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Russia's business powers footing half the bill for expensive Sochi Games

| Monday, May 20, 2013, 9:52 p.m.

SOCHI, Russia — The mountains of Sochi are now home to Potanin's slope, Gazprom's gondola lift and Sberbank's ski jump. The nicknames used by locals and an army of construction workers leave no doubt about who is paying for the 2014 Winter Games: Russia's business powerhouses.

Other countries that have hosted the Olympics have overwhelmingly used public funds to pay for the construction of needed venues and new infrastructure.

The Russian government, however, has gotten state-controlled companies and tycoons to foot more than half of the bill, which now stands at $51 billion and makes the 2014 Winter Games by far the most expensive Olympics in history. In contrast, the much-larger 2012 Summer Olympics in London cost about $14.3 billion.

For President Vladimir Putin, the games have been a matter of pride. He has entrusted the country's top businessmen with Sochi's key projects. He is spending increasing amounts of time in the southern Russian city hosting world leaders at his luxurious presidential palace.

Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister under Putin, described the tycoons' participation as a sort of tax imposed by the president.

“If you want to carry on doing business in Russia, here's the tax you need to pay — the kind of a tax that he wants you to pay,” Kasyanov, now an opposition leader, told the Associated Press.

This is particularly true of those who made their fortunes in the rags-to-riches privatizations after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. For others who have grown fabulously wealthy since Putin came to power in 2000, the 2014 Olympics have been a chance to reap the profits through lucrative state contracts.

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