Either people on the Russian Olympic Committee don’t know geography or imperialist dreams die hard.
Ukraine filed formal complaints about the biographies of Russian Olympic team members posted on the official London Games’ website. The biographies referred to the athletes’ Ukrainian birthplaces as Russian. Georgians and Olympic athletes from other former Soviet republics suffered the same fate — at least 3o in all, by the Kyiv Post’s count.
The official complaints ask organizers of the 2012 London Olympics to correct the data. The opening ceremonies for the summer games take place on July 27.
The misclassifications are fueling resentment among Ukrainians who are still acutely aware of centuries of Russian domination, from czarist through Soviet times, before Ukraine gained its independence as a sovereign nation in 1991.
Criticism was swift.
“Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged his diplomats to apply ‘soft-power’ tactics to promote Russian interests abroad. This is an ongoing example of Russia’s systematic soft-power attacks against Ukraine’s national and international security,” said Walter Derzko, executive director of the Strategic Foresight Institute in Toronto.
“Since when is Ukraine a region of Russia? This deserves a strong reaction from the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the leadership in the Ukrainian diaspora.”
Even today, Westerners still refer to the nation as “the Ukraine,” as if it is just a territory in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin fuels this disregard. He once famously told then-U.S. President George W. Bush at a NATO Summit in 2008 that Ukraine is not “a real nation.” In 2011, Putin said Russia didn’t need Ukraine’s help to win World War II.
Others think that too much is being made of the whole brouhaha.
Vladimir Kornilov, director of the Ukrainian branch of the Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a pro-Kremlin group supportive of Ukraine forging closer ties with Moscow, said the classifications simply reflected athletes’ views.
“The athletes were born in the USSR, so the [London delegation of the Russian] Olympic Committee just decided to put Russia on the website instead, the way they view the region,” Kornilov said.
Since when is Ukraine a region of Russia?— Walter Derzko, executive director of the Strategic Foresight Institute in Toronto.
But some of the athletes with mislabeled birthplaces were born after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
Oleksiy Melnyk, foreign policy analyst at the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center, called the misclassifications “purely a technical mistake.”
Here’s how the biographies appeared on the official website of the London Olympics:
Alexey Korovashkov, who canoes for the Russian Federation, is listed as being born in “Ukraine Region (RUS).” Other Ukraine-born athletes were listed being born in “Lvov Region (RUS)” or “Lutsk (RUS).”
The practice was extended to athletes born in other former Soviet republics, which today Russia considers as its “sphere of influence.”
Boxer David Ayrapetyan therefore was born in “Baku (RUS)” (the capital of Azerbaijan), weightlifter Alexandr Ivanov hailed from “Rustavi (RUS)” (actually in Georgia), while volleyball player Tatiana Kosheleva came from “Belorussia Region (RUS).”
The mistakes proved to be too numerous and glaring to ignore, so Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko on July 26 took action.
“I have just instructed the Ukrainian Embassy in Great Britain to get in touch with the Olympic organizers to correct the [biographical] mistakes [listed for the Russian athletes born in Ukraine],” Gryshchenko tweeted.
Izabella Siemicks, a spokesperson for the London Organizing Committee, said “the information for the athlete biographies … is provided to us by the National Olympic Committees. We have raised this matter with the Russian Olympic Committee.”
Maria Kiseleva, spokesperson for the Russian Olympic team in London said: “these were technical mistakes.” Asked how the errors occurred, Kiseleva said: “I am not ready to say now how it happened, but work is currently under way to fix the errors. It should be fixed today or by tomorrow [July 27].”
It will likely not be forgotten by tomorrow, however.
No one believes that was accidental.— Oleksiy Melnyk, foreign policy analyst at the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center
Ukrainians are used to bullying and disregard from an overbearing neighbor.
In a recent example, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was late four hours for a meeting with his counterpart in Crimea, President Viktor Yanukovych, on July 9.
Putin later chose to spend the evening with Viktor Medvedchuk, a former top-level Ukrainian official and millionaire businessman who has launched a blitzkrieg of street advertisements calling upon citizens to support Russian as a second state language. Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter.
“No one believes that was accidental. That was certainly a tricky part of the bigger game, played by the Kremlin in order to achieve Putin’s strategic objective of integrating the post-Soviet space” said Melnyk of the Razumkov’s Center.
Georgia’s Olympic Committee has also expressed outrage and is demanding correction. The website, for instance, says wrestler Besik Kudukhov’s birthplace was in “South Ossetia (RUS).”
Georgia lost control over the breakaway republic after a five-day war with Russia in 2008. Since then Ossetia’s independence has been recognized by Russia and a few other nations, but there has never been talk of annexation.
Lada Roslycky, a regional security expert, said Moscow is using such soft-power tactics in an effort to provoke, weaken, divide and geopolitically conquer former Soviet republics once under its control.
According to Roslycky, such tactics were used in the case of Georgia’s two breakaway republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “Without these tactics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia would not be in the situation they are in now. Moreover, their operations continue to be used in regard to the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea,” Roslycky said.
She called this month’s adoption by Ukraine’s parliament of a language law boosting Russian as another example of the “soft power war,” Roslycky said.
Even some Ukrainian leaders have displayed disdain for Ukraine’s sovereignty. Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk has shown contempt for the “Little Russian” language and culture, a derogatory reference to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was recently asked if he would pray with the Russian president for the glory of the Russian world, an ideological concept that has all Eastern Slavic or Russian-speaking regions subjugated to Moscow. His answer: „I would gladly do so.”