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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs