OLYMPIC HOPES OF THE HIGHLANDERS

In a minivan taxi plying the route from Narzan (Ingushetia) to Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia), a simply dressed man of about 35 held a boy in his arms and constantly looked out the window. Every now and then he would ask other passengers: "How much longer? Will we get to Vladikavkaz before five o'clock? Will we stop far from the train station?" It transpired that he was rushing to catch the train to Adler and then travel to Sochi. He'd heard that the Olympics would be held and figured that the city would need construction workers. The man's name was Adam, and he was from the Chechen village of Zakan-Yurt.
Adam is one of the people for whom the 2014 winter Olympic Games in Sochi are not just a matter of national pride, but an event that might change his life. The high levels of unemployment in Chechnya and the entire North Caucasus force hundreds of people to leave their homes in search of work. For people such as Adam, Sochi is a great opportunity. The planned investment of $12bn speaks for itself: there will be enough construction work for everyone, and it will be close to home.
President Putin has made it clear that the Olympics in Sochi are actually just one of many crucial projects to accelerate the entire country's economic development. The Olympic sites and infrastructure will do more than create a construction boom in the Krasnodar region. The consequences will be far greater: the Games are expected to spark a dramatic change in the economy of the Kuban region and then the entire Southern Federal District. The enormous influx of investment into the Kuban economy will eventually spread to the neighboring regions.
The self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia, which is closest to Sochi, could reap the greatest economic benefits. Even now the leaders of the republic are talking about rebuilding the local airport, which was closed after the armed conflict of 1992-1993. Besides the economic benefits, the Olympics may affect its ambiguous political status. Russia will be determined to maintain the current stability in Abkhazia. The greatest difficulty is that stability itself is regarded differently in Abkhazia and Georgia. But the best course is to ensure the present stability, which means that for the next seven years, the people of Abkhazia can go about their business to solve their social and economic problems.
Stability must be maintained in the entire North Caucasus, where several of the republics are considered "potential conflict zones". Over the next seven years, the federal authorities will do all they can to prevent any kind of military action in the region. And that factor - even more than the economic factor - makes the residents of the North Caucasus republics happiest of all.
Timur Aliev is editor of Chechen Society

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