The biggest issue among Russian sites was Western Caucasus located in the southern part of the Russian Federation in the Caucasus Mountains. Russia has filed a bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in the city of Sochi not far from the WH property. Some of the Olympic facilities and venues are to be built not only in the close proximity to the WH site but directly in its buffer zone that at the same time covers the lands of the Sochi National Park.
Besides the Russian legislation, this construction of sporting and recreational venues and corresponding infrastructure enters the domain of international laws as this territory is subject to protection by the International Convention for protection of the World Natural and Cultural Heritage. At the WH session in Christchurch Greenpeace, without being against the idea of Olympic Games of 2014 in Russia, distributed information proving that construction and operation of the above venues and infrastructure will inevitably destroy habitats and migration routes of animals living within the property and included into the global IUCN Red List. This in turn will undermine the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage site “Western Caucasus” that is based, in accordance with the IUCN criteria of uniqueness, on the rich biodiversity still remaining in this area.
Discussion of this site was cancelled due to pressure from the Russian delegation. However, the information provided by Greenpeace made the WH Committee return to Russian properties and look into the state of conservation of Western Caucasus.
“The fact that Western Caucasus was returned for discussion despite previous opposition from the state-party of Russia, clearly demonstrates how burning the environmental issues of Winter Olympic Games 2014 in Sochi really are”, - said Andrey Petrov, World Heritage Project Coordinator for Greenpeace. –“However, instead of addressing those issues Russian authorities have launched a costly advertising campaign that distorts the real situation and is aiming to hide the potential damage to the unique natural complexes of the Western Caucasus”.
Addressing the World Heritage committee with a speech, Greenpeace representatives expressed the deep concern of the Russian and international public regarding the future of the World Heritage site “Western Caucasus”. Greenpeace is willing to provide all relevant information to any stakeholders as far as construction of Olympic facilities in the buffer zone of the World Heritage site is concerned. Especially given the fact that the real situation demonstrates that Winter Olympics 2014 are serving as cover for allocating high conservation value lands to construction of facilities like a SPA-resort or golf club, and it has nothing on common with winter competitions. Besides it is clear already today that the construction will start and continue even if the international Olympic Committee decides to hold the 2014 Olympics in a place other than Sochi.
“Now we are waiting the final decision of the World Heritage Committee at the end of this week with hope that members will recognise the seriousness of the situation”, - said Roman Vazhenkov, Head of the High Conservation Value Areas Department of Greenpeace. – “We also hope that World Heritage Centre and IUCN will be sending their monitoring mission to Western Caucasus soon and this mission will certainly uncover the actual intentions of the Russian side and the impacts on the unique territory will become obvious”.