SOCHI, Russia – Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who was in charge of Olympic preparations, says he is outraged at the mud-slinging Western press for reporting that surveillance cameras have been placed in the hotel bathrooms where journalists are housed.
“Russia is a modern country; we are not so insane that we do such things. This is a totally made-up story,” he said late Sunday evening on the Voskresnoye Vremya television program.
Which makes you wonder — whoever would have said such a thing? And who would wish to blacken Russia’s reputation at a time like this?
Well, it was Kozak himself, actually, on Thursday. When asked about the numerous complaints of badly leaking shower lines, he told a Wall Street Journal reporter last week, “We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day.”
Aides later said he hadn’t expressed himself clearly. There are no cameras, they promised.
But the damage had been done, and the story is still out there.
Russia is a surveillance state, no doubt about it, but it would take a real stretch of the imagination to believe that there are in fact working cameras in every bathroom, when there haven’t even been working faucets in more than a few.
Kozak, in a pickle, latched onto a classic approach – he blamed the messenger.
He definitely had a problem, as the Olympics were getting underway and journalists were flying in from all over the world. Many hotel rooms were not ready. Others lacked hot water, or furniture, or doors that closed. Some last-minute arrivals had to wait for hours deep into the night for friendly but powerless clerks to deliver keys as they were turned over to the hotel staff by construction cleaning crews.
Plenty of viewers, readers and commenters thought the reporting on the hotels’ shortcomings was unseemly and whiny. Reporters are just spoiled, was the general idea. This is Russia – have some perspective.
But that was an argument that Kozak was uniquely unable to offer. First of all, when you spend $50 billion on Olympic preparation, with a seven-year head start, the shower curtain rods shouldn’t be missing. Secondly, Russia chose to put these games on as a way of bragging that it is a modern, progressive, nation equal to any in the world. So Kozak can’t turn around and play the poor, pitiful Russia card.
But on second thought, maybe blaming the guests wasn’t such a great idea. After all, their companies had paid big bucks for the rooms, well in advance.
Then again, on third thought, why not? But this time Kozak was blaming them for spreading such an outlandish story.
“Any surveillance in the bathrooms or living rooms, any breach of private life is out of the question. Here this is prohibited by the law,” the deputy prime minister said.
For the record, progress continues to be made in the hotel department. The ubiquitous leaks have been set right, food and furniture have arrived, and – over the weekend – lightbulbs finally appeared in the table lamps.