News / Europe

Putin Sets Long Sochi Olympics Torch Rally in Motion

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a lighted Olympic torch during a ceremony to mark the start of the Sochi Winter Olympic torch relay, in Moscow October 6, 2013.
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a lighted Olympic torch during a ceremony to mark the start of the Sochi Winter Olympic torch relay, in Moscow October 6, 2013.
Reuters
— President Vladimir Putin hoisted the flame that will burn at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games high in Red Square on Sunday, bringing his personal campaign to stage Russia's first post-Soviet Olympics within sight of completion.
 
Declaring that “our shared dream is becoming reality,” Putin signaled the start of a 123-day, 65,000 km (40,000 mile) torch relay that will take the Olympic flame to the North Pole and space before the Games begin in the Black Sea resort on February 7.
 
The relay “will show the world Russia the way it is and the way we love it,” Putin told the crowd in an elaborate ceremony, calling it a country of diverse people “united by common aims and by pride in their great homeland.

As expected, Putin made no mention of controversies clouding the Games, such as a law critics say discriminates against gays and concerns about a ban on most rallies in Sochi, or of the Islamist insurgency that persists not far away.
 
Rich in symbolism

Protected by four small lanterns, the flame was flown in from Greece after being lit at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics and handed over to Russia on Saturday at the marble Athens stadium that hosted the first modern Games in 1896.
 
But from the jet's arrival to Putin's patriotic speech, the accent was on Russia and its president, who has staked his reputation on a safe, successful Sochi Olympics - the first Winter Games it has held.
 
Gingerly carrying a lantern, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak stepped off the Aeroflot jet as a military band played and an honor guard of rifle-toting soldiers in wooly Astrakhan collars stood by, chins jutting high.
 
“We - all Russians - have a right to be proud,” Kozak said.
 
Escorted part way by leather-jacketed bikers from a motorcycle club whose leader is a friend of Putin's, a convoy bore the flame into central Moscow and it was carried onto Red Square on a clear, crisp autumn afternoon.
 
The ceremony was shown live on state television, with a detailed, breathless narration echoing coverage of military parades and other patriotic events that Putin, who started a six-year third term in 2012, presides over.
 
Like the plane that brought the flame from Athens, Red Square was decorated with a Firebird-inspired design drawing on Russian folk patterns.
 
The dark stone mausoleum where the embalmed body of Bolshevik Revolution leader Vladimir Lenin still lies was hidden behind a stage and a mock-up of snow-white peaks representing the mountains above Sochi where alpine events will be held.
 
“Our huge country”
 
As images of rockets and ballerinas flashed across a giant screen, rap rhymes from dancers in white, red and blue of Russia's flag alternated with chants of “Russia! Russia!”
 
With the onion domes of St Basil's Cathedral behind him, Putin strode across the cobbles on a red carpet as a medley that included part of imperial-era anthem “God Save the Tsar” played.
 
“Today is a joyous and momentous day,” Putin said. “The Olympic flame - the symbol of the planet's main sports event, the symbol of peace and friendship - has arrived in Russia, and in a few minutes it will be on its way around our huge country.”
 
The longest torch relay before a Winter Olympics seems designed to celebrate a spirit of exploration and conquest as well as Russia's variety and most of all its sheer scale, taking the flame though all 83 regions spanning 10 time zones.
 
It will go to the North Pole on an nuclear-powered icebreaker, to Europe's highest peak, Mount Elbrus, to the depths of Siberia's Lake Baikal and to the International Space Station, whose crew will take the torch - unlit - on a spacewalk.
 
More than 90 percent of Russia's people will be within an hour of the flame - a way to encourage them to feel involved.
 
But six years after he secured the 2014 Games for Sochi with an impassioned pitch, it is Putin - who turns 61 on Monday - who is the most invested in making the only Olympics staged in an independent Russia a success.
 
Putin has faced international criticism over a law he signed this year prohibiting the spread of gay “propaganda” among minors, which activists and Western governments say is discriminatory and curtails basic human freedoms.
 
Critics have also questioned the $50 billion cost and the wisdom of holding the Winter Games in a subtropical locale, and have called a security decree Putin signed draconian because it restricts movement and bans rallies unrelated to the Olympics.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid