Typically, the Olympic Games are an opportunity for the international community to come together by promoting peace and preserving human dignity through sport. But this year's Games run the risk of being tarnished by a Russian Olympic official who has been enabling the Syrian regime.
Russia's richest man, a steel tycoon named Vladimir Lisin, has been helping supply Russian-made arms to the Syrian government responsible for slaughtering thousands of its own people. According to news reports, just one day after the Houla massacre, one of Lisin's ships reached Syria's second largest port to offload an alleged shipment of weapons from St. Petersburg.
Vladimir Lisin by Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg
The Russian government has rewarded Lisin's loyalty with a top position on their Olympic Committee. And as the families in Syria continue to live in terror amid falling bombs and sniper fire, Lisin is traveling to London to participate in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies.
Over 19,000 people have been killed in Syria and the violence intensifies every day. A protracted civil war in Syria now seems inevitable, which will undoubtedly lead to the loss of many more civilian lives. In fact, the situation in Syria is now officially being called a civil war by the International Red Cross.
Yet, Russia continues to support Assad's murderous regime -- recently vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution that would support negotiations -- and people like Lisin are profiting from it.
The multi-billion dollar arms trade between Russia and Syria has been well exposed in recent months. In 2011, the Russian government provided over $1 billion in weapons to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and over recent weeks attempted to ship attack helicopters and munitions to the Syrian military.
The profits that Lisin has made are now tarnishing Russia's gold at the Olympics. The oligarch is offering $1 million as reward to every Russian athlete who wins gold at the 2012 games. While the aim of prize money is to inspire gold medal success, it will leave those achievements with a bloody tarnish.
Keeping Lisin from attending the games will add to the much-needed international pressure against Russia and the arms dealers enabling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. We must insist that those who enable Syria's continued attacks on its own men, women and children pay a price.
It should be made clear to the London Organizing Committee: There is no room at this year's Games for individuals who enable mass atrocities for their own financial gain.
It's not too late to keep Vladimir Lisin from participating in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Add your voice to the tens of thousands who have sent a note to the London Olympic Organizing Committee: http://bit.ly/NUEd7D
Together we will stop the deadly flow of arms into Syria by exposing unscrupulous weapons dealers like Vladimir Lisin.