Putin fires Russian Olympic official over ski jump

February 7, 2013

The vice president of Russia’s Olympic Committee was fired Thursday after a public roasting and ritual humiliation by Vladimir Putin, who was in a pique because the Olympic ski jump was behind schedule.

With one year to go before the Opening Ceremonies on Feb. 7, 2014, the Russian president spent Wednesday inspecting venues for the Sochi Games and showing off Russia’s progress to Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, and Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the coordination commission.

Putin has made a successful Winter Games a point of personal honor, and he was not pleased that there were no signs of spectator stands at the RusSki Gorki ski jump complex. There also was no snow, but perhaps someone else would end up answering for that.

Ahkmed Bilalov, however, would soon find himself in political Siberia, losing his Olympic post as well as his job running North Caucasus Resorts, the state-supported company that is building a series of ski resorts in the mountains north of here in an effort to curb terrorism through jobs and development.

His humiliation was broadcast on national television’s main news program Wednesday night, which showed Putin turning to Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister in charge of Olympic construction, and subjecting him to naughty-schoolboy treatment. Why was the ski jump late?

Russia's president cracks down on dissent.

Well, Kozak said, the previous owner of the site had failed to meet his obligations.

“And who is he?” Putin demanded, with cruel irony.

“Comrade Bilalov,” Kozak replied dutifully.

“And Comrade Bilalov is doing what now?” asked Putin.

“He is vice president of the Russian Olympic Committee,” another official answered helpfully.

Putin continued with the prosecution, leading on one submissive witness after another, producing the information that construction costs have risen on the ski jump complex to $267 million, from the original $40 million. Bilalov had personally owned the land under the ski jump, Putin suggested, then sold it to the Olympic project and now was supervising its development.

Then came the verdict. “And so your vice president of the Olympic Committee of the country is working on this construction and is pilfering from it,” Putin said.

“Well done,” he said in cold fury. “Great job.”

When asked about the episode at a news conference Thursday, Kozak genially referred to Putin’s “emotional speech” and said that after the president made his sentiments known, nothing could be done but dismiss Bilalov. Kozak said that he himself had been chiding Bilalov for some time, with no results. Whew. He was on the same side as Putin all along!

News of Bilalov’s departure, Kozak observed with detachment, was the most widely read piece of news on the Internet. Said Internet was bemused that one victim had been chosen out of so, so many who are profiting. Bilalov could not have gotten where he was without close ties to Putin. Everyone here assumes huge corruption is connected to Olympic projects, and reporters regularly pepper officials with requests for an estimate of the amount.

The word on social media — in tweets and on blogs — was that Putin had decided an example must be made to assure the public that everything was under control.

Mikhail Khasin, a political analyst, told Ekho Moskvy radio that control will not be easy.

“You can fire some and put others in their place,” he said, “and tell the replacements they can only steal 5 percent instead of 50 percent . . . but cutting those ambitions is impossible.”

At the end of the mountain tour Wednesday, Putin led the Olympic officials to afternoon tea set up in a room with an extraordinary view at the biathlon stadium.

The plates were decorated with regal stag heads, the seats draped in lush sheepskin, the table set with rustic wooden-handled utensils. Pots of local honey stood at each place, plates of cold cheese and fish beckoned, along with grass-green cucumbers and red-as-blood tomatoes.

Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.

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