Friday, February 14, 2014

Window on Eurasia: New Report Documents Environmental Devastation Caused by Sochi Olympiad

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 14 – Despite repressive measures by Moscow – including the three-year imprisonment of activist Yevgeny Vitishko and the exile of his colleague Suren Gazaryan – Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus has just released an 81-page report documenting how much damage, much of it irreversible, the Sochi Games have done to the environment there.

            That report, released this week and available at, does for the environment what Boris Nemtsov’s earlier one did for the massive corruption on display in the run-up to the Sochi Olympiad (,, and

            Indeed, it is possible that the new report may have an even great impact not only because while many seem inclined to dismiss corruption as an inevitability in Putin’s Russia, few feel the same way about environmental depradations, and also because the EWNC report not only documents what is wrong but suggests how Russia needs to respond.

            Most of the report assembles in one convenient and conveniently organized place the results of the continuing monitoring of what Russian officials and Russian businesses have done. Few of the materials cited will come as any surprise to those who have been tracking what has taken place in Sochi and the regions around it over the last several years.

            But the recommendations EWNC makes are not only more tightly formulated than has been the case earlier but suggest that the struggle between those in Moscow who want to continue to run roughshod over the environment in the name of development and those who want to protect the environment is going to intensify not quiet down after the Games are over.

            The EWNC report lists 13 steps that need to be taken, but these fall into three categories. The first set calls for compensatory development of parks and reserve to replace those which have been irreversibly lost; the second for the demolition of some of the Sochi Olympic and tourism infrastructure; and the third for Russia to live up to its basic laws and repeal the exceptions it made for Sochi.

            None of those is likely to be accepted by Moscow without a struggle, but the members of the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus and their supporters in Russia and abroad show that they are not going to be silenced by the kind of harassment and repressive measures that the Russian authorities have been visiting on them.

            Consequently, that struggle almost certainly intensify, and this new report underscores that in that struggle, those who want to protect the environment have the moral high ground among Russians as well as among those abroad even if those in the regime have the police powers and other means to oppose them.

            But it is worth recalling something Putin and many analysts appear to have forgotten: Many movements for the independence in the former Soviet republics grew out of the actions of those concerned with historical preservation and those in turn grew out of the earlier but ongoing actions of those who simply wanted to protect the environment around them.

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