Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Putin puts on brave face as fears grow that his £32bn Winter Games will flop

A nervous President Putin flew to the Black Sea resort of Sochi yesterday in an urgent effort to reassure locals, environmentalists and international sports figures — among them the Formula One entrepreneur Bernie Ecclestone — that his cherished project of staging Russia’s first winter Olympics is not falling apart
According to government estimates published at the weekend, the 2014 event will be the most expensive Olympics to date. At £32 billion, they will cost six times as much as the Vancouver Games in 2010
Once the summer playground of the Soviet elite, favoured because of its sub-tropical climate, Sochi’s typical winter temperature is about 11C (52F) — so more than 430 snow cannon will have to be deployed. Worringly, the Games could make Sochi a target for pislamic insurgents in nearby republics like Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, and prices in the region are soaring as corrupt entrepreneurs, even underworld figures, grab a slice of the government money

Vladimir Putin is given a tour of facilities at the Krasnaya Polyana resort near Sochi

“In setting our priorities and choosing between money and the environment, we’re choosing the environment,” said the Russian leader. But the reality is somewhat different. Power cuts play havoc with the traffic lights. Only half of the required 42,000 hotel rooms have been built, and all-night, floodlit working has become the norm
A high-speed train line is being constructed to link sea-level sites with the mountain ridge where the skiing will take place — but the financial logic is dubious, and entirely dependent on the Sochi area transforming itself into a new Gstaad

The construction site of the Fisht Olympic stadium

In May 2011, the deputy of the European Parliament Werner Schulz led a delegation to the site, a trip organized by the Russian government. He also spoke with environmental activists. "Where we were, the officials created an impression that everything was fine, but I can't agree that completely. I fully support public activists. It is sad that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) permits holding games in such places, where the necessary infrastructure is not already in place"
Russian officialdom does not want to hear this criticism and at least two activists have found themselves in the dock

Critics say that preparations for the Sochi Games are currently a huge honeypot for corrupt officials and organized criminals, including alleged real estate swindles and inflated construction contracts. "Any project in Russia has a corruption component," says Yuli Nisnevich, chief researcher at the Moscow office of the global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International. "Usually it runs about 30% of the cost, but in the case of the Sochi Olympic Games we estimate it's much higher, probably around 50%," he says
Even more worrying is the on-going pislamic jihad in the North Caucasus. Although little reported on in the Western media, with few photographs available, it continues at a steady pace. It has become so bad that some Russian nationalists are now taking the position that the whole arselifter area should be separated from Russia

A Chechen terrorist in the North Caucasus of Russia

Map of the North Caucasus. Sochi is at the far left. Of the coloured areas, all are arselifter in their entirety except North Ossetia, which is Christian with an arselifter minority
News report here. Information on environmental issues here, on corruption here. On the pislamist jihad, scholarly analysis and summary of reports from the region here.