Following the horrific double bombing in the Russian southern city of Volgograd that killed 34 people and injured dozens of others, the United States and other Western countries issued solemn condemnations of the terror attacks.
“The United States stands in solidarity with the Russian people against terrorism,” the White House promptly declared. It added: “The US government has offered our full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games”.
There were also condemnations from the European Union and NATO of the suicide terror attacks on 29-30 December, which caused horrific scenes of carnage in Volgograd’s city center, including the deaths of several women and children.
Yet despite these expressions of outrage and international solidarity, it seems strange that the US and other Western governments are still persisting with their political snub of the Winter Olympic Games due to commence in Sochi on February 7.
President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the French and German Presidents Francois Hollande and Joachim Gauck, have not changed their plans to, in effect, boycott the Game.
The Western leaders have said they would not attend the quadrennial event, and their absence is being widely seen as an unofficial protest over alleged Russian human rights concerns, in particular a law against “gay propaganda” that Moscow enacted last year.
The snub by Western leaders of the Sochi Games is unprecedented. Sure, there have been outright country boycotts of Olympics in the past. In 1980, the US boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics over the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan; and in 1984 the Soviet Union retaliated by boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics.
But the Western half-boycott of the upcoming event in Sochi is a new development. The US, Canada and European Union members will join 88 other nations to participate in the sporting events, but their heads of state are staying away.
This suggests that the West is playing political games with the Russian host nation. It seems churlish and disingenuous that Western governments are taking up the banner of “gay and lesbian rights” especially in light of the horror perpetrated in Volgograd. There seems to be a distinct lack of moral and political priority.
If we were to go down the road of cherry-picking human rights, then Russia could very easily have chosen to with-hold an official delegation going to the Canadian Winter Olympics held back in 2010 out of concern over Ottawa’s repression and mistreatment of its First Nation people. Somehow the Western disdain over Sochi does not ring true.
But the proof of Western concern – or rather lack of concern – on their stated human rights objections in Russia is the glaring incongruity over the recent Volgograd atrocity.
The bombings were obviously aimed at striking a devastating blow at the Sochi Games. The White House statement above acknowledges that. No group has claimed responsibility, but it is all but conclusive that the attackers belonged to the so-called Caucasus Caliphate based in the nearby North Caucasus regions of Chechnya and Dagestan. The fundamentalist jihadist group led by Doku Umarov had already issued warnings that it intends to use “all means necessary to derail” the Olympic event.
Such terror threats are not empty bluster either. Before the latest double blast, Volgograd was hit with a suicide bomber in October when six people were killed on a bus. That massacre was attributed to Umarov’s jihadists. Although Volgograd is some 700 kilometers northeast of the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the former is a key transport hub between Moscow and the southern region. It therefore represents a prime target for Umarov’s followers to strike at the Olympic venue.
Previously, the same jihadist network has carried out deadly suicide bombings on Moscow’s transport system in 2010 and 2011, killing dozens of people.
Disrupting the Sochi event is seen as an opportunity to inflict a powerful political blow against Russia’s international image. President Vladimir Putin has invested much in the prestige of the Games, and acts of terrorism will be a way to detract from Moscow’s authority.
Undeniably then, the terror attacks in Volgograd are an assault on Russia’s sovereignty and its ability to host the Winter Olympics. By any definition of the official Western lexicon, the Winter Olympics are in the crosshairs of the War on Terror.
Yet Western leaders – who claim to be fighting a War on Terror – are showing an unseemly lack of solidarity with Russia by choosing to elevate “gay rights” in their decision not to attend the Games next month. Such a dereliction of political support in the face of wanton terrorism against another state is at best misplaced, and at worst it betrays an unconscionable ulterior motive.
Indeed weeks before the latest Volgograd terror attack, the White House announced that its low-level delegation to Sochi would be fronted by former tennis player and gay icon Billie Jean King. Another member of the official US delegation is hockey player Caitlin Cahow who is also a gay rights advocate.
As the British Guardian noted of that White House selection: “Barack Obama is sending Russia a clear message about its treatment of gays and lesbians with his choices to represent the United States as delegates at the Winter Olympics in Sochi”.
So, in contrast to the adage about not mixing sport and politics, Washington and its allies seem very much intent on using the Sochi Games as a political propaganda event to undermine Moscow.
This fits in with a wider Western political agenda of low-intensity aggression towards Russia. Despite vaunted claims of seeking a “reset” in relations between the US and Russia under Obama, Washington has gone out of its way to do everything to ratchet up tensions with Moscow. The Magnitsky Act sanctioning Russian officials over alleged human rights violations, the reneging on nuclear disarmament obligations, the blatant interference in Russia-Ukraine affairs over EU partnership, and the lionizing of released embezzler-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky – are but a few of the issues that Washington and its European allies have pushed into Moscow’s face over recent months.
In the coming weeks, we can expect more such political gaming from the US as the Sochi Olympics approach – with the undeclared agenda of trying to score propaganda points over Russia. There is more than a sneaking feeling that Washington is reeling from being outplayed by President Putin on a range of other issues, including the Edward Snowden whistleblower affair and over the Western regime-change failure in Syria.
As a sign of what lies ahead are American media reports that Putin has ordered a ban on public protests in Sochi during the Olympic Games following the Volgograd bombings. The move to restrict demonstrations is entirely understandable given the grave risk of terror attacks and the evident horror visited upon Volgograd. But the US reports chose to highlight these Russian security measures as “a crackdown on gay rights”.
Such crass insensitivity goes to show that if there were an official sport for “propaganda slaloming” at Sochi, the US would surely take gold.
It might be pointed out, too, that if Washington were really sincere in its solidarity with Russia and its willingness to provide “full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games” then it could make this practical contribution: hand over all its military intelligence files on covert jihahist networks that the US and its Saudi ally have been funding and arming in the North Caucasus for the past 20 years.