Staunton, December 14 – In the latest indication that Circassian opposition to the Sochi Olympics is far more widespread that Moscow claims and that Russian President Vladimir Putin is afraid of it, Russian officials yesterday arrested 15 Circassian activists in the North Caucasus who oppose holding the Olympics on the site of the genocide of their people in 1864.
Following online protests by Circassians and others, announcement of plans for demonstrations in New York and other cities around the world, and a protest by Valery Khatazhukov, a leading human rights activist in Kabardino-Balkaria, the Russian authorities backed down and then released the Circassians (natpress.ru/index.php?newsid=8596 and facebook.com/groups/antisochi/permalink/641650739211007/).
This represents a defeat for Vladimir Putin who had to oust the KBR governor to get his way: Arsen Kanonkov apparently refused to carry out the arrests on trumped up charges, while the new man, Yuri Kokov, who earlier helped create an FSB unit to fight “extremism,” was entirely prepared to follow Putin’s line and deployed massive numbers of security officers.
On Friday, pro-Moscow officials in KBR are known to have arrested Ibragim Yaganov, Ruslan Kabiyev, Ruslan Kesh, Yevgeny Tashu, Acumij Hilmi, Amin Zeh, Adnan Khuade, and eight others. Kesh and Tashu were released after a few hours; all the others have since been set free.
As it has done so often in the past, Moscow is behaving far more brutally in regions where there are few outside journalists, confident that it can suppress much of the story or at least put its own spin on it with commentaries that few outsiders will be able to check and then challenge.
But despite that, news about the arrests came out via telephone calls, social media reports and the efforts of some outlets in the region, including that of the Republic of Georgia. As a result, Moscow retreated from this latest act of harassment (apsny.ge/2013/mil/1387002678.php, natpress.ru/index.php?newsid=8594 and timur-kuashev.livejournal.com/164605.html).