Sochi-Adler Krasnaya Polyana Panorama

There has been an unceasing campaign to denigrate the construction in the Sochi-Adler area. Incompetence, corruption, double toilets and so on and on. In all of this, few people have been shown what has been built for the total cost of 55 billion or so US Dollars. We have a preview; but first a discussion of cost.

Most Western sources claim that the real cost of the Sochi Olympics is the 55 billion and Putin is assumed to be lying when he says the cost is 6 billion or so. Now that Navalniy has his report out that claims to measure the alleged corruption, the Western media is full of wide-eyed quotations from it. But Western discussions, and Navalniy (not, I suspect, by coincidence) ignore the other stated purpose of the construction which is to create a full-scale sports and holiday complex in Russia’s Riviera. The aim being to attract Russian tourists away from foreign holidays and provide some development and employment opportunities in the chronically depressed North Caucasus.

So what is the real cost of the Olympics? 1) All of the 55 billion or 2) just the proportion that would not have been spent if the Olympics weren’t coming or 3) something in-between? The first question to be answered is how much of the total is definitely Olympics-only spending. Here Navalniy actually agrees with Putin: from his report “Olympstroy spent $6.3 bn to construct 11 sport venues”; that is the number Putin gives.

The disagreement is over what column to put the other expenditures in. Navalniy insists they all be charged to the Olympics, Putin that they be charged to resort complex construction and necessary infrastructure improvement. That’s what the disagreement actually amounts to, not that anyone in the Western media will tell you: Putin says some is Olympics, most is infrastructure, Navalniy says all is Olympics. But they agree on the total that has been spent. Putin wants to play the Olympics costs down, Navalniy wants to play them up; so each picks his favourite split. Each is being disingenuous.

Certainly an immense amount of money has been spent on sports facilities, visitor amusements, transportation facilities, hotels, restaurants and the rest. So, Dear Reader, you decide the split. How do you judge the most expensive single project (the 5-6 billion road-rail connection to the ski resort, replacing the Soviet-era link)? Would it have been built anyway to connect the town of Adler (where, as we have interminably been told, it doesn’t snow much) to the ski resort area where it does? Or do you judge that it was only built because of the Olympics? Or should only some of the cost be assigned to the Olympics and how would you assign it? How about the airport at Adler? The port development at Sochi? The isolation hospital in Lazerevskiy district? The Adler power station? The shopping mall? Putin says none, Navalniy says all but they don’t disagree that 50-plus billion was spent overall. And, when you make your decision, what makes you think the next person would agree? The only correct answer is that, when the Olympics are gone, there will still be a vast complex of modern facilities in a place and situation that ought to be pretty attractive to tourists.

The truth is that a large high quality resort complex has been constructed, together with a great deal of infrastructure created or improved; some of this was built only because the Olympics were coming. So what is the cost of the Olympics? I don’t know either. 6 billion seems too narrow a definition but 55 billion is far too high. Can we pick a number out of the sky and say 7 or 8? Certainly a ludicrous amount of money to shell out for a few weeks of sports; probably an argument for having a permanent facility but, given that there wasn’t much there in the beginning except Nature, not absurdly high as these things are priced.

These panoramic photos show what has been done. And don’t forget, Dear Reader, Navalniy and others would like us to believe that a third of the money was stolen: look at all this stuff and decide whether that sounds right.

Russian language only, but you’ll get the idea.

PS. The toilet story isn’t true.


  1. Krasnaya Polyana is almost unrecognizable from just a couple of years ago, let alone from ten years ago when I started skiing there.

  2. That was my thought too. After looking around in these panoramas, there doesn’t seem to be anything that is older than 5-6 years. Amazing — I know what the Soviet-age crap looks like and there doesn’t seem to be anything at all from then. It’s all created from scratch.

  3. Dear Patrick,

    I have little to say here because you have said it so well. There are two observations I would make:

    1. The relentless campaign about Sochi is surely because of the anxiety on the part of some people both in Russia and the west that the Sochi Olympics with all their new facilities are going to create for Russia a good impression. Thus the fantastic claims about their supposed cost and the insinuation that what people will see when they go to Sochi is somehow not for real (often said with the now commonplace regurgitation of the old stories about Potemkin and his villages and the Maquis de Custine). That the campaign has reached such fever pitch especially over the last few weeks shows the level of that anxiety and the extent to which as a means of creating a more favourable view of Russia Sochi has already succeeded.

    2. On the specific issue of cost, it also shows how for some people whatever Russia does it can never win. For years I have been hearing about how Russia has squandered its oil wealth and does not even have a new road or railway to show for it. This has been a standard trope in Russia of some of the government’s liberal opponents for years and of course it has also been taken up by some people in the west. This goes along with all sorts of stories (some of them true) about Russia’s “decaying infrastructure”. Now however that the country has visibly and successfully carried out a massive infrastructure project broadly speaking within a reasonable range of cost, which will provide a significant long term boost to the local economy it gets criticised and ridiculed for it. Incidentally I do not recall Saakashvili coming in for such criticism from these same for his truly Pharaonic projects such as the transfer of the parliament to Kutaisi or his plan to build a resort city on a swamp.

    • In particular, it would be great if Sochi could serve as the springboard from which a ski resort culture could spread out across the rest of the North Caucasus.

      In Russia especially such things need to get kick-started by government in many cases because private investors in many cases face too many uncertainties to risk too much of their own money until the infrastructure is built and they see that they are going to get returns on their money within a reasonable time period.

      With any luck, it might even help quell Islamism in the long-term as forest bandits begin to realize they could do better by going to those resorts to operate the lifts, drive on snowmobiles, etc. Good fresh mountain air with less risk of getting killed by a drone.

  4. More bad news fascist Putin now also hates dogs and hired exterminators to kill stray dogs in Sochi.

    I think you should have a separate Sochi thread on your site like Ukraine to gather all these stories in the western press in the lead up to the Olympics.

  5. daraghmcdowell says:

    Patrick – some of these complaints are justifiable. The and/but

    1) US$8.7 billion the AKP Highway makes it, by most accounts, the most expensive road on earth in per KM terms. And even if Sochi does become a major ski resort after the games it will be barely used (it has a capacity for 20K people an hour. Sochi’s resorts have a max capacity of 30K per day). Reports on AKP originally appeared in Russian sources BTW.

    2) Look at the terms of VEB loans to ‘private investments’ the state is now insisting aren’t part of Sochi costs.

    3) Kozak was also using the US$50 billion figure before Putin dropped it to US$6 billion. The Russian authorities themselves have changed their tune here.

    4) This all ignores the negative externalities due to massive environmental damage at Sochi – despite the ‘greenest games ever’ pledges.