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Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics: Ecological barbarity in the North Caucasus


As he lobbied awarding Russia the 2014 Winter Olympic bid, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to the Olympic Committee that Moscow would commit lavish state funding to preparing for and holding the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi (EUR 4.9 billion). This was what played the decisive role in the choice of Sochi as the host city of the 2014 games.

According to the Olympic Charter, the International Olympic Committee is “to encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues, to promote sustainable development in sport and to require that the Olympic Games are held accordingly.”[1] However, preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi have proceeded in lockstep with rampant devastation of the natural environment of the North Caucasus and have already resulted in irreparable damage inflicted on the nature. A broad range of unique natural sites have been lost with no hope of restoring them. Some 2,000 hectares of the Greater Sochi area – including territories of cultural and natural significance on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites – have been drastically repurposed. Natural territories – including conservation sites – have been destroyed in the valley of the river Mzymta, where forests were felled in the Imeretin Valley and in the area taken by the construction of the road connecting Adler with the mountain resort of Alpica-Service. A significant portion of agricultural lands and protected wetlands of the Imeretin Valley has been displaced by transport and warehousing infrastructure, as well as new housing, built for what has been, for all intents and purposes, forced relocation of residents whose homes happened to be in the way of Olympic construction. Territories designated as World Heritage sites have been reduced, and natural monuments are being destroyed; ballast quarries are being developed in the protected areas of the Sochi National Park. Rare and endangered animal and plant species have been deprived of many of their habitats. Regular inspections by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have confirmed the numerous environmental infringements with which the Olympic construction in Sochi has been allowed to proceed.

Preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi has been conducted with flagrant violations of the obligations that Russia and the city of Sochi have committed to as officially spelled out in the Olympic Bid Book. For instance, contrary to the obligation to ensure full disposal or reprocessing of all solid domestic waste resulting from the Olympic Games, these wastes are now expected to be relocated to neighboring districts.

The goal of the Olympic Movement, as the Olympic Charter says in the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, is “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”[2] But since winning the Olympic bid in 2007, Sochi has seen its preparations for the 2014 Olympic Games carried out against a backdrop of open and cynical trampling of not just the fundamental civil and political rights but of the citizens’ human dignity as well. In order to facilitate construction, the Kremlin-compliant State Duma has amended a whole number of laws,[3] and the Russian Government has adopted a series of decisions constituting a direct threat to the environment of the North Caucasus and the Black Sea[4]. But even these amended laws are not being duly enforced. One of the officials in charge of the Olympic construction in Sochi once stated in response to environmentalists’ objections: “If it comes to that, we’ll change the Constitution, too.” Opposition politicians and civil activists – including members of the Green Russia faction in the YABLOKO-GREEN RUSSIA party – who protest human rights and environmental violations in Krasnodar Region are being subjected to brutal persecution as they fall victim to physical assaults that remain uninvestigated by authorities, become targets of patently trumped-up charges, get fired from their jobs or lose their businesses. As one example, the environmentalist Suren Ghazaryan was forced to seek political asylum in Estonia in order to escape the threat of a long prison term for a crime he did not commit.

Corruption and blatant disregard for the rule of law that have taken reign in Sochi stand out even from the rest of the already notoriously corrupt country: The Olympic expenditure is now set to double. Under the front of Olympic construction, major projects are launched in the Sochi area that are not listed in the city’s Bid Book (such as a cogeneration heat and power plant in Kudepsta).

Considering the degree of commercialization of the official Olympic movement in Russia, and its corruptness, there is no hope that this situation will change.[5] The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi are bound to be remembered as the most ecologically ruinous in the entire history of Olympic sport.

The Green Russia faction of the YABLOKO-GREEN RUSSIA party hereby appeals to European Greens with a request to support our position: If Russia fails to put a stop to the barbaric destruction of nature in the North Caucasus and to violations of human rights in Krasnodar Region, a call should be made to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.


[1] Item 13 of Rule 2 of the Olympic Charter of the International Olympic Committee (http://www.olympic.org/Documents/olympic_charter_en.pdf).

[2] Item 2 of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, the Olympic Charter of the International Olympic Committee (http://www.olympic.org/Documents/olympic_charter_en.pdf).

[3] See, for instance: Letter by Chairman of YABLOKO Party to the State Duma, of December 4, 2008 (Politika deekologizatsii Rossii i zadachi partii «YABLOKO», M., 2011/The Policy of De-Ecologization of Russia and the Goals of YABLOKO Party, Moscow, 2011, p. 180-181; http://www.yabloko.ru/books/politika_deekologizatsii.pdf).

[4] See, for instance, Statement by Chairman of YABLOKO Party of April 6, 2011, “On the Threat of Destruction of the Anapa Children’s Resort and the Ecosystems of the Black Sea (Politika deekologizatsii Rossii i zadachi partii «YABLOKO», M., 2011/The Policy of De-Ecologization of Russia and the Goals of YABLOKO Party, Moscow, 2011, p. 238- 239; http://www.yabloko.ru/books/politika_deekologizatsii.pdf).

[5] The Sochi Olympics: A celebration of body and spirit or criminal complicity? A statement by Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC) (http://www.ewnc.org/node/10679).


Григорий Явлинский Международный Социально-экологический союз mosyabloko ecodefense

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