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Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics: Corruption and Abuse in Sochi (Part 3/3)

Will abandoned facilities and a damaged environment be the legacy of Sochi 2014? [Read part one and two.]

*[Note: The following is a translated report written by Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and solidarity activist Leonid Martynyuk, detailing allegations of rampant corruption in the preparations for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. This is an abridged version; the full report can be found in The Interpreter.]

With great reluctance, the authorities have discussed what will happen to the Olympic buildings after February 2014. After all, no one plays hockey in Sochi, does ice-racing or figure-skating. You cannot name a single biathloner, skier or figure skater native to Sochi.

Moreover, Greater Sochi is a city with a population of up to half a million people. The number of seats in the Olympic buildings is about 200,000. Clearly, the stadiums, except for the days of the Olympics, are going to go empty. Zhemchuzhina, the only previously-existing large soccer stadium in Sochi, was filled to capacity of 10,000 fans only once, during its opening.

A separate question is the power supply to all these billion-dollar facilities during and after the Olympics and the expenditures on their maintenance. Proceeding from the declared requirement of 650 MWe, the cost of the electricity alone (without the heating) required during the Olympics will be $1 million a day. To support all the buildings after the Olympics in working condition will also require supplying electricity. Even if we suppose that the electricity requirements will reduce by a factor of two, it will still cost 15 million rubles a day.

And, since the heating costs to maintain the Olympic buildings will reach 10 billion rubles a year, that will be half of the budget of the city of Sochi. Who will pay for all this? Most likely, the Olympic stadiums will slowly but surely become unfit for use. And this is despite an enormous shortage of winter sports facilities throughout all of Russia.

Energy Risks

Sochi is a city of energy shortages. The usage of electrical energy by the city amounts to 450-550 megawatts. The Olympic buildings have high energy consumption. In order to secure the normal functioning of the games, a capacity of more than 650 MWe is required; that is, the Olympics will require more energy than a city of half a million people. By March 2013, two powerful thermal stations were operating within the city — Sochi with a capacity of 160 MWe and Adler with 360 MWe. Thus, Sochi's own capacity (550 MWe) covers only part of the needs of the city. With the Olympics, the overall demand for power will be more than 12,000 MWe.

Throughout 2012, more than a thousand power outages were recorded due to breaks in the power lines and the deplorable condition of network management in the city. That is, on average, the electricity will shut off three times a day in various districts of Sochi.

At present, active work is underway in Sochi to modernize the network and build high-voltage power transfer lines.

Many years of observation have indicated, however, that in February the more favorable weather conditions lead to icing and breakages of even the most modern power lines. So we cannot rely on an uninterrupted transfer of power from Kuban. The most realistic situation is that the power supply will be realized by the city’s own internal resources. Obviously, with the energy shortage, priority will be given to the Olympic buildings. So the risk that the city will live in the dark during the Olympics is very high.

There is a proposal to deploy nine mobile power stations in the Imeret Lowlands with a combined capacity of 200 MWe, in order to resolve the problem of supplying power to the Olympics, but that will help the city.

Climate Risks

In the mountain cluster of Sochi-Krasnaya Polyana, competitions are planned for ski races, biathlon, ski jumping, downhill skiing and other open-air winter sports. The weather in February 2013 in Krasnaya Polyana was characterized by high temperatures in comparison to previous years. The average daytime air temperature in Krasnaya Polyana from February 7-23 (the days of the games) is predicted at +8 C. This is two to four times greater than in the previous five years.

There is a hypothesis that the sharp warming of Krasnaya Polyana was caused by the predatory actions of chopping down forests and building tunnels and bridges during the course of constructing the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway. Essentially, the road has become a pipe through which warm air from the Black Sea is pumped through the gorge of Krasnaya Polyana. Undoubtedly, this hypothesis needs confirmation through weather observations for a number of years.

The situation is made more complex since there is not a single full-fledged study regarding the influence of the Olympic construction on the environmental and climate situation in Krasnaya Polyana and Imeret Lowlands.

If our hypothesis is confirmed, it will mean that Krasnaya Polyana will cease to be a winter resort and all the investments in the games will have been thrown to the wind.

Logistical Risks

Foreign athletes who have taken part in competitions at the Olympic facilities, note the low level of organization for the athletic events. Here is what Marie Doren Aber, the French Olympic prize winner and world champion in the biathlon, wrote after coming to Sochi for the pre-Olympic phase of the World Cup in the biathlon:

"Sochi is a ghost town. Wealthy homes built like mushrooms in the mud, excavating everywhere, tired workers all around. Everything is empty, everything makes me feel uncomfortable. After the difficult journey here, we waited several hours in the airport. We showed our passports many times, photographed ourselves and photographed the rifle, and waited until it was put in the registry. Patience – help us! Now we are living in little wooden homes not far from the stadium. I don’t know what will change here in a year, but for now I think that Sochi is a waste of money, and it doesn’t feel like the Olympic spirit.”

Technical Risks

During the preparation for the Olympics, several accidents occurred.

In December 2009, a grade seven storm washed away the cargo port under construction. While the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway was being constructed, as a result of flooding on the Mzymta River, a large quantity of road construction vehicles were washed away and drowned. During the construction of the Kurortny Avenue bypass, the tunnel collapsed on one of the third-line parcels, and a residential home sunk. Twice, Olympics infrastructure — highways and train stations – has been flooded. The shore reinforcements built by the Rotenbergs’ company Inzhtransstroy began to fall soon after they were put into use. In 2012, there were 40 accidents at Olympics construction sites and 25 people were killed.

