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Why 2014 Winter Olympics Are So Controversial? #Sochi2014

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Living in the past is wrong. If you are a country who lives in the past then it is even worse, because this can be the birth of instability and the beginning of a huge disaster. When we are talking about foreign affairs we must accept that there is an order among states. This order is crafted by the nature of power that each state has. At this moment, Russia is a huge power, but there is another huge idea in the Russian political spirit – the glory of the Soviet era – they want it back!

In the field of international politics, there are two types of power: hard and soft power. The cornerstone of the hard power is the state of the army: how many soldiers, tanks and bombs and so on and so forth. Soft power is about winning hearts and minds. Sochi Winter Olympics initiative is about winning the hearts and minds of the Russian people and restoring the international glory and image of the Russian Federation.

Sochi Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony

Photo: Marko Djurica/REUTERS./ Published: 02/7/2014 4:08:28

Sochi Winter Olympics will be held in February 2014 and the Games are the 22nd Winter Olympics. Sochi is a resort city, the only subtropical city of Russia, in the Krasnodar Krai territory having a population of 400.000. This is the first time when Russia is hosting the Winter Olympics. There are many controversial topics around the Winter Games and their nature is very different.

Environment

In 2009, organisers said they want these Games to be the greenest, most environmentally aware games ever staged. Also Vladimir Putin said that: “in setting our priorities and choosing between money and the environment, we are choosing the environment.” (The Washington Post) The entire Sochi region has many areas included in the UNESCO World Heritage and there are many environmentalists which argue that the Games will damage the natural environment. The project is very expensive, around $50 billion and we must take into account that the budget for the London Olympic Games was around £9 billion. If that money were invested in an efficient way the ecological impact of the Olympic Games can be reduced to values that will not interfere or alter the natural environment.

Economy

Sochi Winter Olympics will be the most expensive in history. According to the official data this is a corrupt project. A good example is the construction of a 45 km road from Adler to Sochi. The cost was $200 million per km. Boris Nemtsov, the current opposition leader, said that: “You could have paved this road with 5m tons of gold or black caviar and the price would have been the same.” (RBK News)

Pride House and LGBT rights

In 2010 the registration of lesbian, gay bisexual and trans gender Pride House was rejected by a Russian court. This summer the Russia’s Duma passed the anti-gay propaganda law which bans the public discussion of gay rights and relationships because LGBT would “contradict the foundation of public morality and government policy in the area of protection of the family, motherhood and childhood.” (CNN) This debate can be distributed on several levels: human rights level, cultural values and perspectives level (conservative societies versus liberal ones) and even the level of personal believes and opinions.

Those found in breach of the anti-gay propaganda law can be fined and deported. There is a security concern because around 120.000 people will visit Sochi during the Games and the anti-gay law will be enforced. How will the Russian security forces will react if one gay US athlete will express his/her sexual orientation? Vladimir Putin said that the participants will not be affected by this law. Also, Vladimir Putin said that the Greenpeace activists are not pirates and although he said that the clash between Greenpeace and Russia is far from over.

Political governance

FSB will ensure extensive monitoring during the Games. They will use Sorm, which is Russia’s system for intercepting phone and internet communications. Also they added the deep packet inspection protocol which offers them the capability to filter users by particular keywords and since 2010 FSB upgraded the Sorm system permanently in order to be able to cope with the supplementary traffic during the Games. Viktor Teplyakov, a Russian MP said that “simply buying a ticket does not guarantee access – security is No. 1” (The Guardian) The problem with the FSB actions is that this federal service is not known for its transparency and legal instruments. The Sorm system can be used as a huge octopus spy network and FSB can discover confidential, valuable data and information about the participants who attend the Games or their businesses. Moreover, communication providers (phone and internet) installed Sorm boxes in their servers by law and now FSB has the right and the capability to intercept any conversation or message. Also, Russian security forces could use Sorm in order to discover and suppress any protest movement.

The Soviet Union is a memory. We live difficult times and we cannot live with the desire to restore the shallow glory of the past. The image of the Soviet era was beautiful but the reality was quite grim for a middle class person. Maybe you do not live in Russia and maybe you don’t even care about the conditions of this country but remember that this is the biggest country in the world with huge oil and natural gas reserves, with a nuclear arsenal and with a strong economy. What happens in Russia will ultimately affect even your life! 

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Briefly about the Russian Political Discourse

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As you may have noticed, the recent international discourse has been rotating around Russia and its relations to other countries for a long time. Needless to say that after the events in Georgia/Ukraine, this discourse is far from friendly. Some even say that rhetoric of the Cold War has returned. What makes people abroad wonder is why Russia chooses to respond to its foreign partners in this particular way? Why is it the way it is?

