; she finished with zero penalties in the shooting portion of the competition and crossed the finish line with a time of 21:06.8.

Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina reacts as she crosses the finish line to win the women’s biathlon 7.5km sprint event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 9, 2014.

Russia’s Olga Vilukhina brought her country its second medal of the day, snatching silver with a time of 21:26.7. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Vita Semerenko placed third with a time of 21:28.5.

Russia beat Germany 4-1 in the preliminary round of women’s hockey. German forward Franziska Busch drew first blood 6:48 into the second period, but Russia stormed back in the third, scoring four unanswered goals to close out the game.

Forwards Iya Gavrilova and Yekaterina Smolentseva each scored one, with Olga Sosina scoring twice.

The Netherlands’ Irene Wust won gold in the women’s 3000-meter speed skating competition, finishing with a time of 4:00.34.

The Czech Republic’s Martina Sablikova won silver, finishing 1.61 seconds behind Wust with a time of 4:01:95. Russia’s Olga Graf earned the country its first medal, bagging the bronze with a time of 4:03.4.

Austria grabbed its second medal in Sochi, this time a gold one. Matthias Mayer was the fastest man in the downhill race on Sunday, covering the challenging Rosa Khutor course with a time of 2:06.23. Mayer’s victory is good news for his father, Helmut Mayer, who won Olympic silver in 1988.

Gold medallist Matthias Mayer of Austria poses with his medal for the men’s alpine skiing downhill race, at the Austrian hospitality house during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Rosa Khutor February 9, 2014.

Finishing just 0.06 seconds behind the Austrian was Italy’s Christof Innerhofer, who won his first Olympic medal in Sochi. This was also Italy’s first medal at the Games.

Kjetil Jansrud of Norway won the bronze medal with a time of 2:06.33, maintaining his country’s lead in the medal table.

Sochi medal wrap-up, Day 2: 15yo figure skating prodigy secures Russia’s first gold — RT News.

Russia Wins First Medal of Games in Speed Skating

SOCHI, Russia — Ireen Wuest gave the Netherlands its second straight gold medal at the Olympic speed skating oval by winning the women’s 3000m Sunday.

Skating in the next-to-last pairing, Wuest turned in a time of 4 minutes, 0.34 seconds to knock off defending Olympic champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic.

Sablikova settled for the silver in 4:01.95, clapping for her rival after Wuest crossed the line.

FULL EVENT REPLAY: Watch here

The bronze went to Olga Graf, who gave Russia its first medal of the Winter Games in 4:03.47 and sent the crowd at Adler Arena into a frenzy.

Six-time Olympian Claudia Pechstein was looking to win her 10th Olympic medal, but the 41-year-old German faded badly over the final laps and didn’t even make the podium. She was fourth in 4:05.26.

The king and queen of the Netherlands were again in the crowd, just as they were the day before when Sven Kramer took gold in the first speedskating event of the games, the mens 5000m. The royal couple saw another winning performance by their speed skating-mad nation.

The Dutch have now won 29 Olympic golds, pulling even with the United States for the most victories in the sport.

Wuest kept holding up three fingers — the nails painted red, white and blue to symbolize the Dutch flag — after taking the third gold medal of her Olympic career. She even went sliding on her rear to celebrate, the only time she stumbled all day.

The other two medalists also celebrated. Sablikova, who won gold in both the 3,000 and 5,000 at the Vancouver Games, didn’t seem to mind giving back one of her titles to Wuest. The Dutch skater took gold in the 3000 at the 2006 Torino Games, Sablikova claimed the victory four years ago, and now it’s Wuest on top again.

But no one was more thrilled than Graf, who glided around the rink on one skate like she was flying and nearly had an embarrassing moment when she began unzipping her skin-tight suit in the ecstasy of the moment — then zipped it back up quickly when she realized there was nothing on underneath.

Jilleanne Rookard of Woodhaven, Mich., who skated in the pairing with Graf, was the highest-finishing American. She took 10th out of 28 skaters in 4:10.02.

SOCHI, Russia — Ireen Wuest gave the Netherlands its second straight gold medal at the Olympic speed skating oval by winning the women’s 3000m Sunday.

Skating in the next-to-last pairing, Wuest turned in a time of 4 minutes, 0.34 seconds to knock off defending Olympic champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic.

Sablikova settled for the silver in 4:01.95, clapping for her rival after Wuest crossed the line.

FULL EVENT REPLAY: Watch here

The bronze went to Olga Graf, who gave Russia its first medal of the Winter Games in 4:03.47 and sent the crowd at Adler Arena into a frenzy.

Six-time Olympian Claudia Pechstein was looking to win her 10th Olympic medal, but the 41-year-old German faded badly over the final laps and didn’t even make the podium. She was fourth in 4:05.26.

The king and queen of the Netherlands were again in the crowd, just as they were the day before when Sven Kramer took gold in the first speedskating event of the games, the mens 5000m. The royal couple saw another winning performance by their speed skating-mad nation.

