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Putin's £31 billion nightmare

Vladimir Putin says that he is not anti-gay. And adds that he’s even in favour of the right to self-determination. For the macho Russian president, black is white and white is black.

Replying to the BBC’s Andrew Marr’s softly-softly questioning, Putin said that no harm would come to gays at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. But in bigoted remarks, Putin had already casually linked gays to paedophilia and warned athletes to stay away from children.

As to self-determination, this astonishing claim is made by the man who oversaw a reign of terror in the republic of Chechnya when he first came to power, reflecting the Great Russian chauvinism so beloved of Kremlin leaders.

The release of Pussy Riot singers and oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky at the end of December (scheduled in any case) are being promoted as a signal that Putin’s dictatorship is easing up. But the Russian state has set its propaganda machine into overdrive to hoodwink the world and its media that Putin’s authoritarian state has suddenly dropped its persecution of gays, journalists, ethnic minorities and political opponents.

He is backed in this by a motley crew of apologists, starting with the president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter. Blatter was not long ago denounced by David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell for condoning racism.

Blatter’s anti-boycott stance is echoed by CNN writer Frida Ghitis who wants Sochi to be made “the gayest ever event”. She is in favour of “engagement”, saying a boycott is wrong and that gay rights activists should brave Putin’s police. But Ghitis recently defended former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s record in Lebanon, so perhaps her advice is a bit suspect.

The sustained propaganda campaign is entirely in aid of achieving the Russian president’s cherished aim of hosting the Olympics – a project he has been promoting since 2007.

After the Olympic dust settles, the true cost of Sochi will be borne by all but the super-rich. In other words, the citizens of Sochi, of Russia and the entire ecology of the once stunningly beautiful Black Sea resort. The wrath of the Russian state will descend on anyone who challenges the authorities and their backward anti-gay laws. Further anti-gay legislation is being prepared which could remove parenting rights from gay people.  

Spending on the Games is astronomical, with costs running at an estimated £31 billion, three times the cost of London 2012 and even more than the Beijing Olympics. A 30-mile road transport link between Sochi and a skiing venue is estimated to have cost £5bn, more than the whole budget for the 2010 Vancouver winter Olympics. For that kind of money, the entire road could have been paved with a six-centimetre layer of black truffles, says author Marc Bennetts.

Critics estimate that one third of the budget has gone into the pockets of Putin’s cronies. One old friend, Arkady Rotenberg, has received construction orders worth £4.5 billion – beating the entire cost of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

Added to construction costs and kickbacks is security. Putin is terrified of a terror attack by groups opposed to rule from Moscow. So to prevent this, 40,000 security forces are supposed to enforce a ring of steel.

Local residents are being forcibly thrown out of their homes which have been bulldozed. No compensation is paid. Fisherman are losing their livelihoods due to pollution. Ecologists are warning that construction could lead to disaster due to poisoned drinking water and flooding while migrating birds who used to stop in Sochi will now find the area turned into venues for the Games.

Environmental activists like Yulia Naberezhnaya, spokeswoman for the Russian Geographical Society in Sochi, who have warned about pollution of water supplies, are being harassed. Some have had criminal cases opened against them.

Are any more reasons needed for boycotting these Games?

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
20 January 2014

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