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IOC should boot Russia, Belarus, says Wickenheiser

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6 minute read

Donna Spencer

From calling for ejection to athletes lobbying for more punishment, Canada has invested in sport sanctions against Russia on multiple fronts.

International sport governing bodies barring Russia from events in response its invasion of Ukraine means Russians will likely not compete in March’s women’s world curling championship in Prince George, B.C.

Six-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser was among Canadian and international athletes calling for the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee to take the ultimate step of booting Russia and invasion-supporter Belarus out of the Olympic and Paralympic movements.

“I 100 per cent believe until Russia, the aggressor in this war, and anyone supporting Russia and the invasion and the killing of innocent people, until that stops Russia has no place in the Olympic movement, which is about peace and the world working together,” Wickenheiser told The Canadian Press on Monday.

“I think they need to ban Russia, Belarus.”

Just over a week after the close of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the IOC recommended Monday that Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials be excluded from competition by international sport federations.

Wickenheiser, who capped her eight-year term on the IOC’s athletes commission this year, says that edict lacks teeth as has the IOC’s handling of Russia’s doping scandal since 2014.

“Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed this dance with Russia for eight years. It’s always appeasement,” she said. “There’s never harsh enough sanctions taken and it’s time for that.”

The Canadian Olympic Committee and the COC Athletes’ Commission echoed  Wickenheiser’s call for a ban.

The organizations said in a joint statement Monday that they “strongly urge all Canadian national sport organizations and organizations hosting international sporting events in Canada to immediately rescind invitations and bar the participation of athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus.”

FIFA and the World Curling Federation were among the world sport bodies moving against Russia and Belarus on Monday, with Canada’s domestic bodies following suit.

The International Ice Hockey Federation also held an emergency meeting which could impact the field for the men’s world under-20 hockey championship in Alberta in August.

The WCF amended its rules with the intention of kicking Russia out of upcoming world championships, including the 13-country women’s tournament March 19-27 in Prince George.

If more than 10 per cent of its member countries object in a three-day span, however, the amendment isn’t immediate and gets punted to the next WCF assembly.

The Russians had yet to declare a representative team for Prince George. Curling Canada doesn’t want them there now.

“The invasion of Ukraine, a democracy, and an important member of our World Curling membership, must be met with swift and assertive sanctions that makes a strong statement of our collective values, our ethical stance, and, first and foremost, demonstrates concern for the safety and the freedoms of the people of Ukraine,” Curling Canada said in a statement.

“We also urge the WCF to continue working toward addressing longstanding, serious concerns that we and other member nations have raised about the culture of sport in Russia. These concerns must be dealt with in order to ensure a level playing field for all athletes, and to remain true to the spirit of curling.”

FIFA, under considerable pressure when Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic refused to play World Cup qualifiers against Russia, suspended the latter country Monday. Canada joined in the condemnation.

“In steadfast support of Ukraine, its people and Ukrainian Canadians who represent the third largest Ukrainian population outside of Ukraine and Russia, Canada Soccer, its member associations and clubs will not compete at any level against Russia until sovereignty and territorial integrity are restored,” Canada Soccer said in a statement.

“We wholeheartedly condemn the hostile attack on Ukraine by Russia and stand united with Ukrainians here in Canada and around the globe.”

Wickenheiser was among over a dozen Canadian athletes alongside Clara Hughes, Beckie Scott and Kyle Shewfelt signing a Global Athlete letter addressed to IOC and IPC presidents Thomas Bach and Andrew Parsons respectively demanding the removal of Russia and Belarus.

A Hockey Hall of Famer and four-time Olympic gold medallist, Wickenheiser wasn’t optimistic about the IOC’s willingness to eject those countries.

“To this day, in everything I’ve seen, I don’t feel there’s the courage and the strength to do it,” she said. “However, I believe that they have the ability to do it if there’s enough will and pressure from inside.

“It will come down to what the membership of the IOC believes and feels and how much pressure they can put on Bach to make the decision.

“I’d like to think there’s enough humanity in the IOC that they would do this, but I’ve also seen politics and money, those things have won out over doing the right thing, particularly when it comes to Russia over the years. It’s just so blatantly obvious.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2022.

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Russians rush for flights out amid partial reservist call-up

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By Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Large numbers of Russians rushed to book one-way tickets out of the country while they still could Wednesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of military reservists for the war in Ukraine.

Flights filled up quickly and the prices of tickets for remaining connections sky-rocketed, apparently driven by fears that Russia’s borders could soon close or of a broader call-up that might send many Russian men of fighting age to the war’s front lines.

Tickets for the Moscow-Belgrade flights operated by Air Serbia, the only European carrier besides Turkish Airlines to maintain flights to Russia despite a European Union flight embargo, sold out for the next several days. The price for flights from Moscow to Istanbul or Dubai increased within minutes before jumping again, reaching as high as 9,200 euros ($9,119) for a one-way economy class fare.

Putin’s decree stipulates that the amount of people called to active duty will be determined by the Defense Ministry. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a televised interview that 300,000 reservists with relevant combat and service experience initially would be mobilized.

Russia has seen a marked exodus of citizens since Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine almost seven months ago. During the early morning address to the nation in which the president announced the partial mobilization of reservists, he also issued a veiled nuclear threat to Russia’s enemies in the West.

