Moscow is shutting stretches of road around the capital for two days for the start of a 65,000-kilometer (40,400-mile) Olympic torch relay that ends at the Sochi Winter Games in February.
The flame, given its own seat on a flight from Athens and met at the airport by a military honor guard, will travel throughout Russia on a relay to “show the world Russia as she is, and as we love her,” President Vladimir Putin said yesterday in a Red Square ceremony.
The choreographed arrival was no match for the Russian weather as a wind gust extinguished the torch after his speech. An onlooker reignited it with the help of a Zippo-style lighter.
The country has broken records by pouring about $50 billion into preparations for the 2014 Winter Games. It’s trying to turn a Soviet-era resort town into a year-round world class destination. The international attention Russia has received so far has not always been positive, with some international groups upset over a law that punishes “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” Yandex NV, Russia’s biggest internet company, forecast traffic in the capital would be a 7 on a scale of 10 at 7 p.m. tonight, when some roads will remain shut for the relay.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who came in second in Moscow’s September mayoral election after Putin-backed candidate Sergei Sobyanin, said on his blog today the torches cost 207 million rubles ($6.4 million) and were supposed to function in -40 degrees Celsius and winds of up to 35 meters a second.
Another torch went out today as it was being carried within sight of the Kremlin, according to a video posted on YouTube.
Krasmash, the company that produced the torches, also designs Proton rockets. Russia launched a Proton-M Sept. 30, its first successful take-off since another Proton-M carrying three satellites worth billions of rubles exploded after liftoff in July.
The flame’s 123-day route will bring it from the Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea to Chukotka, the eastern region closest to the U.S. It will pass through 83 Russian regions and involve over 14,000 torchbearers, according to an Olympic website.
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said today he planned to carry the Olympic flame for about 200 meters along a Moscow avenue.
The Sochi Winter Olympics are scheduled for Feb. 6-23.