January 28, 2014

What is Sochi all about?

One nagging question is why Vladimir Putin is spending a supposed $50 billion dollars to fix up the Black Sea coastal town of Sochi and a nearby inland mountain ski village to host the upcoming Winter Olympics. That's a huge amount for a Winter games, which are smaller in scale than the summer games that contributed so much to Greece's current debt problems.

Putin's reasons no doubt include national pride and to allow his friends and supporters to skim tens of billions off the top of the construction budgets.

But another reason appears to be to develop one of that vast but northerly country's most southerly, mild, palm-lined, and scenically-varied regions into a world-class four-season resort and retirement destination for Russia's ruling class, where they can't be arrested by Russia's rivals. 

Many of Russia's biggest pre-Putin criminals have fled to safe havens in London, New York, the South of France, and the like, where they occupy themselves owning major league sports franchises and so forth. 

But Putin and his current oligarchs figure that the Washington-New York-London axis will look less approvingly on their crimes than on those of their predecessors. So, they'd better have a nice, warm place within Russia to retire to. 

Czarist and Soviet rulers used to have resort homes in the Crimea (e.g., Yalta), but that beautiful, mostly Russian peninsula got handed to the Ukraine on 1/1/1992. Stalin had a second home south of Sochi on the Black Sea, but that's now in Georgia.

So, Russia's latest rulers need a new, improved dream destination. Hence, the huge investment in Sochi.

That also helps explain some of the Western anger over the Sochi Olympics: the development of Sochi is intended to reduce the threat of Western countries taking Russian leaders prisoner some day, which reduces Western influence over Russia.
     

44 comments:

slumber_j said...

"Putin's reasons no doubt include national pride, and to allow his friends and supporters to skim billions off the top of the construction budgets."

I'm pretty sure corruption is the big motive here. It's the Olympics, after all.

Then there's Sochi's notable proximity to disputed Abkhazia, which I found striking when I first looked for it on Google Maps. The name had made me assume in my ignorance that it was some quasi-Korean place--maybe near Vladivostok or something?

I was wrong, obviously, as Mr. Putin's choice of venue has now given me to understand.

Anonymous said...

Minor nitpick. This from Wikipedia.

Scholars disagree on whether the origin of the name of Ukraine meant "borderland" or "homeland". The form "the Ukraine" was once usual in English.[18] In 1993 the Ukrainian government requested that the article be dropped, and it has become rarer.

Anyway maybe its a bit too much like Chinese people telling anglos to call Peking "Beijing", but I'm relaying this info anway for consideration.

Anonymous said...

I was unaware that criminals go into retirement.

Glossy said...

The reason Putin is so popular in Russia and so unpopular with the NYT is that he's scared the oligarchs into behaving better. It wasn't just a reshuffling of the membership of the oligarch club, as Steve has implied. There's also less stealing going on now.

One of the consequences: last time I checked Russia's debt to GDP ratio was something like 0.12. The US ratio is close to 1.

I wish Putin spent all of that money on space instead of Sochi. Any country can put on an Olympics, even Brazil. Russia is the only country on Earth that could ever return to space in a big way. That would do a lot more for Russia's prestige than these games.

Icepick said...

Is it wrong for me, as an American, to be happy about the idea of the Western powers having less influence over Russia? Somehow that seems likely to make us behave a bit better, too. Or at least more circumspectly.

Anonymous said...

As Sochi is on the Black Sea and more of a Monte Carlo lite with a sub tropical climate, wouldn't it have made better sense for Putin to try and get Sochi to host the SUMMER Olympics? Why the winter games?

I mean, the US wouldn't try to get the winter games held in Miami.

Doesn't quite make logical sense.

Hunsdon said...

Makes sense to me. By the by, vacationing at the Black Sea wasn't just for the elite, not back in the Soviet era. When my wife was still a younker, her mom went to Sochi for a "get away from the kids" two week vacation. (This was in the early 1980s.) She was an inventory control specialist at a construction firm in Kazakhstan. In other words: the Black Sea resorts were within the reach of the working man and woman.

Glossy said...

"Why the winter games?"

The Caucasus mountains are right behind Sochi. It snows up there. The Italians have hosted Winter Olympics too, because they have the Alps.

countenance said...

The people who are worried about terrorism at Sochi just make me laugh.

Yeah, it could happen.

But it's less likely to happen at Sochi than it can in a major American city full of Muslim immigrants.

Auntie Analogue said...


"Stalin had a second home south of Sochi on the Black Sea, but that's now in Georgia."

Stalin was himself a Georgian. There's no place like home, unless you're like Thomas Wolfe who found that 'You Can't Go Home Again.'

The theory that Putin wants to develop Sochi for Russia's klepto-plutocrats may prove accurate, but I suspect that strengthening Russia's hold on its much-reduced Black Sea coast has much more to do with the ancient Russian yen for free access through the Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles to the Mediterranean Sea.

