Already dubbed “the richest man on earth,” with a fortune estimated at $70 billion, Russian ruler Vladimir Putin will come out of the Sochi Olympics with billions more in his secret bank accounts. That’s because he and his cronies, many of them KGB veterans, have stolen $30 billion that was supposed to go for construction projects for the games.
As a result, the games are becoming known as the “Festival of Corruption,” Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov says.
The games begin airing on NBC on February 6.
Nemtsov and local opposition activist Leonid Martynyuk write in their new report, Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics, that “The Winter Olympics in Sochi is Putin’s personal project. He believed (and likely still believes to this day) that the Olympic Games will be his triumph, and that the participation of athletes from all over the world will be a recognition of his indisputable leadership, both in Russia and in the world. Subsequent events have demonstrated that the preparation for the Olympics has become a disgrace rather than a triumph. It has become increasingly clear that the Sochi Olympics are an unprecedented thieves’ caper in which representatives of Putin’s government are mixed up along with the oligarchs close to the government.”
They say that “the Olympics have exposed in concentrated form the main flaws of the system: abuse, corruption, petty tyranny, cronyism, non-professionalism and irresponsibility.”
“The money stolen could have paid for 3,000 high-quality roads, housing for 800,000 people, or thousands of ice palaces and soccer fields all over Russia. None of that has happened. Only those oligarchs and companies close to Putin have enriched themselves,” their report finds.
The report and $30 billion figure were released at a Washington, D.C. news conference on Thursday, as Russian human rights figures and opposition activists also presented a new online interactive “corruption guide” to the Sochi Olympics.
The total cost of the games has been estimated at more than $50 billion, the most expensive in the history of the world. In Russia, however, the cost has been labeled a “trade secret” by the authorities.
The report adds, “The construction of the Olympic facilities was assigned to those close to Putin. The lack of honest competition, cronyism and harsh censorship with everything connected to the Olympics has led to a sharp increase in the cost and low quality of work in preparing for the Games.”
For those attending the games, the report predicts organizational chaos.
People trying to attend the competitions by buying tickets will have to get a “fan passport” from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB. The FSB controls access to the games and will deny entry for critics of the Putin regime, the activists say.
The real mystery is why Sochi was chosen for the winter games in the first place. Their report points out, “It’s hard to find a place on the map of Russia where there hasn’t been snow and where winter sports are not developed. But Putin found such a spot and decided to hold the Winter Olympics there. It’s the city of Sochi.”
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Senior Policy Advisor at the Institute of Modern Russia, also spoke at the news conference, saying the Kremlin regime in Russia today is characterized by media censorship, the arrest and imprisonment of opposition figures, and the suppression of opposition political movements and parties. His group has posted a list of 40 political prisoners in Russia.
Nemtsov and Martynyuk previously released “The Life of a Galley Slave,” a report on the yachts, planes, state villas and palaces, helicopters, and luxury wristwatches that are part of Putin’s lavish lifestyle. The title is taken from Putin’s remark that he works like a galley slave for the Russian people.
Putin also postures as a family man devoted to traditional values, but recently divorced his wife and is reported to have a mistress. He also acts like a Christian, such as when he visited Pope Francis in the Vatican, and crossed himself and kissed a statue of the Virgin Mary.
David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House and a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said at the press conference that the predicted “glory” for Putin is already fading away as people increasingly wonder why the games were awarded to Sochi.
Kramer said the Russian security forces are still violating human rights and torturing dissidents, and “the worst crackdown on human rights” in Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union is currently underway.
He faulted the Obama administration for not responding to the Putin regime’s recent expulsion of American journalist David Satter from Russia. Satter had specialized in the investigation of the FSB and its role in terrorism blamed on Islamists.
He also mentioned a report that Russia conducted a cruise missile test banned by a 1987 treaty.
The latest Freedom House report on Russia labels the country “not free.”
On freedom of speech and the press, Freedom House says, “Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, since 2003, the government has controlled, directly or through state-owned companies, all of the national television networks. Only a handful of radio stations and publications with limited audiences offer a wide range of viewpoints. At least 19 journalists have been killed since Putin came to power, including three in 2009, and in no cases have the organizers of the murders been prosecuted.”
A Putin-funded propaganda channel, RT America, currently airs in several U.S. media markets and employs Russian journalists who are able to work in the United States without interference or censorship.
Hartmann has declined to say how much he is paid by the Russian government.
This commentary originally appeared at AIM.org and is reprinted here with permission.