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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Latynina on Sochi

Writing in the Moscow Times, Echo Moskvy commentator Yulia Latynina looks at the Sochi olympics:

Russia's winning of the right to host the Sochi Olympics in 2014 must be the happiest event that has happened for Russia in the last couple of years. International Olympic Committee members were given the red-carpet treatment when they came to Sochi. They stayed at Oleg Deripaska's elite hotel consisting of 24 swank rooms with interior decorating done by the same designer who did work for the queen of Belgium. LR: In other words, they have no idea what Russia is really like, but they're going to send lots of unwary tourists and athletes in to find out. Looking back, Russia had no real chance of winning this contest because Olympic officials gave Sochi the lowest possible rating. The main argument against Sochi was that every Olympic facility has to be built from scratch. Moreover, no one has an idea how to solve transportation problems. LR: Indeed. Just try to book a direct flight from abroad to Sochi. You can't! Just try to fly into Moscow and then travel to Sochi. How? In a disgusting train that takes years to arrive? A rickety, horrifying Russian domestic flight? Yikes!

Russia's saving grace, however, was that the IOC's final decision was made by bureaucrats rather than the experts who visited Sochi. On the eve before the IOC announced its decision, President Vladimir Putin personally met with every key IOC bureaucrat, even though it was clear after the preliminary vote that Pyongchang would be the likely winner.

The only thing that saved the day for Russia was the Lord's intervention. Or perhaps Putin's. I don't know what Putin said to the IOC members. LR: Maybe he whispered "polonium." Or maybe he didn't say anything, but carried a big suitcase. I do remember, however, Putin telling U.S. President George W. Bush some time ago about a cross that he found after a fire in his dacha. And Bush informed the whole world after the "lobster summit" in Maine, that Putin cannot tell a lie. Since not all of the IOC members are Christian, Putin could not mention the story about the cross to them. On the other hand, he could have modified the story by saying that, in addition to the cross, he also found a Quran and Buddhist beads unscathed by the fire. Whatever the case, every member of the IOC looked Putin straight in the eyes and understood that this person truly cannot tell a fib. Even if Putin said there would be no more traffic jams in Russia, he would be telling the truth. LR: Chamberlain also looked Hitler in the eye.
Putin is certainly able to pull off this feat. After all, when North Korea hosted the Youth Festival in Pyongyang in 1989, there were no traffic jams because everybody over 40 years of age was evicted from the city. Why not oust everyone who could possibly cause traffic jams in Sochi? Authorities could give only tourists, athletes, service personnel and journalists access to the city. LR: The Chechens are already practicing their luge.

This is wonderful news because the $12 billion allocated for the Olympics will create a gold rush -- particularly for bureaucrats if you consider the kickbacks typically payed by construction companies for lucrative building contracts.

It is wonderful because it will do more than give Putin a chance to develop a new southern capital at the expense of state funds and Russia's oligarchs. It should be noted that Putin, who adores recreation, receives guests more often in Sochi -- and in extreme cases at Novo-Ogaryovo -- than in the Kremlin.

The Sochi victory is wonderful for a different reason. Imagine this: Putin flies to Guatemala City to attend the IOC meeting. He personally meets with each IOC member. Nonetheless, the members of the committee decide against Sochi based on the low rating given by the experts. If this happened, Russians would have cried: "Again the West has offended us. See how much the West hates us? The evil hand of the imperialists of the Fourth Reich have reached Sochi." LR: Yes indeed, and where are the wonderful words of praise for the West now that it has awarded Russia the games? Russians are silent. What a nightmare! This have would meant disgrace for Russia, a formal break with West and a third term for Putin. Thank God those nasty scoundrels in the West remained our friends, placing their trust in Putin and keeping their boundless faith in Russia's bright future.

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