Anonymous said...

Hunsdon said:
"Makes sense to me."


I'm sure that it does. You also think that Richard Sherman got into Stanford on a legitimate basis (palm slap to face a la Homer Simpson) but we digress.

It makes no logical sense from a CLIMATE perspective.

Again, the US wouldn't hold the Winter games in Miami.

Sochi's climate would be better suited for the summer olympics. (especially one that has palm trees and is sub tropical)

Perhaps Putin thought he couldn't outbid the countries that would want the Summer Games and maybe the winter games are the consolation prize?

There is a reason, but Sochi is better suited for the Summer Games from a pure Climate perspective.

Glossy said...

"the Black Sea resorts were within the reach of the working man and woman."

So were the Crimean and Georgian resorts. As a child of lower middle class parents from the outskirts of Moscow, I spent a few of their vacations with them in the Crimea and in Sukhumi in the 1980s. Sukhumi is in Abkhazia, a bit down the coast from Sochi.

peterike said...

Aren't many of the current Russian oligarchs of the same ethnic persuasion as those criminal oligarchs who flew the coop?

Dave Pinsen said...

Russia's debt to GDP ratio probably has more to do with high oil prices than anything else.

Kibernetika said...

During Soviet times, I bet they'd have picked the Crimea.

That's where the Soviets chose to bring Samantha Smith, who, no matter what we may think about politics today, did a good job, and deserves respect. History:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0phtH5_clY&list=UUq0bGSruBNXk7kdWng9rBsQ&feature=share&index=1

But for Sochi. Let's hope the Spetnaz/GRU guys can keep a lid on things at least for a while, until this moment's over. Again: all must read Lermontov.

Anonymous said...

Your post sent me to Google Maps to find the Olympic venues. They're not even in Sochi itself, but actually further south... smack dab against border with Georgia.

It's almost as if the Russians went out of their way to put the games (and all the development that goes with them) as close to the edge of the country as possible.

You have to admit that it's kind of odd that Russia, the most wintry country on earth (at least until Antarctica declares independence) would put its Winter Olympics in its least wintry corner.

Steve Sailer said...

Vancouver wasn't exactly covered in snow during the last Winter Olympics. But that's what they have mountains for.

Anyway, lower latitude equals longer daylight hours during winter, which is nice. Sochi probably has two extra hours of daylight this time of year compared to other ski areas in Russia.

Glossy said...

Dave Pinsen,

Under Yeltsin all the oil money would have been stolen. That it wasn't under Putin says something about him.

Hunsdon said...

(Ordinarily, when I quote some anonymous asshole who doesn't even have the decency to pick a moniker, I call them "Anonydroid." Today, however, I dispense with that courtesy.)

Some asshole said: You also think that Richard Sherman got into Stanford on a legitimate basis (palm slap to face a la Homer Simpson) but we digress.

Hunsdon said: Please cite your accusation for me. Yup, go back, pull a quote, and throw it in my face, like a stinky mackerel. Where did I say that?

SA said: It makes no logical sense from a CLIMATE perspective.

Hunsdon said: Reading is fundamental. I was agreeing with our host's proposition that Putin was building a resort for Russians, free from any (shall we say) imperial entanglements.

I posit that you can no more show that I was defending Sochi as a site for the Winter Olympics than you can support the assertion you made, extracted above.

As the kids at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave like to say, "Y u mad, bro?"

Hunsdon said...

Glossy said: As a child of lower middle class parents from the outskirts of Moscow, I spent a few of their vacations with them in the Crimea and in Sukhumi in the 1980s.

Hunsdon said: The past is another country; they do things differently there.

I'd say more, but it's time to bow down and worship Mammon like a good American.

Steve Sailer said...

Also, there really aren't a lot of mountains in the main parts of European Russia. The Russian heartland is not mountainous.

The Urals on the border of Asia have a few ski hills, but they are pretty piddling in size. There are some big Ural mountains in the polar region but who wants to go there in February? There are a few big Urals farther south, but they seem to often be associated with scary-sounding Soviet nuclear projects or, at minimum, mines, Czar-murdering, First Circle concentration camps and the like. And they are all in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

In contrast, rich people can sail their yachts from Monaco to Sochi.

Steve Sailer said...

From Wikipedia:

Krasnaya Polyana

"Located in the Western Caucasus, it is home to the new Rosa Khutor alpine ski resort, with a base elevation of 560 meters (1,840 ft) along the Mzymta River, 39 kilometers (24 mi) from its influx into the Black Sea in Adlersky City District of Sochi. The lift-served summit climbs to 2,320 meters (7,610 ft), giving a vertical drop of over a mile at 1,760 meters (5,770 ft)."

Probably the lowest elevations are only occasionally skiable, but even 3,000 feet (7600 feet down to 4600 feet) is an impressive vertical drop for a ski mountain.

