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  • Op Ed -- Olympic Truce Needed for Ukraine


    Putin, IOC president Thomas Bach, and ATR editor-in-chief Ed Hula crossed paths in Sochi. (ATR)
    Shaking hands with Vladimir Putin a week ago at the Sochi Olympics revealed no sign of tension about the risky military moves he was about to make over Ukraine.

    It was an impromptu encounter as he arrived at a hotel for a ceremony for the Russian Olympic team. The president of Russia and I have crossed paths before: the first meeting while Sochi was still bid city, and again this past January when he spent the better part of two hours with a small group of reporters to answer their questions about the Sochi Games.

    This was a happy Vladimir Putin last Monday morning, hours after the close of the Winter Olympics.

    “Yes, I am very happy,” he said in English.

    Asked further about the success of the Russian team, which finished atop the medals table, he flashed a nanosecond smile and pumped his forearms triumphantly -- about as much emotion as Vladimir Putin can deliver. Then he headed off with the IOC president to savor the afterglow of a successful Olympics and the satisfaction of proving the naysayers wrong.

    This week, however, it’s the boggy mire of international politics that’s drawing attention to Mr. Putin, not the pleasantries of an acclaimed Winter Olympics. Even as he was celebrating Sochi, the wheels also had to be in motion to deploy Russian legions to occupy Crimea in response to the crisis in Ukraine. The troops were in place by the end of the week.

    Olympic Truce? It’s hard not to be cynical about this sweepingly symbolic gesture the United Nations makes ahead of every Olympic Games. Not once has it led to a cessation of hostilities during the Games. I may be naïve, but it could still serve as a guide post for behavior on the part of Russia and the nations trying to defuse the rising tensions in Ukraine.

    A military vehicle with Russian license plates rolls toward Crimea. (Getty Images)
    While no day is worse than any other to strike accords for peace, this week brings the open of the 2014 Winter Paralympics, the capstone of the sports festival that came to Sochi. With 310 athletes from Ukraine and 44 other countries, the Paralympics are a good enough reason to consider demilitarizing the situation.

    How welcoming a host can Russia be with troops amassed on the border of Ukraine and occupying Crimea?

    Unfortunately, the question is bigger than simply accommodating the Winter Paralympics. Now there is talk of annexation from Moscow -- for Crimea to rejoin Russia, reversing the 1954 transfer of the peninsula to what was then the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic.

    Mr. Putin, the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics will be remembered as peaceful Games as long as they are not overshadowed by Cold War politics and military might.

    If I had a minute to talk to you today instead of last week, I would have the temerity to ask what you’ll do to be remembered as a peacemaker. In an op-ed written here ahead of the Games, I said that their success rested in your hands. Whether there is a peaceful Olympics legacy is yours to decide.

    Written by Ed Hula.

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