The poor quality of the construction, the violation of technical standards and rules are connected with the use of cheap and poorly-qualified labor. A paradoxical development has taken place – despite the astronomical budget of 1.5 trillion rubles ($46 billion), wages earned often do not reach the workers. Instead, they end up in the pockets of general contractors, sub-contractors, and sub-sub contractors.

The workers who tried to stand up for their rights to wages became victims of violence. Thus, in June 2013, a resident of Sochi, Mardiros Demerchyan, who demanded his full wages for work at one of the Olympic construction sites, was subjected to abuse and torture by police officers.

In October 2013, a resident of Orenburg, Roman Kuznetsov, who had taken part in the building of the main media center at the Imeret Lowlands, sewed his mouth shut as a sign of protest against the non-payment of wages and demonstrated at the entrance of the media center with several posters.

As a result, thousands of migrants were brought to the Olympic construction sites and are paid miserable wages – and even these are delayed. According to Human Rights Watch, which published a 67-page report dubbed "Olympic Anti-Records: Exploitation of Labor Migrants During Preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics Games in Sochi," more than 16,000 migrants from the former Soviet republics have worked in Sochi. According to officials of the Federal Migration Service, nearly 14,500 people came from Uzbekistan alone.

Moreover, many buildings have not been completed on schedule. That means, in the last stage of the preparation for the Olympics, work is underway in an emergency regimen when no one is thinking about quality and techniques. It must be noted that the construction of stadiums in the Imeret Lowlands is being done in a swamp, with hard foundations absent to a depth of 170 meters. The lack of high-quality finished projects, the high seismicity, and irreversible changes to the course of the Mzymta River leave no doubt that the main Olympic buildings are still to bring us quite a few surprises.

Terrorist Risks

The Olympics will take place in the North Caucasus, in a region with a traditionally high terrorist threat level. It cannot be ruled out that some terrorist groups may try to carry out an attack on participants and guests of the Olympics. We hope that Vladimir Putin, by virtue of his professional affiliation [with the KGB], understands these risks sufficiently and will try to minimize them.

The lack of information on the real state of affairs in the North Caucasus does not enable us to realistically evaluate the level of the terrorist threat.

Boycott Risks

A political boycott of the Sochi Olympics is very unlikely. But a civic boycott is possible.

People are outraged by the unprecedented expenditures and thievery at the construction of the Olympic Games, as well as the destruction of the environment which took place during construction and the political persecution in Russia; they are actively calling for a citizens’ boycott.

This would entail a refusal to visit the Olympic events, a refusal to buy goods with the Olympic logos, and a refusal to watch the Olympic competitions. Many residents of Sochi, representatives of the opposition, and environmental and human rights groups support the civic boycott.

The problem is that, under the conditions of political censorship, few people know about the citizens’ boycott.

Risk of "Hospitality"

If you think that if you have bought a ticket to the Olympic competitions you will see them, you are mistaken. Due to the efforts of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), you must still obtain a "fan passport." The FSB is not telling us what waiting lines might be involved in this, and what sort of scandals and mess-ups are likely to occur. We can only guess.

There is a high risk that the Olympics will take place with half-empty stadiums, which does not add to the athletes’ optimism.

The conditions of the Sochi roads, even before the Olympics, has been characterized by incredible traffic jams, by comparison with which Moscow crawls seem completely tolerable. With the influx of high-ranking bureaucrats and official delegations, used to regular halting of traffic to let them speed by, the situation on the roads will be a real nightmare. "We went to a restaurant and landed in a terrible traffic jam. The road was closed before the arrival of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev," Noah Hoffman, an American skier, said with surprise.

Sochi was never distinguished by its European level of service. Here is what Belarusian biathlonist Nadezhda Skardino had to say:

"For two days, in three out of three stores, clerks tried to deceive us. When we complained they replied, ‘And what do you think, you have landed in a fairy-tale?’ The prices on goods are not real, and the receipt mechanism suddenly broke down and then it turned out that the total on the receipt was ten times higher than the price of the item purchased. Alright, we know how to get to the bottom of this, but poor foreigners likely will not notice that they are being deceived."

But for the residents of the city, the Olympics will hardly be a holiday. Due to the transportation problems, the flood of official delegations and the Chekists [KGB], the majority of potential spectators may prefer to stay home.

Modern Russia

The Winter Olympics in Sochi has become one of the most monstrous scandals in the history of modern Russia.

The above-mentioned flaws can only be fixed by changing the political system, and that means changing the crony bandit capitalism of Putin and moving to a full-fledged democracy and competitive economy.

For this to happen, we consider it necessary to create a public committee to investigate Olympics crimes. Lawyers, economics, public figures, ecologists and human rights advocates should join the committee. The work of the committee should be as public as possible. Without public pressure, Putin’s subordinates will not do anything. On the contrary, they will hide their tracks.

Ahead is the FIFA World Cup in 2018. The start-up amount of financing is astronomical — 1.39 trillion rubles ($43 billion). If we want to see that budget increase to 5.5 trillion at the expense of robbing Russia and all of us (that is, to quadruple as happened with the Olympics), then the investigation of crimes at the Winter Olympics must be brought to completion.

*[Note: View an interactive map of corruption in Sochi complied by the Institute of Modern Russia.]

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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