The Dutch have now won 29 Olympic golds, pulling even with the United States for the most victories in the sport.

– See more at: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/ireen-wuest-wins-3000m-russia-wins-first-medal-games?ctx=golden-moments#sthash.85QrhGcP.dpuf

SOCHI, Russia — Ireen Wuest gave the Netherlands its second straight gold medal at the Olympic speed skating oval by winning the women’s 3000m Sunday.

Skating in the next-to-last pairing, Wuest turned in a time of 4 minutes, 0.34 seconds to knock off defending Olympic champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic.

Sablikova settled for the silver in 4:01.95, clapping for her rival after Wuest crossed the line.

FULL EVENT REPLAY: Watch here

The bronze went to Olga Graf, who gave Russia its first medal of the Winter Games in 4:03.47 and sent the crowd at Adler Arena into a frenzy.

Six-time Olympian Claudia Pechstein was looking to win her 10th Olympic medal, but the 41-year-old German faded badly over the final laps and didn’t even make the podium. She was fourth in 4:05.26.

The king and queen of the Netherlands were again in the crowd, just as they were the day before when Sven Kramer took gold in the first speedskating event of the games, the mens 5000m. The royal couple saw another winning performance by their speed skating-mad nation.

The Dutch have now won 29 Olympic golds, pulling even with the United States for the most victories in the sport.

– See more at: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/ireen-wuest-wins-3000m-russia-wins-first-medal-games?ctx=golden-moments#sthash.85QrhGcP.dpuf

SOCHI, Russia — Ireen Wuest gave the Netherlands its second straight gold medal at the Olympic speed skating oval by winning the women’s 3000m Sunday.

Skating in the next-to-last pairing, Wuest turned in a time of 4 minutes, 0.34 seconds to knock off defending Olympic champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic.

Sablikova settled for the silver in 4:01.95, clapping for her rival after Wuest crossed the line.

FULL EVENT REPLAY: Watch here

The bronze went to Olga Graf, who gave Russia its first medal of the Winter Games in 4:03.47 and sent the crowd at Adler Arena into a frenzy.

Six-time Olympian Claudia Pechstein was looking to win her 10th Olympic medal, but the 41-year-old German faded badly over the final laps and didn’t even make the podium. She was fourth in 4:05.26.

The king and queen of the Netherlands were again in the crowd, just as they were the day before when Sven Kramer took gold in the first speedskating event of the games, the mens 5000m. The royal couple saw another winning performance by their speed skating-mad nation.

The Dutch have now won 29 Olympic golds, pulling even with the United States for the most victories in the sport.

– See more at: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/ireen-wuest-wins-3000m-russia-wins-first-medal-games?ctx=golden-moments#sthash.85QrhGcP.dpuf

| NBC Olympics.

Winter Olympics 2014: Airlines warned of possible toothpaste bombs

The US Homeland Security Department is warning airlines flying to Russia that terrorists may try to smuggle explosives on board hidden in toothpaste tubes.

The threat was passed on to airlines that have direct flights to Russia, including some that originate in the United States, according to a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss details of the warning.

The official said the airlines were warned that explosive devices could be assembled in flight or upon arrival at the Olympics.

The department said in a statement that the US “isn’t aware of a specific threat to the homeland at this time.” It said the department “regularly shares information with domestic and international partners, including those associated with international events such as the Sochi Olympics.”

Delta Airlines is the only US carrier with a direct flight from the United States to Moscow. Russian airlines Aeroflot and Transaero both operate several non-stop flights from the US.

United Airlines, the official airline of the U.S. Olympic team, does not have scheduled service to Russia but is operating some charter flights to Sochi.

The warning became public on the eve of the Winter Olympics.

Winter Olympics 2014: Airlines warned of possible toothpaste bombs – Europe – World – The Independent.

Russia Terror Attacks : Vladimir Putin Vows Response

“We will toughly and consistently continue to fight,” Putin said in his New Year‘s address.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to achieve the “total destruction” of terrorists in a New Year’s address Tuesday, following two days of terror attacks in the city of Volgograd that killed 34 people.

“Dear friends, we bow our heads in front of the victims of the terrible acts of terror. I am sure we will toughly and consistently continue to fight against terrorists until their total destruction,” he said, from the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, AFP reports.

The tough talk came as the Kremlin intensifies security in Volgograd, the site of the two attacks this week, and across the country. A regional police official told the Interfax news agency that authorities have boosted the number of security personnel in Volgograd to 5,200, including Interior Ministry troops, in a city of 1 million, the Associated Press reports.

The Health Ministry said Tuesday that three more people died from the bombing of a train station Sunday and a trolley bus a day later, raising the death toll to 34. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which have renewed security concerns ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia that begin Feb. 7.

 

US offers Russia support over 2014 Olympics security

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The United States has offered to help Russia secure the 2014 Winter Olympics following two deadly attacks in two days in the country.

“The US government has offered our full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games, and we would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators, and other participants,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement on Monday.