Reports of panic spreading among Russians soon flooded social networks. Anti-war groups said the limited airplane tickets out of Russia reached enormous prices due to high demand and swiftly became unavailable.

Some postings alleged people already had been turned back from Russia’s land border with Georgia and that the website of the state Russian railway company collapsed because too many people were checking for ways out of the country.

Social networks in Russian also surged with advice on how to avoid the mobilization or leave the country.

Russian officials sought to calm the public, stressing that the call-up would affect a limited number of people fitting certain criteria. However, conflicting statements and a lack of details helped fuel the panic.

The head of the Duma defense committee, Andrei Kartapolov, said there would be no additional restrictions on reservists leaving Russia based on this mobilization. But he also advised individuals who could be eligible for the call-up against “traveling to resorts in Turkey.”

“Spend your vacation at the resorts of Crimea or (Russia’s southern) Krasnodar region,” Russian media quoted Kartapolov as saying.

Avtozak, a Russian group that monitors political demonstrations and detentions, reported that some participants were detained at anti-mobilization demonstrations in several cities.

A group based in Serbia, called Russians, Belarussians, Ukrainians and Serbs Together Against War, tweeted that there were no available flights to Belgrade from Russia until mid-October. Flights to Turkey, Georgia or Armenia also sold out, according to the Belgrade-based group.

“All the Russians who wanted to go to war already went,” the group said. “No one else wants to go there!”

Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, has become a popular destination for Russians during the war. Up to 50,000 Russians have fled to Serbia since Russia invaded Ukraine and many opened businesses, especially in the IT sector.

Russians don’t need visas to enter Serbia, which is the only European country which has not joined Western sanctions against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine.

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AP Writers Jovana Gec and Daria Litvinova contributed to this story.

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Putin sets partial mobilization in Russia, threatens enemies

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By Karl Ritter in Kyiv

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization in Russia as the war in Ukrainereaches nearly seven months and Moscow loses ground on the battlefield. Putin also warned the West that “it’s not a bluff” that Russia would use all the means at its disposal to protect its territory.

The total number of reservists to be called up is 300,000, officials said.

The Russian leader’s televised address to the nation released Wednesday came a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming integral parts of Russia. Putin’s remarks also come against the backdrop of the U.N. General Assembly in New York at which Moscow was warned about its referendum plans.

The Kremlin-backed efforts to swallow up four regions could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war following Ukrainian successes. The referendums, which have been expected to take place since the first months of the war, will start Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.

Putin accused the West in engaging in “nuclear blackmail” and noted “statements of some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.”

“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate components and more modern than those of NATO countries and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said.

He added: “It’s not a bluff.”

Putin said he has signed a decree on the partial mobilization, which is due to start on Wednesday.

“We are talking about partial mobilization, that is, only citizens who are currently in the reserve will be subject to conscription, and above all, those who served in the armed forces have a certain military specialty and relevant experience,” Putin said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a televised interview Wednesday that only those with relevant combat and service experience will be mobilized.

Shoigu also said that 5,937 Russian soldiers have died in the Ukraine conflict, far lower than Western estimates that Russia has lost tens of thousands.

Putin said the decision to partially mobilize was “fully adequate to the threats we face, namely to protect our homeland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to ensure the security of our people and people in the liberated territories.”

Earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed the referendum plans as “noise” and thanked Ukraine’s allies for condemning the votes scheduled to start Friday.

In his nightly address Zelenskyy said there were lots of questions surrounding the announcements but stressed that they would not change Ukraine’s commitment to retake areas occupied by Russian forces.

“The situation on the front line clearly indicates that the initiative belongs to Ukraine,” he said. “Our positions do not change because of the noise or any announcements somewhere. And we enjoy the full support of our partners in this.”

Even a partial mobilization is likely to increase dismay among Russians about the war. The Vesna opposition movement called for nationwide protests on Wednesday, saying “Thousands of Russian men — our fathers, brothers and husbands — will be thrown into the meat grinder of the war. What will they be dying for? What will mothers and children be crying for?”

It was unclear how many would dare to protest amid Russia’s overall suppression of opposition and harsh laws against discrediting soldiers and the military operation.

The upcoming referendum votes are all but certain to go Moscow’s way. They were quickly dismissed as illegitimate by Western leaders who are backing Kyiv with military and other support that has helped its forces seize momentum on battlefields in the east and south.

“I thank all friends and partners of Ukraine for today’s mass principled firm condemnation of Russia’s attempts to stage new sham referenda,” Zelenskyy said.

In another signal that Russia is digging in for a protracted and possibly ramped-up conflict, the Kremlin-controlled lower of house of parliament voted Tuesday to toughen laws against desertion, surrender and looting by Russian troops. Lawmakers also voted to introduce possible 10-year prison terms for soldiers refusing to fight.

If approved, as expected, by the upper house and then signed by Putin, the legislation would strengthen commanders’ hands against failing morale reported among soldiers.

In the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar, shelling continued around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Ukrainian energy operator Energoatom said Russian shelling again damaged infrastructure at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and briefly forced workers to start two diesel generators for emergency power to the cooling pumps for one of the reactors.

Such pumps are essential for avoiding a meltdown at a nuclear facility even though all six of the plant’s reactors have been shut down. Energoatom said the generators were later switched off as main power weas restored.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has been a focus for concern for months because of fears that shelling could lead to a radiation leak. Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the shelling.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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