Anonymous said...

Model indie film

http://youtu.be/BWFMnss9MHg

Anonymous said...

Though winter sports are big in America and Canada too, it is essentially a European-dominated sports.

Soccer's real powerhouse is Latin America.
America dominates stuff like basketball and track.

But winter sports favors northern Europe from west to east.

Also, during the cold war, USSR was one of the giants of winter sports.

So, maybe Putin wants to send a message that

(1) Russia is back, a real player in the world, like in the USSR days.

(2) Russians and fellow Europeans have much in common in their love of winter sports and the hell with Americans(who boycotted the last Olympics held in Russia and are now trying to undermine this one with WWG pushed by Jews, who were never good at winter sports btw).It will try to show Russia as the prime European power.

Steve Sailer said...

"Then there's Sochi's notable proximity to disputed Abkhazia, which I found striking"

There may be strategic reasons, but I suspect old-fashioned geographic boundary drawing plays a role. I presume that the boundary between Russian and Georgia was long ago fixed to the continental divide between Europe and Asia, the highest range of peaks, so it makes sense that the highest north facing slopes, which are the best for skiing, would be very close to the national border with Georgia.

Anonymous said...

As a child of lower middle class parents from the outskirts of Moscow, I spent a few of their vacations with them in the Crimea and in Sukhumi in the 1980s.

I thought classes were abolished in the USSR.

Anonymous said...

It will be the first Olympics game in Russia where all are invited.

Americans really messed up the 80 Moscow Olympics. In retrospect, it was shameful.

Eric said...

Since this is Russia we're talking about, it's just as likely Putin knows a guy who knows a guy who's benefiting from all this construction.

Anonymous said...

Give Sochi back to Circassia!

Glossy said...

"I thought classes were abolished in the USSR."

Stuff like occupational background, manners, mannerisms, what sort of books you'd read, the presence or lack of a provincial accent showed social class, as they do everywhere. Everybody in the USSR made pretty much the same money, but money is not all there is to class.

Cursing was a big social divider. The intelligentsia didn't curse. My father did, but I was a pretentious little brat, so I never picked it up. I still never curse in Russian. How long had your family spent in Moscow was a social marker. The people whose families had lived in Moscow or St. Petersburg since before the Revolution were envied and looked up to. The stereotype was that they had old-world manners.

Obviously, being a university professor was more prestigious than being a bus driver, though the pay was almost the same.

In general, the Russian view of class is more like the European view than like the American view. This is because the aristocracy was never fully stamped out in Russia. When I was growing up, people were still impressed with it and with sincere attempts to imitate it.

david said...

Cherche la femme.

"Vlad, darlink, Socci has the best skiing and best society! Not like those stinky Urals!"

"Yes, bunny."

"The days are longer there and my girlfriends can sail in from Monoco!"

"Yes, bunny."

"And I've already had Ivan and his staff move our - I mean, your - vacation crap down there. So there is no reason to argue!"

"Yes, bunny."

AK said...

The real comparison to Sochi isn't Miami, but Tahoe. Mediterranean climate on the coast, alpine further inland.

It is a wonderful combination, and those smartasses who mock Russia for holding the Winter Games in a "subtropical" region frankly don't have the first clue as to what they're talking about.

Steve Sailer said...

"The real comparison to Sochi isn't Miami, but Tahoe."

Yeah, it sounds nice.

It's a little bit like driving from Santa Barbara up to Mt. Pinos (8,900) feet. I went cross-country skiing there once (but there's no downhill skiing in Ventura County).

The last Winter Olympics, Vancouver 2010, were likewise held in just about the warmest spot in the host country. Not surprisingly, lack of snow was a problem. But people had a good time. Mild climates are nice.

Steve Sailer said...

Sochi at sea level:

August: average daytime high temperature: 84 f

January: average night-time low: 37

August: average Black Sea water temperature: 78

Not bad. The warmest the ocean ever gets in So Cal is about 72, which is nice, so 78 is lovely.

One issue is whether you can keep snow on the mountains. I'm presuming it's a northfacing ski slope, so the main issue is temperature not sunshine.

The mean February daily temperature, night and day, is 43 in Sochi at sea level.

For every 1000 feet you go up, the temperature goes down about 3.6 degrees (all else being equal). So, the mean at the ski village at 1800 feet would be about 36 or 37. The mean at 7600 feet at the top of the mountain would be about 10 degrees f.

So unless they have a massive warm rainstorm blow in from the Persian Gulf, there ought to be snow somewhere on the mountain. They've been hoarding snow from last winter. So there will be something to ski on, although it might not be the highest quality.

The downside of Sochi is that it's very rainy -- 67 inches per year.

Anyway, it's a pretty interesting place because it's so unlike Russia in general. Russia tends to be flat and cold and this region is relatively warm and precipitous.

