Friday, June 26, 2015

A Putin-Made ‘Natural’ Disaster in Sochi

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – Many “natural” disasters are in fact man-made, the direct result of thoughtless, irresponsible or even criminal actions by specific individuals and organizations.  The disastrous flooding of Sochi this week is one of those: it is the result of the actions Vladimir Putin took in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympiad in that North Caucasus city.

            Already, more than 500 homes have been flooded there, hundreds of people have had to flee, one person has died, the airport and railroad station have been closed, and the flooding has not yet receded. Russian officials blame the rain for overwhelming the storm sewers, but experts and local people say that those who built the Olympiad are to blame.

            They point out that officials were repeatedly warned that the city’s infrastructure was being overlooked in the rush to complete preparations for the Games, that money that was supposed to be spend on basic facilities like sewers and water pipes was corruptly diverted, and that what has happened this week will happen again unless something is done.

            These complaints, and the attention this disaster is receiving in the Russian media, are likely to reopen the questions the late Boris Nemtsov raised about the corruption and malfeasance in Putin’s quest to host the games and mean that yet again, an event he presented as a Russian triumph will become instead yet another example of Kremlin mismanagement.

            Anatoly Baranov, the editor of, put it bluntly: “The extent of the disaster is overwhelming but not surprising. On the eve of the Olympiad, we wrote that Sochi and its region are zones of heightened risk.” But Putin was presented as all-knowing, the Games “finished in triumphant fashion.” Now, the Kremlin isn’t interested in Sochi. “Its historic mission is fulfilled … it can drown” (

            Another Moscow writer, Nikolay Ivanov, documents the warnings delivered to both Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, how these were ignored, and many cases in which those preparing for the Sochi Games diverted funds intended for infrastructure into their own pockets or the pockets of those above them (

            Now, he says, the people of Sochi are paying the price for Putin’s neglect, corruption and malfeasance; and he strongly implies that what is happening in Sochi represents a warning to everyone and will inevitably happen elsewhere unless the Kremlin stops shortchanging the Russian people in its own quest for public relations triumphs.

            Officials are declaring their personal innocence and seeking to blame others. The governor of Krasnodar kray suggested yesterday that the city had failed to maintain the infrastructure, but the Sochi mayor responded that he and his administration had done everything by the book (

            But local people are having none of this. Aleksandr Valov, the chief editor of BlogSochi, says that poor storm sewers is only one of the reasons for the massive flooding and that those who changed the landscape in advance of the Olympiad bear chief responsibility because they changed the paths water could flow down from the mountains.

            And like others, Valov notes that he and his fellow activists repeatedly told officials that “the construction of Olympic 2014 sites was carried out with crude violations” of the law, that natural water flows were being blocked, and that inevitably such blockages would lead to flooding.

            Nemtsov made use of Valov’s reporting in his own massive indictment of Putin’s malfeasance and corruption in advance of Sochi. Perhaps now that the consequences of what Putin did have become more obvious, more people will attend to what the people of Sochi and the murdered Russian politician have said and realize that Sochi was not the success the Kremlin leader claimed.

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