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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The WWF, which was formerly working closely with Russian authorities, has pulled out of one consultative committee and is threatening to end its cooperation altogether over what it says is a failure to honor decisions that have been agreed upon after painstaking discussion and study.Skip to next paragraph
"Many conclusions that have been arrived at just don't get implemented. It's very frustrating," says Chestin.
Environmentalists are also up in arms over the imposition of a special "border regime" in the area of Olympic construction, which puts the entire zone under control of Russia's FSB security service. They charge that security forces are using border regulations to selectively harass and in some cases arrest environmental activists and other protesters.
And this week the independent, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders weighed in with a report that accuses Russian authorities of stifling media criticism of Olympic snafus and "press-ganging them into supporting the Kremlin policy of 'the games at any cost.' "
Suffocating the media
Some Russian experts agree.
"Too many issues are solved without any public airing at all, and officials suffocate media attempts to gain access," says Mikhail Melnikov, an expert with the Center for Journalism in Extreme situations, a Moscow-based media watchdog.
"All big construction projects mean big money and there is no secret that big money in Russia is closely connected with corruption," he adds. "Any journalist who writes about this is running a big risk. Our leaders talk about the need to fight corruption, but in practice local officials prevent any information from becoming public," he adds.
Nemtsov argues that it might be wiser to consider holding the Games in Moscow, where plenty of Olympic-quality facilities and infrastructure already exist, rather than continuing the rapid and allegedly heedless development of Sochi. But he says that the political reputation of Vladimir Putin has become so intertwined with the Sochi venue that no discussion of alternatives is possible.
"Putin believes that this is his personal project. He's very proud that he brought the Winter Games home for Sochi, and this will be the enduring legacy of himself and his presidency," says Nemtsov.
"So, he's ready to spend unlimited funds, and take any kind of environmental risks, to make it happen."