Yet in a less-noticed offense, Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the Olympics to advance his violations of international law — namely, as a tool for expanding Russia’s control over the occupied Georgian territory of Abkhazia. Despite the conquest of a neighboring nation — an action almost unheard of since World War Two and banned by the U.N. Charter — the international community has scarcely protested.
Russia has used the proximity of the Olympics to solidify its latest conquest. The main town of Abkhazia, Sukhumi, is a short drive from Sochi. Much of the materials for the massive Olympic construction projects — rock and cement — are taken from Abkhazia. Russia has quartered thousands of construction workers for the Games in Sukhumi, further blurring the lines between Georgian territory and Russia proper.
Russia and Georgia had clashed over the latter’s border provinces since the breakup of the Soviet Union. In 2008, Russia fought Georgia, its tiny neighbor, in a brief war that resulted in Moscow fully conquering two pockets of territory — South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In international law, these territories remain occupied parts of sovereign Georgian territory.
After the war, Russia recognized occupied Abkhazia as an “independent” state. Following the lead of Turkey’s “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” Russia sought to present the situation as one of cession and self-determination rather than aggressive conquest.