Blogger Unveils Sochi Corruption Website

The costs of the Sochi Olympics according to Alexey Navalny. Screenshot.

The costs of the Sochi Olympics according to Alexey Navalny. Screenshot.

Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny joined the Sochi anti-corruption campaign this week, launching an interactive website outlining what he calls the “true costs” of the Olympic preparations in Sochi. 

Navalny tweeted, linking to the website:

How much did the Olympics cost?  Who paid for it?  Who stole, and how much?

With increased western scrutiny of the games, Navalny’s latest campaign was instantly covered in the New York Times, and other English-speaking media outlets shortly thereafter. Pro-Kremlin blogger Stanislav Apetyan (twitter handle @politrash) took the speed as a sign of some sort of foul play, or a collaborative effort:

An article in the New York Times goes up within 15 minutes after Navalny’s post: It's like some kind of magic!

Photographer Ilya Varlamov shot back:

@politrash this is perfectly normal. These types of things are distributed to the media in advance, as an exclusive story. What is the problem here?

According to Apetyan [ru], the problem is that this means the story was created for foreign consumption — implying that Navalny is chasing foreign attention. Varlamov, though, claims [ru] that Navalny gave the story to pro-government Russian media as well, but they haven't published anything about it. Another twitter user criticized Navalny on merits, saying:

@varlamov @politrash the main question here is how much was spent on Olympic venues and the hosting of the Olympic games, and how much on regional infrastructure projects.

Navalny alleges that has Putin lied about the cost of the Sochi Olympic projects, when he claimed that it had cost 214 billion rubles (or roughly 6.5 billion dollars). Navalny claims that the actual figure is several times that, at $46 billion. (A previous project launched by opposition politician Boris Nemtsov found the spending had reached $51 billion.) The argument [ru] of the pro-government bloggers is that the 6.5 billion was indeed spent on the “Olympics proper” while the rest was spent creating infrastructure in Sochi — roads, utilities, and airports. All things that will be useful in one of Russia's few resort regions.

Navalny's numbers are pieced together from various public sources, as he says [ru], after much trial and tribulation. But the project did not just focus on Olympic construction projects, but also on the people he says benefited the most from the embezzlement. They include the Governor of Krasnodar Region (where Sochi is located) and his son-in-law; President Putin’s judo partner, billionaire Arkadiy Rotenberg; the oligarch Vladimir Potanin; and the CEO of state-owned Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin. And that, to some, is the real scandal.

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