Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Window on Eurasia: UN Neither Blessed Sochi Plans as Moscow Claimed Nor Condemned Them as Activists Hoped

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 17 – A report by the United Nations environmental protection agency neither blessed the plans of the Russian government for the construction of facilities for the Sochi Olympiad planned for 2014 as Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak had claimed nor condemned them as unacceptable as ecological activists had hoped and even expected.
As posted on the UNEP website yesterday, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reports today, the conclusions of the international experts reflecting their brief visit to Sochi at the end of January were far “more nuanced” than either side expected. As a result, both sides in the debate are now seeking to put their spin on it (
Attention in Russia to the report, which is only four pages long, was guaranteed last week when Kozak, who is responsible for overseeing the government’s building program in Sochi, invoked its then-unpublished findings to accuse Russian NGOs of taking “an unconstructive position” about the games (
“Judging from the report,” the Moscow paper says, the UNEP experts have attempted not to offend either the Russian powers that be or the ecologists,” something they were able to do by narrowing their examination of the environmental impact to that of transportation links. As a result, the UN experts satisfied neither group.
At the same time, however, the report provided ammunition for both sides to continue the fight. On the one hand, the UN experts said they had compiled it “on the basis of the literature they had part of which may not contain real data” and they suggested that “additional efforts” should be made to collect information on site.
But on the other, the UN called on “all interested sides, both officials and NGOs to more actively cooperative with one another,” a call that the powers that be are unlikely to heed given what Kozak has already said and that the environmental activists are likely to view as yet another indication of international support for their cause.
The report’s specific “key recommendations” are likely to provoke more arguments in Russia as well. They include a call for “the conducting of an all-embracing analysis of the general impact of the projects of Olympic and touristic objects on the eco-system and the creation of Center for Monitoring the Caucasus Ethno-Region.
The Russian enterprise for the development of the Olympic site, Olimpstroy, told “Nezavisimaya gazeta” that it had received exactly the same recommendations from the UN experts when they were in Sochi, and the enterprise spokesmen insisted that they were taking all necessary steps to implement them.
But Mikhail Kreyndlin, a senior official of Greenpeace Russia, told the Moscow daily that “the [UN] report somewhat disappointed [him].” He said he had “hoped that it would be more concrete and specific,” rather than limiting itself to generalities with which no one could disagree.
He was especially angry that the report had called for “dialogue” between the activist community and the government. Such conversations, Kreyndlin concluded, “make no sense because none of the decisions [Olimpstroy or the government says it has taken] are ever implemented.” Everything remains at the level of PR.

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