Anonymous said...

A nitpick:
Stalin had a second home south of Sochi on the Black Sea, but that's now in Georgia.

Stalin did have "dacha" (summer home) in Sochi. See pictures: http://visit.aelita.su/dacha-stalina/

The one to the South of Sochi that you mention was in Gagra, which is only formally in Georgia today. In reality, it's in Abkhasia, a separatist region that is now basically a Russian protectorate. Some pics of that dacha here: http://travel-theworld.ru/respublika-abhaziya/gagra/dacha-stalina-v-gagrah-abhaziya#ixzz2p36aW39u

Strange as it may sound, a Georgian despot Stalin did not have a home in Georgia proper (but at least another one in Abkhazia.)

praguestepchild said...

It wasn't just a reshuffling of the membership of the oligarch club, as Steve has implied. There's also less stealing going on now.

Tell that to the people who actually live there. Friend of mine was contracting for a big company that got offered $20M, owner refused, they came back with a $10M have that couldn't be refused. Owner had to sell. Not outright stealing I guess, but there's plenty of that going on also, and it's been on the uptake from all I hear. Another friend is having to negotiate with the thieves who stole property but the thugs are having problems fully legitimizing it so maybe he can get half back in some deal, that's his hope anyway. Again the fact that have to get some legitimate cover for what's already been stolen shows that there is *some* rule of law, but it's pretty scant. This sort of stuff is happening as often or likely more often than ever.

People who fetishize Putin as some sort of Moldbuggian Dark Enlightenment savior ought to go live there and try to earn a living, or maybe just invest their savings in a legitimate Russian business and see how that works out.

Anonymous said...

Glossy:
The intelligentsia didn't curse. My father did, but I was a pretentious little brat, so I never picked it up. I still never curse in Russian.

What Russia did you grow up in? Umm, intelligentsia cursed like there is no tomorrow - just not in the presence of women (as a rule). See letters by Pushkin, Tolstoy, Lenin, or just about anyone else. In later days of the USSR, the most enlightened Westernized "intelligents" started to consider it very progressive to curse in public and in written prose (perhaps for its epatage value.)

Anonymous said...

"People who fetishize Putin as some sort of Moldbuggian Dark Enlightenment savior ought to go live there and try to earn a living, or maybe just invest their savings in a legitimate Russian business and see how that works out."

Putin is a gangster and his saving grace is he does love Russia. But even if he were squeaky clean, he can't do much about the criminality that is so ingrained in Russian society.

US isn't so great either though. As we saw from Chick Fil A, you can't do business in many cities if you oppose 'gay marriage'. Bakeries are shut down because they won't bake 'gay wedding' cakes.
A business can be destroyed overnight with bad press from a media that acts as the propaganda machine of Jews and homos.

You can rob via Wall Street and get bail out money from whore politicians.

You can use the government, NSA, IRS, and etc to pull all sorts of dirty tricks to destroy your enemies.

A kind of obeycott is in effect. Obey or your business is gone.

Anonymous said...

"... like putting the winter games in Miami"!?!?

Sochi's latitude is about the same as that of Portland, Maine.

Anonymous said...

Cursing [in Russia] was a big social divider. The intelligentsia didn't curse.

In America, at least in the America where I grew up, the intelligentsia cursed a blue streak. Especially in academia. It was a way for dropouts, hippies, nerds, trekkies, and beards-on-wheels to rebel against white-bread society. It was the plumbers, construction workers, and other nouveau riche that were stiffy formal in speech and manners. (And haircuts too.)

Anonymous said...

Strange as it may sound, a Georgian despot Stalin did not have a home in Georgia proper (but at least another one in Abkhazia.)

Stalin hated Georgia and being Georgian. He reinvented himself as a super-duper Russian patriot and nationalist.

Anonymous said...

Sochi... killing two birds with one stone?

Use winter resort to bring European tourists to Russia, and make Russia a hip place in Europe?

Invest in southern part of Russia to spread the wealth around in a country where too much is concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg?

Anonymous said...

Every winter thousands of Russians descend on Zakopane, a Polish Alpine-like mountain resort in the Tatra Mountains, some remembering perhaps that Lenin spent some time in the nearby town of Poronin in the years prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. Zakopane is really the closest mountain resort to most Russian cities, with the added benefit of being near Krakow, another major tourist destination

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks. Zakopane was Poland's candidate for the 2006 winter olympics. Like Sochi, it's in the extreme south of the country, on the Slovak border as Sochi's ski resort is on the Georgian border. Switzerland's Zermatt where the Matterhorn is, is just north of the Italian border.

This pattern probably has to do with mountain ranges / continental divides being used to draw boundaries. E.g. the Louisiana Purchase was bought sight unseen with the western boundary being the Continental Divide that was accurately presumed to exist.