Sochi Winter Olympics: 'Russia Will Be Ready'

Katie Stallard, Moscow Correspondent

Russia's president has promised the country's new Winter Olympics facilities will be ready in time for the opening of the games in a year's time.

Inspecting the mountain cluster of venues for the Sochi 2014 Games, Vladimir Putin said: "Overall, work is going according to plan. I have no doubt that all the sites will be ready on time and with the appropriate quality."

To the disappointment of the waiting media, the leader performed no trademark action man stunts in the Caucasus mountains - President Putin opting instead for a purposeful walk, dressed in aviator shades and a fur-collared jacket, as he met waiting officials for progress reports.

The games' apparently inexorably spiralling budget has reached an estimated \$50bn (£32bn), making it the most expensive Olympics in history - surpassing even the Beijing games - and more than five times the original projected cost.

Organisers have stressed that around half of this will come from private investment, but critics have pointed out that much of the so-called private funding will come from state-owned, or at least state-controlled, companies.

And President Putin warned officials against allowing corruption to push costs even higher.

"The main thing is that no-one steals anything, so there are no unexplained increases in costs," he was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.

He later sacked a senior Russian Olympic Committee official over delays to the completion of the ski jumping complex.

Russian Olympics Committee deputy chief Akhmed Bilalov was fired after Putin asked who was responsible for the delay in the completion of the complex from 2011 to July this year.

"The decision about the sacking has been taken," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak told reporters.

At a similar latitude to Nice in the south of France, Sochi 2014 will be the world's first sub-tropical Winter Olympics and questions have been raised about its suitability as a venue.

The average February temperature at the coastal cluster on the Black Sea is 12C (53.6F) and there has been very little snow at the mountain venues for most of the last month.

But officials insist they have failsafe contingency plans, with more than 400 artificial snow-making machines imported from Finland to compensate for any natural deficit, and huge reservoirs of snow to be built up in the next 12 months to ensure sufficient coverage during the games.

Travelling to the mountain cluster currently involves a two-hour bus journey up a long and steeply-winding road, but they are in the process of building a new combined road and rail link, which they promise will whisk spectators from coast to snow in 30 minutes.

Sochi residents stuck in the apparently constant traffic jams associated with the overhaul of the city's infrastructure are assured they will soon have access to 367 new roads and bridges, along with new rail and sea terminals and an expanded airport.

Visiting journalists are offered door-to-door bus tours of the city's Olympic construction sites, in an apparent effort to show all of Sochi's achievements in the best possible light.

Sky News joined a tour of the coastal cluster in what has traditionally been known as a balmy beach resort.

It is a surreal trundle past the new Bolshoi Ice Dome through the rubble of what was once the summer playground of the soviet elite.

All of the venues here are being constructed from scratch in what is now a day-and-night race against the clock to get the Olympic park finished on time and without going too much further over budget.

But there is another side to this city that they are much less keen to show off.

On a hill overlooking the Olympic park we found a street of houses that appear to be sliding down the hill towards he new development.

The owners cannot prove the link definitively, but they say the houses only started to move after the contractors began dumping Olympic construction waste in the forest above them.

Tatiana Skyba showed Sky News around the ruins of the house she says she lived in for 18 years before, one night, it began to collapse around her.

She told us: "At first we thought there must have been an earthquake, one of the walls crumbled, of course we were really scared because we thought the earth was moving and we didn't know where to go, but then in the morning we saw that there was only this narrow strip of landslide.

"All our houses are crumbling towards each other, and slowly moving downwards, by the time the Olympics starts we will have slid all the way to the Ice Dome."

Her next-door neighbour showed us his house, which appears to be sinking - he says it has dropped by one full storey.

Inside there is an overwhelming smell of damp and they are attempting to pump out the water that is leaking in through holes in the walls, but they have already had to abandon what was their kitchen, and the situation seems to be getting worse.

His wife, Anaida Kaladgan, told us: "Sometimes I want to scream and scream and scream, maybe God will help us? But it doesn't help - I am sorry for my tears but I don't know anything now but tears and tears and tears.

"My children and grandchildren do not have a roof over their heads."

She showed us where her five-day-old granddaughter was sleeping upstairs and explained that they are trying to heat the room with a fan so she will not suffer from the damp. But she said her carpets are wet and her grandchildren wear wellies indoors.

"What can we do?" she asks. "I wish someone would help us, so we could live like humans and not like pigs. We live like pigs."

She said she had repeatedly tried to appeal to officials but had got nowhere.

"I will write another letter," she told us.

Sky News raised these cases directly with the city's mayor, but he said he had not heard of the street.

Some parts of Sochi's Olympic dream, it seems, are more visible than others.