Paul Goble reports that Russia’s failure to develop and protect the site of the 2014 Olympic Games has become so desperate that the Kremlin is considering reorganizing Russia’s basic geopoltical structure in order to preserve any hope of a successful games:
Even before the International Olympic Committee, after intense lobbying by then-Russian President Vladimir Putin, awarded the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi, it was obvious to many that Russia would face serious challenges in getting the venue ready for the Olympics and ensuring that they passed off safely.
Now, all the problems they warned about– violence in neighboring areas, environmental concerns, objections to holding such a competition on the site of a nineteenth century genocide, and both paying for infrastructure and finding workers to build it – have become more obvious, and as a result, some in Moscow are casting about for possible solutions.
Last year, opposition figure Boris Nemtsov suggested that the name Sochi Games be retained but that the competitions take place at existing sports facilities in other Russian cities, but now, the editors of Liberty.ru have proposed saving the day by creating new federal subject directly subordinate to Moscow.
“Many of the administrative problems which are having a negative impact on preparations for the Games are the result of the subordination of Sochi to Krasnodar kray,” they argue. Consequently, removing Sochi from that kray and creating a separate Black Sea kray could “allow the securing of a more effective relationship of the center and the region.” Such a new federal subject, the Liberty.ru editors say, would not have to coordinate with Krasnodar and could receive subsidies directly from the federal budget and thus get all the money the central government intends them to have, thus bypassing the “power ‘filters’” of the existing kray.
The editors point out that there is a precedent for taking this step even in Sochi itself. Between August 1948 and June 1958, Sochi was “like Moscow, Leningrad [now St. Petersburg], Kyiv and Sevastopol, a city of republic subordination” because it served as a resort that was used largely by senior officials of the central government. “In the Soviet Union,” the editors say, it was well understood that Sochi is a special place which one must not compare with any other region of Russia.” Consequently, “the return to Sochi of such a special status within the framework of the Russian Federation should help the revival of the region and the successful conduct of the 2014 Olympics.”
Not only does the Russian Federation have the recent tradition of amalgamating regions – another one of Putin’s pet projects – but, the editors say, “it is possible to provide a multitude of arguments in favor of the separating out of Sochi” from Krasnodar kray. “The main one is that Sochi and Krasnodar kray have radically different structures both economically and socially.” Krasnodar is based on agriculture, while Sochi is based on tourism and now the Olympics. And after the games are held, the editors say, there will be even more reason to keep Sochi separate so that it will be able to promote itself rather than become yet another “company town.”
Sochi must not be allowed to fall back to the status of “a provincial resort, less attractive than Turkey and Egypt, with empty stadiums,” the editors say. Moreover, they suggest, “the establishment of a Black Sea kray will become for the city a real reward for the Olympics,” making into “a model tourist region” perhaps “on the model of the American Las Vegas.” The Liberty.ru editors helpfully attach an 800-word draft law that, if adopted, would lead to the creation of the new kray, a draft they say they will be forwarding “through deputies friendly to us for consideration by the corresponding commissions of the State Duma” after seeking support from the government, the National Olympic Committee and the Social Chamber.
Given how many problems the creation of such a new federal subject in the North Caucasus would cause and how few of the problems it would solve in advance of the planned games, it is unlikely that this proposal will receive widespread support. But it is a measure of just how desperate some in Moscow have become that such an idea is being floated at all.