Vancouver Olympics: Embarrassed Russia looks to 2014 Sochi Olympics
Russia's dismal showing at the Vancouver Olympics may be the least of the Kremlin's worries as allegations of corruption mar preparations for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
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"Sochi is the warmest place in Russia, with no infrastructure, no experience in winter sports – it doesn't even have a hockey team – and many other problems," he says. Among those he lists corruption, which he says has reached Olympean heights amid the scramble for the kind of gold that comes from construction contracts.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Putin told Russian journalists this week that everything is going according to plan in Sochi, and that by the time the Olympics open in 2014 some 207 new "objects" will have been completed, including six ice stadiums and a vast mountaintop complex that will include a ski center, a bobsled run, a snowboard park, a biathlon center, and an Olympic ski jump, along with dozens of hotels, resorts and associated services.
Though everything must be built from scratch, Putin said, "that gives us the opportunity to construct everything at the highest level."
The $130-million road
But Mr. Nemtsov claims that a road being built along the left bank of the Mzymta River, to connect the mountaintop sports venue of Krasnaya Polyana with the seaside Olympic center, will be the world's most expensive road.
"This road is costing $130 million per kilometer to build," he says. "That's about 50 times the average cost of a highway in the United States and an indication of how utterly corrupt these preparations around Sochi have become."
Last year Nemtsov, a co-chair of the opposition Solidarnost movement, stood as a candidate in Sochi mayoral elections that were won overwhelmingly by the Kremlin-backed favorite. Many critics at the time decried what they called a stage-managed election marked by fraud, suppression of media freedom, and the massive deployment of official resources to ensure the desired result.
Russian environmentalists, for their part, are furious about the new Olympic mountain road and associated high-speed rail link, which they say are unnecessary because there already is an adequate two-lane highway connecting Krasnaya Polyana with Sochi, along the river's less ecologically sensitive right bank.
"To build this new road they've already chopped down ancient forests and destroyed rare species of trees, all in what was formerly a strictly protected National Park," says Igor Chestin, CEO of the World Wildlife Federation's Russian branch.
Environmentalists are extremely worried about the mountain cluster at Krasnaya Polyana, where some facilities – like the bobsled run – will affect the adjacent national park, a UNESCO heritage site that is the largest surviving alpine wilderness in Europe.
Mr. Chestin says the mountain complex has already interfered with the migratory patterns of many local species, including the brown bear, red deer, wild boar, ibex, and a very rare breed of mountain antelope called chamois.
"A very high price is being paid for the rush with which many of these Olympic objects are being built," he says. "There might be ways to minimize the adverse effects of this hasty construction, but these are not being realized."