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Volume 7 No. 81
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Russian Ban From PyeongChang 2018 Met With Righteous Anger

Russian officials and public figures have referred to the ban on the Russian team from the PyeongChang 2018 Games as "war," "racism" and "genocide," as Tuesday's announcement by the IOC was met by a "wave of righteous anger," according to Shaun Walker of the London GUARDIAN. The allegations of doping were "hardly mentioned" as officials and "ordinary Russians" attempted to portray the punishments "merely as the west acting to keep brave Russia down." Former Olympic figure skating Gold Medalist Irina Rodnina, who is now a pro-Kremlin MP, tweeted, "They are so scared of us." Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of a pro-Kremlin ultra-nationalist party, called the decision "political and sporting racism." Russian Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Konstantin Kosachev said that the decision was "part of the general western policy of holding Russia back," a theme that was developed by other officials (GUARDIAN, 12/6). In Washington, DC, Andrew Roth reported it was a "body blow to a nation that prides itself on its sporting prowess and was ecstatic over its victory in the 2014 Winter Olympics medal count." Just four years later, the Russian Federation's count will be zero. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called the IOC decision "outrageous." The decision would ban Russia's flag and anthem but allow individual athletes to compete under a special designation, as Olympic Athlete from Russia. Gorbachev said, "It's just bad, and that's it. It's sport, damn it." Russian lawmakers, "often the vanguard of public outrage, demanded punishments." Some "turned on their own." One filed suit against former Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko for "demeaning the honor of the country." Several prominent journalists and commentators, "notably far-right author Nikolai Starikov," posted memes on social media showing Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms, writing "just like IOC asked for" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/6).

KREMLIN KEEPING COOL: The MOSCOW TIMES reported the Kremlin said that it will "seriously analyze" the IOC's decision. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that the decision "must be considered with a cool head." Peskov: "We need to forget emotions and seriously analyze the decision that the IOC has made regarding our country before making any judgments on the matter." He added that Russia "intends to maintain an open dialogue with the IOC regarding the decision as there are still questions and technical points that need to be clarified" (MOSCOW TIMES, 12/6). The BBC reported Peskov said that it "would be wrong to jump to conclusions" until Russia's athletes had met and the IOC had been contacted. He added that it "would not be a priority to hold Russian officials responsible" (BBC, 12/6).

'WITCH HUNT': The BBC also reported Russian media responded to the Olympic ban the same way it has "ever since the doping scandal broke -- with flat denials and allegations that this is an anti-Russian witch hunt." One of the "key messages" from pro-Kremlin outlets has been that there is no evidence for WADA's findings that there was a Russian state-sponsored doping program during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Coverage has also been "notably devoid of any soul-searching or questioning of Russian officials' actions." One tendency has been to "tar Grigory Rodchenkov" -- the whistleblower who was the main source for WADA's findings on the Russian doping program. PM Dmitry Medvedev recently said that Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, required "psychiatric help." NTV broadcast what it said was footage of Rodchenkov that "allegedly proved that he sold his story for personal profit." Both Rossiya 24 and state TV's Channel One also claimed that Russia had not been given an opportunity to defend itself. This was later contradicted on air by Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov, who said that reports like this were "not true," adding, "We were able to present our case to the [IOC] Executive Committee members" (BBC, 12/6). RT reported Russia President Vladimir Putin said, "Most of the accusations are based on evidence which has not been proven and is largely unfounded," noting that they were based on the testimony of a man of "questionable" mental state. Russia is "partially to blame for the situation," Putin acknowledged, but added that the IOC used the allegations against Russia in a "dishonest" way to issue a blanket ban for the Olympics team. He added that Russia will not prevent willing athletes from competing in the Olympics under a neutral flag. Putin: "We, undoubtedly, will not impose any blockade, will not bar our Olympians to take part, if any of them would like to participate on their own" (RT, 12/6).

ATHLETES' DECISIONS: In N.Y., Thomas Grove reported some politicians called for an "all-out Olympic boycott by Russian athletes." Athletic bodies were "quick to emphasize the choice should be the athletes' own," but acknowledged the decision "would be difficult." Russian Bobsleigh Federation President Alexander Zubkov said, "Whoever goes will go, the athletes themselves should first and foremost make the decision. I will say honestly that my opinion and my decision if it came to me to make it, of course, would be difficult, but I would not represent myself without the flag and moreover the anthem of the country for which we go out there, prove ourselves and win our victories" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/6). BLOOMBERG's Jake Rudnitsky reported Zhukov, who was suspended by the IOC, apologized at Tuesday's hearing "for violations of anti-doping rules that were allowed in our country." He said that the new generation of Russian athletes should not be held responsible or "made to feel like outcasts" at the Olympics "without a national identity, anthem or flag" (BLOOMBERG, 12/6).

POLITICAL PLAY: REUTERS' Andrew Osborn reported opinion polls show Putin is "already a shoo-in to win a fourth presidential term." But the Olympics ban is "likely to make support for him even stronger, by uniting voters around his message: The world is against us." Putin announced on Wednesday that he would run for re-election in March's presidential vote. With "ties between the Kremlin and the West at their lowest point for years," the IOCs decision "is seen in Moscow as a humiliating and politically tinged act." Kosachev said, "They are targeting our national honor ... our reputation ... and our interests. They (the West) bought out the traitors ... and orchestrated media hysteria" (REUTERS, 12/6).

'CLEAN ATHLETES MUST GO': REUTERS' Vladimir Soldatkin reported Russian ice hockey player Ilya Kovalchuk on Tuesday told his country's clean athletes to "make sure they took part" in the PyeongChang Olympics "if they satisfied strict conditions that showed they had a doping-free background." He said, "We all perfectly understand that the IOC decision is pure politics and we understand against whom it is directed. It was clear that there would be such a decision. But if the athletes go there, it will unite the country. All clean athletes must go" (REUTERS, 12/5). Soldatkin also reported the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Russia "would not be rattled" by the ban. Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, "We can never be knocked down. Not by a world war, not by the collapse of the Soviet Union, not by sanctions. We take it and we survive" (REUTERS, 12/5).