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SBD Global/February 21, 2014/Olympics

Russian Officials Prepare For Possible Backlash From Putin Following Sochi Olympics

Even before Sunday's Closing Ceremony at the Sochi Olympics, contractors and investors "are scrambling to make sure their books balance before President Vladimir Putin launches a face-saving audit of the Games," according to Elizabeth Piper of REUTERS. After "months of criticism" over the record-breaking price tag and opposition allegations of fraud and corruption, Putin "has signaled that reports of corruption, waste or abuse of funds will be investigated after the event, if there is evidence." Shortly after the Games began, Putin told Sochi officials, "A very large amount of money has been invested. Now is not the time to discuss whether it was worth it, or whether the prices were inflated or not. Let the supervisory bodies deal with that, and they will deal with it." But instead of singling out the high-profile businessmen "who splashed out to build glittering stadiums, hotels and a costly railway to the ski slopes," many Russians think he is "more likely to look for scapegoats among local and lower-ranking officials." That way, say political analysts, "he can satisfy public calls for punishment but minimize the political fallout." In a country where "success in business and politics depends on personal ties," the threat of investigations and prosecutions "has led to speculation that a high-level scapegoat might yet be found when the Olympic curtain comes down" on Sunday. Some of the media speculation has focused on PM Dmitry Medvedev, not because of his role in the Olympic preparations, but because "he is widely seen as a potential sacrificial lamb for Putin whenever things start to go badly." Of the oligarchs who have helped Putin with the Games, Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin "is seen as the most vulnerable after criticism of the high cost of the railway line built from Sochi to Krasnaya Polyana in the Caucasus mountains" (REUTERS, 2/20).
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