Sochi: Russian Officials Blast Western Media Over 'Biased' Pre-Olympics Coverage

Google's doodle suggesting solidarity with gay athletes in Sochi

Google ran a doodle on its homepage expressing solidarity with gay athletes in Sochi, which a government figure dismissed as "provocation created out of fear to weaken a strong Russia."

MOSCOW – Russian officials have fired back at the Western media for what they called "biased" criticism of the country's preparations for the Sochi Winter Olympics, which is to kick off tonight in the Black Sea resort town.

"There is an impression that what is hiding behind the democratic principle of 'freedom of speech,' is not the diversity of opinion, but a well organized information war [against Russia]," Vladimir Yakunin, head of the state-run rail operator Russian Railways, said in his blog.

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He drew a comparison to the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, boycotted by several Western nations, including the United States, saying that the Olympics "is being used as a powerful instrument of lobbying for the interests of those who are irritated by Russia's successes."

He specifically mentioned Time, The Economist and German weekly Der Spiegel as publications that have run "biased" reports on Sochi.

On Thursday, Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister involved in Olympic preparations, seemed to lash out against the wave of international journalists who have been sharing Sochi horror stories on Twitter, such as photos of dirty water and missing doors in hotel rooms supplied to the press. "We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day," he was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying. A journalist reportedly tried to ask the minister whether he was suggesting that there is surveillance in media hotel rooms, but was quickly pulled away by an aide. 

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A spokesman for Kozak later said there is no surveillance in hotel rooms or bathrooms occupied by international guests, and that the minister was referring to surveillance that was in place during construction of Sochi's venues. 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ridiculed stories in the Western press about which foreign leaders are planning to attend the Sochi Games -- and what a snub might mean, diplomatically. "This is rubbish, nonsense," he was quoted as saying by the ministry's website. "I can't remember a single Olympic games that triggered this kind of talk -- discussion of how many heads of state are to show up."

Meanwhile, Google put a doodle on its homepage late on Thursday featuring six athletes across a rainbow banner, a symbol of support for the gay community following a recent law against "gay propaganda among minors." It was followed by a quote from the Olympic Charter condemning "discrimination of any kind."

Google's move triggered some angry reaction in Russia. "Our country is strong, powerful," Yelena Babich, head of the pro-government movement "St Petersburg as Russia's Spiritual Capital" told a correspondent for the RSN radio station. "Other [countries] are afraid of it and are looking for ways to weaken it."

She dismissed the doodle as "provocation" and denied there was any discrimination against the local gay community.