Oligarchs in Russia lock horns with wild mountain goat over Olympics
In sporting terms it seems like an unfair contest: rare wild mountain goats versus some of the richest men in Russia and a nation’s pride in hosting its first Olympics since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Batting for the endangered West Caucasian chamois and tur are the environmentalists who claim that the Sochi 2014 Winter Games threaten to destroy one of the world’s last untouched eco-systems – home to more than 6,000 types of flora and fauna, more than 100 of which are on the “red list” of threatened species.
On the opposing side are developers and powerful oligarchs, who want to make the Black Sea resort beloved of Joseph Stalin more than just a summer playground for Russia’s ruling elite. The Games are seen as an opportunity to develop winter resorts in the Caucasus mountains, which provide the city’s stunning backdrop, bringing a $15 billion (£7 billion) boost to the Russian economy.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, whose favourite ski resort Krasnaya Polyana (Beautiful Meadow) lies at the centre of the proposed Olympic site, has already announced $12 billion of private and public money for local development.
Gazprom, the natural gas group, is upgrading roads surrounding its ski resort, which will host the cross-country skiing in 2014. Interros, the conglomerate run by Vladimir Potanin, the billionaire who is also a member of the Sochi 2014 supervisory board, is building a self-proclaimed eco-friendly resort that will host the Alpine skiing and snowboarding.
The Olympic organising committee’s plans are well advanced but construction has not begun on the site in Sochi National Park. Nearly $9 billion of capital investment will be required to build 20 permanent venues and make them accessible to thousands of Olympic visitors during the Games.
The principal objection is that the site borders a Unesco World Heritage Site, including the Caucasus State Biosphere Nature Reserve. Environmentalists argue that the Olympic village, which will accommodate 2,000 people, and a bobsleigh venue seating 11,000, should not be built along the protected buffer zone. “It would be catastrophic. No other area in the world can compare with this one. It a place absolutely untouched until now,” Andrei Petrov, Green-peace Russia’s world heritage programme co-ordinator, said.
Sochi 2014 organisers say that the Games will be one of the greenest. An environmental impact assessment carried out for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) found that the location of the bobsleigh track would not affect any animal species adversely or disrupt their migration patterns. They say they will even reintroduce the snow leopard to the region.