WASHINGTON — While the games will be played, a presidential delegation — led by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. — will not be going to the upcoming Paralympics in Sochi because of Russian military aggression in Ukraine, a first small rebuke in a series of sanctions the U.S. and European allies are contemplating.
Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war vet, was preparing to depart on Wednesday, leading a six-member delegation to the games. The Paralympics start with an opening ceremony Friday and run through March 16.
When Russian troops moved into Crimea last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin tossed away whatever good will he earned last month after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics, a Russian investment of $50 billion in Sochi for the games.
“In addition to other measures we are taking in response to the situation in Ukraine, the United States will no longer send a presidential delegation to the upcoming Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi. President Obama continues to strongly support all of the U.S. athletes who will participate in the Paralympics and wishes them great success in the Olympic competition,” White House National Security Council spokesman Caitlin Hayden said in a Monday statement.
Duckworth, who lost her legs and most of the use of an arm when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq, deplored the Russian military moves.
“As a member of Congress, it is my first priority to ensure the safety of my constituents and all Americans. I remain appalled by the immoral and illegal actions of the Russian government and believe that there must be consequences for its behavior,” Duckworth said in a statement. “The international community must stand together to support the sovereignty of the Ukraine and end the suffering of its people.”
“The Paralympic Games are an inspiration to millions of disabled people around the globe, and it is tragic that the reckless actions of the Russian government are jeopardizing them. Still, these brave Paralympians have shown tremendous perseverance throughout their entire lives and I know they will make all Americans proud in Sochi,” she said.
The United Kingdom announced its leaders, including Prince Edward, are boycotting the Sochi Paralympics. British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote on his Twitter account, “Because of the serious situation in Ukraine . . . I believe it would be wrong for UK Ministers to attend the Sochi Paralympics.”
I talked with a USA Paralympics official on Monday who told me most of the U.S. athletes are in or en route to Sochi.
Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the United States Olympic Committee, said in a statement, “as a sports organization, we will continue to fully support the amazing men and women that comprise Team USA at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, and we encourage all Americans to support our athletes by watching them compete on NBC, NBCSN and on TeamUSA.org.”
As for other sanctions, the U.S. and allies in the G-7 already pulled out of planning sessions for the G-8 in Sochi in June, and it is entirely possible the meeting will be canceled and Russia tossed out of the organization if the situation in Ukraine is not resolved.
On Monday, speaking at the start of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama underscored the sanctions Russia faces.
Said Obama, “And what we are also indicating to the Russians is that if, in fact, they continue on the current trajectory that they’re on, that we are examining a whole series of steps — economic, diplomatic — that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and its status in the world.”