Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Window on Eurasia: ‘Will The Sochi Olympiad Take Place as Scheduled?’

Paul Goble

Baku, February 13 – An offhand comment by President Vladimir Putin during his recent swing through the North Caucasus should have alerted both Russians and the world of a very serious problem: Besides some speeches and press releases filled with bravado, Moscow has done very little to prepare for the Sochi Olympics.
During his stop in Krasnodar kray, Putin correctly pointed out that “there isn’t all that much time left before the beginning of the Olympiad [in 2014]. It’s time to stop drawing up plans and begin building,” making use of the 12 billion dollar budget the Kremlin has called for (
In an article posted online yesterday, Aleksandr Steklov argues that one can only agree that there is very little time left for such a massive program. “the four years remaining,” he says, “will fly by like storm clouds in May over the Black Sea.” But Putin is wrong to say that those involved should “stop drawing up plans.”
The reason, Steklov says, is that “it is not time to stop because in reality, such planning of the Olympic sites still has not even begun.” Even worse, he says, no one has done the necessary studies of the soils and ground water conditions that will determine whether the foundations will hold or the buildings put on them will fall over.
“No one knows” the answers to these critical questions “because up to now not only have there not been any results of such investigative work … but this work” which involves finding the answers to “the most important first-order questions” has still not even begun. And consequently, no one can be sure what will be possible.
In one sense, that should not surprise anyone, Steklov continues. The State Corporation responsible for this “has not begun work” and its director spends most of his time in “misty London” rather than on the ground in Sochi making sure that his organization will be able to fulfill its task.
Some regional officials, perhaps fearful that their chance for wealth and status is about to pass them by, have created an alternative body to press forward. But if “there are not yet seven nannies” involved in this project, there are already two, and “for any child, even that is not a good thing.”
“Who then is responsible for such a serious undertaking as the preparation of the Sochi Olympic Games?” Steklov asks. And he concludes that “so far, in essence, no one” is. But the situation is even more dire than that because Moscow has few of the most critical resources from which to draw..
Over the last 20 years of chaos, he suggests, Russia has failed to train the kind of experts who can do the evaluations of the ground and thus prepare for the construction of venues that won’t fall down on participants in the competition or those who come to see them.
Some involved in this fiasco are already thinking about recruiting such people abroad, but they are going to be disappointed in the place they are looking to first. “there simply is not a large enough quantity of available and qualified construction workers in Europe” at the present time.
Russia could turn to the Chinese who almost certainly could do the job that Russians cannot, Steklov says, but most likely Russia will simply proceed as it has so often in the past, putting things together on a crash basis and then watching them fall apart, quite possibly right in front an international audience.
And there is yet another possibility that Steklov implies but does not flesh out: Moscow might hold what it would call the Sochi Olympiad but actually stage it in various already existing structures elsewhere in the Russian Federation, a step that in its own way would raise the question “will the Sochi Olympiad take place as scheduled?”

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