In our new RD Quarterly report “Sochi: Going for the Olympic Gold” Russia Direct analyzes the most important challenges faced by Russia in preparing for the upcoming Sochi Olympics. These challenges include dealing with security issues in the North Caucasus, changing the nation’s image abroad and maximizing the return on a staggering $50 billion investment in Sochi.
In their Introduction to the report, Ivan Timofeev and Timur Makhmutov of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) make the point that Russia’s challenges in hosting a large international mega-event like the Olympics fundamentally differ from those of previous host nations. Just like the United States, Canada, Italy and Japan – all of which previously hosted the Winter Olympics – Russia views the Games as a way to boost its international prestige. However, unlike these nations, Russia had to confront serious issues on its way to success.
For example, Russia was faced with the task of transforming Sochi, better known as a summer resort town located in a subtropical zone, into a modern world-class winter sports destination. Christopher Hartwell and William Wilson of the Skolkovo Institute for Emerging Market Economies discuss this issue in the first chapter of the report, which focuses on the financial aspects of organizing the Olympics.
The authors argue that, given the $50 billion investment in infrastructure and competition venues required for Sochi to host the Olympics, “Russia will probably never break-even.“ But there is room for optimism as well, William Wilson and Christopher Hartwell point out: “Sochi has a slate of additional international events lined up in the immediate post-Olympic period.“
And, of course, there are the security issues involved in hosting the Olympics in the North Caucasus. Sergey Markedonov of PONARS Eurasia presents his outlook on the security issues in the turbulent North Caucasus that continue to hang over the Winter Olympics in Sochi. According to Markedonov, ethno-political issues are the major obstacles to holding a safe Olympics in Sochi, as shown by recent terrorist acts in Volgograd in Southern Russia.
In the wake of the Olympics Russian authorities are taking unprecedented security measures, including greater cooperation between Russian and U.S. security agencies: “The terrorist act in Boston not only caused Washington to downplay its reservations about Russia’s counterterrorism activities in the North Caucasus, but also to strengthen cooperation with Moscow on security in Sochi,“ Sergey Markedonov concludes.
This issue of RD Quarterly includes additional commentary from Oleg Boyko, the head of the Commission for Development of the Paralympic Movement in Russia and the founder of the Parasport Foundation. Boyko discusses the recent success of Russia’s Paralympic Team and why it is essential to support the Paralympic movement in the country.
“There still exists a barrier in Russia between the disabled and the able-bodied. The Paralympics should not be viewed as a universal panacea, but as a real opportunity to change society’s attitude towards people with disabilities,“ Boyko argues.