To begin with, there are several reasons that shape Russian rhetoric. First of all, they are historical and cultural values. Russia sees itself as a defender of its rights and identity and someone who is not going to follow someone else’s rules. Back to the 13th century, the grand prince (rus. knyaz) Aleksander Nevsky only accepted submission  to the Golden Horde to protect the Russian culture and belief, therefore depriving the West of the opportunity to take over its territories.  This mentality still governs the minds of people. Today, current political rhetoric is doing the same by refusing the Western pressure and external interference into its business.

After the Golden Horde, Russia has managed to maintain its unity. Back then, the East saw the country to be an heir to the great Byzantine Empire. Meanwhile, the enormous size of the country was rather intimidating; and even more, when it started acquiring new territories (remember reaction to the situation with Crimea).

On the one hand, Moscow tries to present itself strong when it communicates with the Europe; on the other hand, the Western neighbours seem to use the same old-fashioned strategy to isolate the big neighbour. Since the time of Ivan the Terrible, no one really has wanted strong and stable Russia and there were steps before to prevent the unity of Eurasia.

The long history of Russia plays a big role in forming the modern mind of the citizen and current political rhetoric. Russian people and the government would not admit defeat and would do anything possible to prevail, even if it means to live in humble circumstances for some time (think of the continuous sanctions).

The tough policy of Peter the Great, the emperor of Russia, has brought the country to a new level in comparison to others. At that time already, all the international questions were only resolved with the help of Russia. In the following years, the power of the country kept growing only to solidify during the rule of Catherine the Great. The famous grand chancellor of Russia and the chief of foreign policy Bezborodko used to say, “I don’t know how it will be at your time, but at this time not a single gun is allowed to fire without our permission”[1]. Now, Russia tries to achieve similar influence.

The period after the World War II proved to be fruitful for the development of the European countries. While the US and USSR were competing, Europe was free from deciding on serious issues, so it could absorb and enjoy the time of quiet development.

Nonetheless, there has been a clear confrontation between the two ideologies, Nazism and Communism. Even though the USSR did not try to exterminate the nations, the scary ghost of the USSR keeps frightening the rest of the world. The impression of “evil USSR” flying over the international relations is still there and penetrates the minds of the people.

After the collapse of the USSR, there was a chance to promote peace and peaceful coexistence.  Russia has repeatedly expressed its interest in it, yet the Western partners have chosen another way:  NATO enlargement to the East (which is believed to be a broken promise).  Interestingly enough, George Kennan, the so-called creator of containment policy of Soviet expansion, considered the NATO expansion a tragic mistake.

All in all, abovementioned factors play a significant role in shaping the Russian political discourse. Cultural and historical values, national pride (and therefore negative feeling towards the Western sanctions) as well as the use of state symbols to unite the country are the most important rhetoric tools in the Russian language arsenal. Its constant and regular transmission through the media and other communication channels make this rhetoric influential and persuasive.

[1] [URL: http://www.istmira.com/istoriya-rossii-s-drevnejshix-vremen-do-nashix/290-kakovy-itogi-i-posledstviya-vneshnej-politiki.html] [дата обращения: 20.05.2016]

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Peace Talks – North Korea is Ready for negotiations, but only with Russia

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North Korea will enter negotiation talks with its rhetorical foe, the United States, over its nuclear weapons program and on the so-called “security guarantees” – only if Russia will come to the table. 

During an international conference in the Austrian capital (Vienna), Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, delivered a message to his US counterpart, Rex Tillerson, that the reclusive communist regime wants a peace talk with America over its nuclear ambitions.

 “We know that North Korea wants above all to talk to the United States about guarantees for its security. We are ready to support that, we are ready to take part in facilitating such negotiations. Our American colleagues, including Rex Tillerson, have heard this.”, said, Lavrov, as reported by the Interfax news agency.

However, there was no immediate response from the state department which has long insisted that the US will only consider direct talks unless North Korea stops testing ballistic missiles and agrees to denuclearize – an expectation that was defied by North Korea. 

In an interview with Russia’s state-run Russian Information Agency (RIA) news agency, Lavrov added that his country is ready to step in because Russia and North Korea have diplomatic relations. 

“We call on partners to focus on solving specific problems of the Korean Peninsula on the basis of negotiations. And for this, it is necessary not to rupture contacts with Pyongyang, but, on the contrary, develop it.” 

