Combine Putin’s grand vision of revitalizing and showcasing a new Russia through the Sochi Olympics and the terrible geography of Sochi itself, and you get a perfect situation for costly and seemingly stupid mistakes. Here’s just a few examples of how the building process was botched.
One such project that was undertaken was the road and railway from the beach town Adler to the mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana, the location of the ski and snowboard events. This one 31 mile road project managed to cost $8.7 billion. Yeah you read that correctly, $8.7 billion which is more than the cost of the entire Vancouver Winter Olympics. To highlight the level of inefficiency and exorbitance of the road costs, Russian Esquire has calculated that for that amount of money, the entire road could be paved with a centimeter of black caviar. What makes the cost even more ridiculous is the fact that once the Olympics are over, there is no reason for the road or railway to be used in any sort of useful capacity.
The actual resort of Krasnaya Polyana also suffered from it’s own construction issues. The ski jump site in particular was a display of mismanagement and poor planning on the part of the Russians. There was no inquiry into the geological composition of the site and whether the site would be a suitable area to attempt and construct a ski jump site. Beyond the underground caverns that would make the area susceptible to flooding and erosion, the Russians also tore up huge chunks of trees, which made the area even more vulnerable to erosion. And as luck would have it, the site suffered a major landslide in 2012 that delayed construction even more. The price estimate for the cost of the ski jump site had also risen from $40 million all the way to $265 million due to the poor planning by the construction companies. When Putin himself came to visit the site, he was very critical of the huge increase in price and the constant construction delays. The next day Akhmed Bilalov, the Vice President of the Russian Olympic Committee and the man in charge of overseeing construction for the ski site, was accused of abusing his power as the head of a state owned company. Whether he was actually guilty of the charges brought against him or if he was just a convenient scapegoat for the Russian government is still not clear
The Russian Corruption
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that given Putin’s willingness to use massive amounts money to build and Olympic venue from the ground up in Sochi, the opportunity for widespread corruption was well, widespread. Because the Olympics were a matter of national pride and important to Putin’s legacy, there was an understanding from the government officials and construction firms that they did not have to be shy about asking for more money. The ease with which extra funds could requested by these government officials and contractors meant that :
1)Officials and heads of companies could request more money for their own pockets under the premise of requesting for more construction funds and
2) The construction of the Olympic venues and infrastructure could be done without proper research or efficient methods since there was always more money to pay for mistakes or oversights.
Now supposedly, Putin is upset about the high level of corruption and ineptitude that has come about since the construction in and around Sochi began.According the Bloomberg Businessweek:
It’s received wisdom in Moscow that the state will crack down on at least some of the more egregious cases of fraud and abuse in Olympic construction—once the Games are over and attention has moved on. Stephen Sestanovich, a former U.S. ambassador-at-large to the former Soviet Union and now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says he recently met with a high-ranking Russian official who told him, “When all the celebrations are over, then the prosecutors come in.”
But are these prosecutors really going to seek out the people actually responsible for stealing money and botching the completion of the construction in Sochi? Or will they seek out scapegoats and allow those in charge of the corruption slip by? According to the Opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov and Leonid Martynyuk , two of Putin’s childhood friends, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, have themselves received 21 contracts that equates up to 14% of the entire Sochi Olympics spending. Cronyism and inside deals are common in determining who gets these lucrative construction deals. (For a even more in depth report of all the corruption, inefficiencies and ecological problems that are surrounding the Sochi Olympics, take a look at the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s site, it has an interactive map of Sochi that highlights the failures of the Russian government and Putin.) These Olympics will have a huge impact on Putin’s legacy, and that legacy will involve much more than just the level of competition at the games itself. Was part of Putin’s vision for a new Russia filling the pockets of his friends and other high ranking officials? We’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, go for gold USA, and watch out for the stray dogs, they’re not all friendly.