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Beijing Olympics could affect Russia's invasion of Ukraine, experts say

As fears of a possible invasion of Ukraine remain high, experts say the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing could affect Russia's plans to attack.

Mac Ross, faculty member at Western University's International Centre for Olympic Studies, told in a telephone interview Friday Russia may use the backdrop of the Olympic Games to invade Ukraine, as global attention will be elsewhere.

Ross noted that Russia has a history of using the guise of the Olympics to its advantage.

Russia's invasion of Crimea occurred in 2014 amid the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and in 2008, Russia invaded Georgia during the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Russia also took advantage of the Tokyo Games in 2020 to execute cyberattacks as part of a broader, worldwide hacking campaign.

"It's one of the biggest distractions in the world. Every two years, you have the world's attention glued on something other than tragedy," Ross explained. "So I think it really is the perfect Trojan horse for people who want to stage an invasion that is internationally condemned for the most part."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied he currently intends to attack Ukraine, but has warned that the U.S. and NATO have ignored Russia’s demands and left little room for compromise in the crisis.

While some 100,000 Russian troops have amassed near the border, Ukraine say a possible invasion is not imminent. Ukrainian officials report that the troops have not yet formed what is called a battle group to force its way over the border, which they say could take months.


If Russia were to invade the former Soviet state during the Beijing Olympics, Ross said it would be a "direct violation of everything the [International Olympic Committee] IOC claims to stand for," including the Olympic Truce.

According to the IOC, the tradition of the Olympic Truce was established in ancient Greece in the ninth century BC to ensure the host city state was not attacked so athletes and spectators could travel safely to the Games.

However, Ross said the modern version of the truce is "more marketing than substance."

"UN nations like to support it because it sounds nice and sounds like it promotes international friendship and harmony… But the reality is, if Russia or anybody else has decided to wage an offensive against another nation, they're going to do it anyway," Ross said.

He added that "it's not as if Russia has ever respected Olympic doctrines in the past."

A spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry underscored the importance Beijing attaches to the truce at a Jan. 14 press conference, saying countries should observe a traditional UN Olympic Truce resolution "from seven days before the start of the Olympic Games until seven days after the end of the Paralympic Games."

Putin is expected to join Chinese President Xi Jinping at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 4 despite Russian athletes not being permitted to use the Russian name, flag, or anthem following 2019's doping ban.

Christian Leuprecht, security analyst at the Royal Military College and Queen's University, says Russia's doping ban may actually increase Putin's desire to invade Ukraine during the Games a s a show of strength.

"Russians are going to be embarrassed anyways, because once again, they can't compete as Russia, so it's not just the cover of the Olympics, it's also the cover of the embarrassment of the extent to which the Russian bungled their internal doping," Leuprecht told in a telephone interview Thursday.

Leuprecht said Russia's previous attacks on Crimea and Georgia during past Olympic Games are "hardly coincidences" and now, Putin has a "limited window" to gain voter support ahead of Russia's 2023 election.

"He's brutally mishandled the pandemic, the economy is a disaster. So you need to keep your citizens onside. One of the ways you do that is you construct an external enemy and then you construct a big win against an enemy," Leuprecht explained.

Should Russia see the Olympic Games as its window to invade Ukraine, Ross noted that the Games won't be derailed unless it's a "world war situation."

"Once the Olympics are already unfolding, they won't stop them for a regional war like that," he said.

With a file from writer Christy Somos Top Stories

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