However, it seems very unlikely that Lavrov’s offer will convince the US, as Trump has long indicated that he has no plans on negotiating with Kim Jong-un.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”, said Trump on his tweet in October after dismissing a reported effort by Tillerson to pursue back-channel negotiations.

Moreover, aside from deriding the North Korean leader as the “Little Rocket Man”, the US President Donald J. Trump, called him a “sick puppy” and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and that the country “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”.

The amid heightened tension between the US and North Korea reached its peak after the hermit kingdom tested its new and “most powerful” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the “Hwasong-15” missile, November 29 of last year; claiming that it was capable of striking the US mainland – a missile launch that followed the test of what was apparently a hydrogen bomb last September.

This was followed by Trump’s furious tweets, saying that “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

The said “Hwasong-15”, as estimated by South Korea’s military, flew ten times as high as the International Space Station and twice as high as any satellite in low orbit after finally landing in the Sea of Japan – 210 kilometres west of Aomori prefecture, in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

It can be remembered that North Korea has also issued an explicit threat to Japan after the country, together with the US, spearheaded the United Nations security council sanctions in response to the regime’s recent nuclear test – saying that, “The four islands of the Japanese archipelago should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche.” and “Japan is no longer needed to exist near us.”

A cue for the allied countries, Japan and the US, to call on China, North Korea’s sole major ally which accounts for more than 90 percent of trade; to fully implement the UN security council sanctions against the isolated country and other steps to pressure it.

However, although China has agreed to do so and has also been angered by Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear and missile tests; it also sees that the US, along with South Korea, share responsibility for the rising tensions. Also, speculations are – China won’t pressure North Korea as much as Japan and the US want, primarily because while Xi Jinping does not trust Kim Jong-un, it trusts Trump less. In addition, Japan is China’s major rival – which history can be traced back to the ancient wars up to the recent issues such as the Nanking massacre and territorial disputes.

As of the moment, the US and North Korean positions are currently very far apart – with Washington wanting Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament to be on the table while Pyongyang wants Washington to recognize it as a nuclear weapons power.

“I think the US would be best served by putting aside the focus on denuclearization and instead look at ways to prevent accidents, reduce risks and de-escalate.”, suggested Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the New America think tank who has played a leading role in peace talks between Iran and North Korea.

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What’s Really Going On With Russia?

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Moscow Russia Putin

For the mere mortals among us, it’s hard to determine exactly what’s going on with Trump and Russia. To get the bottom of things, it may help to look at the backstory. There’s no denying that Russia and America have had a rocky road in the past. While things have always been a little strained, we did manage to find some level of calm. But, a NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 put a chilly slant on things. Add in one Vladimir Putin (elected in 2000), and you have an ice age on your hands.

But, what have the main issues been? Well, let’s be honest, the cold war got a little…cold. That did nothing to strengthen the relationship. Aside from that, the arguments between our countries come from a direct split in ideologies. Capitalism and communism don’t get on for obvious reasons. Add in the fact that the U.S. and Russia are some of the largest nuclear countries in the world, and you have a real conflict. Perhaps, for world peace, it would be best if we all ‘got along’, but our differing approaches only fuels the fire more.

But then, along came Trump. Despite other negative connotations to his presidency, he did at least seem willing to solve the Russia/U.S. split. In fact, during his election campaign, Trump heralded Putin as ‘very smart’, and gave every indication that he would treat Russia as an ally. He even tried to turn attention from Russia during the election hacking scandal.

Of course, the good times didn’t last long. We now find ourselves in a position where relations are more strained than ever. Given where we’ve been in the past, that’s hard to believe. But, the relationship has spiralled, perhaps in part due to the possibility that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. So, where did things go wrong? To get to the root of the rift, we need to revisit April 4th, when Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was allegedly responsible for dropping chemical weapons on his people. Chemical weapons which Russia had removed.

In an arguably rash counter attack, Trump ordered the dropping of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. It’s not hard to see, then, why things deteriorated so fast. Overnight, Trump and Putin went from the perfect pair to bitter enemies. And, for some, the change was too subtle to keep on top of. But, rest assured, the old order has been restored when it comes to our relationship with Russia.

So, where are we now? Recently, political figures such as Idaho’s senator, Mike Crapo, have been pushing hard for new Russian sanctions. The new bill, signed by a grudging Trump on the 2nd of this month, makes it harder for him to lift the sanctions if he wishes.

Trump’s reluctance seemed to come about due to remaining hopes of reestablishing relations with Russia. While that seems unlikely, the bill will ensure we can at least hold some level of control over what Russia does overseas.

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