A blast hit a trolleybus on Monday morning in Volgograd, killing at least 14 people. Another explosion on Sunday killed 17 people at Volgograd’s main train station.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered tighter security nationwide as the country is due to hold the 2014 Olympics in February.

Washington’s offer comes after US President Barack Obama refused to attend in the opening or closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games.

US-Russia relations have been icy over a wide range of issues from foreign policy to human rights.

Moscow’s decision to grant one-year political asylum to American whistleblower Edward Snowden has angered American politicians.

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee said on Monday it is confident the event will be “safe and secure.”

“I have personally written to the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to express our condolences to the Russian people and our confidence in the Russian authorities to deliver safe and secure Games in Sochi,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.

“I am certain that everything will be done to ensure the security of the athletes and all the participants of the Olympic Games,” he said.

At Least 15 Are Killed in Explosion at Russian Rail Station

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MOSCOW — A suicide bombing at a railroad station in central Russia killed at least 15 people on Sunday, according to official accounts, raising the specter of a new wave of terrorism ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. More than two dozen were wounded, some of them critically, meaning the death toll could still rise.

The explosion, which officials said was caused by a bomb possibly carried in a bag or backpack, struck the main railroad station in Volgograd, a city about 550 miles south of Moscow, at 12:45 p.m. It blew out windows in the building’s facade and left a horrific scene of carnage at the station’s main entrance.

The blast, captured on a surveillance video camera from across the central plaza in front of the station, occurred near the metal detectors that have become a common security fixture at most of Russia’s transportation hubs, suggesting that an attack deeper inside the station or aboard a train might have been averted.

Vladimir I. Markin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee, called the bombing an act of terrorism, though the exact motivation, target and perpetrator were not immediately clear. Within hours of the attack, the authorities blamed a suicide bomber, citing the gruesome discovery of a woman’s severed head, which, they said, could aid in identifying her.

“Most likely, the victims could have been much higher if the so-called protective system had not stopped the suicide bomber from getting through the metal detectors into the waiting room where there were passengers,” Mr. Markin said in a statement on the committee’s website.

It was the second such attack in Volgograd in two months. In October a woman identified as Naida Asiyalova detonated a vest of explosives aboard a bus in the city, killing herself and six others.

In that case, the authorities linked her by marriage to an explosives expert working with an Islamic rebel group in Dagestan, the southern republic where the police have struggle to suppress an insurgency by Muslim separatists. A month later the authorities announced that they had killed her husband and four others in a raid in the region.

The republics of the North Caucasus, including Dagestan, Chechnya and Adygea, have for nearly two decades been embroiled in complex, ever-shifting armed conflicts that the International Crisis Group recently called “the most violent in Europe today.”

The violence has left hundreds dead already this year and prompted the authorities to make extraordinary efforts to keep it from reaching Sochi, the Black Sea resort city that will be the host of the Winter Olympic Games six weeks from now.

Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel fighter who now leads a terrorist group known as the Caucasus Emirate, vowed in July to target Sochi explicitly, calling the Games “satanic.” “They plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims, buried on the territory of our land on the Black Sea,” Mr. Umarov said in a video statement.

Mr. Umarov emerged from the ruins of Chechnya’s separatist movement, which the Russian government under President Vladimir V. Putin largely defeated. Chechnya itself remains comparatively stable under a regional leader embraced by the Kremlin, Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been accused of ruling through repression and abuse.

Mr. Umarov’s group, which ostensibly aims to create an independent emirate that would unite Russia’s southern Muslim republics, claimed responsibility for ordering two separate suicide bombings on Moscow’s subway in 2010 and an attack at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow in 2011.

Mr. Umarov himself is believed to operate in remote redoubts in the Caucasus, but his whereabouts and his influence over other Islamic militants in the region remain unclear. The International Crisis Group’s recent report outlined a raft of issues that have contributed to Islamic radicalization and violence in the Caucasus, including not only separatist aspirations but also social and economic issues and federal policies.

“Unresolved disputes over territory, administrative boundaries, land and resources are important root causes of the violence, along with ethnic and religious tensions, the state’s incapacity to ensure fair political representation, rule of law, governance and economic growth,” the organization’s report said. “The region’s internal fragmentation and insufficient integration with the rest of the Russian Federation contribute to the political and social alienation of its residents.”

It is not clear why suicide bombers have now twice targeted Volgograd, a city of one million that under its former name was the scene of one of the epic battles of World War II: Stalingrad. It is the first major city north of the Caucasus, and its proximity to the region a factor in the attacks.

Both attacks also struck means of transportation — a bus and the train station — and both raised speculation that the bombers might have intended to travel farther north, only to detonate their bombs early. On Friday, an explosion in a car killed three people in another city in the Caucasus, Pyatigorsk, though details of that attack remain sketchy, and it was not clear whether it was in any way related to Sunday’s bombing.

Mr. Putin ordered the authorities to provide assistance to the victims of Sunday’s bombing and their families and to tighten security at the country’s train stations and airports, all of which are busier than usual ahead of the New Year’s holiday.