Kozak Named Olympics Minister

Burnishing his reputation as the government's top problem solver, Dmitry Kozak has been appointed deputy prime minister in charge of the troubled preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

President Dmitry Medvedev announced the creation of the new Cabinet position Tuesday and said the post would go to Kozak, who had been serving as regional development minister.

Kozak, 49, will be replaced at the Regional Development Ministry by Viktor Basargin, deputy presidential envoy to the Urals Federal District.

In a televised meeting with Kozak at the presidential residence in Gorky, outside Moscow, Medvedev pointed out that a deputy head of the Soviet government had been appointed to oversee preparations for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proposed the Cabinet change earlier in the day.

In a televised meeting with Medvedev, Putin said he wanted "to provide an additional impulse and concentrate administrative resources" on preparations for the Winter Games.

"After consultations with the International Olympic Committee, I believe it will be useful to introduce an additional deputy prime minister post in the Russian government for someone who would concentrate exclusively on preparations for the 2014 Olympics with the necessary authority," Putin said.

Most of the facilities and infrastructure for the games in Sochi, a Black Sea resort, are being built from scratch. The government has already created a state corporation to handle $12 billion. The federal budget is to provide $7 billion in funding, with the remainder coming from the private sector.

Kozak, who worked with Putin and Medvedev in St. Petersburg City Hall in the 1990s and then in the presidential administration, is widely cited as one of Putin's closest colleagues and has been charged by Putin with tackling some of the country's most pressing tasks.

In 2004, amid the social and ethnic tension in the Northern Caucasus following a terrorist attack on a school in Beslan that killed over 300 people, over half of them children, then-President Putin appointed Kozak as his envoy to the Southern Federal District.

Kozak's personal experience with the social and political realities of southern Russia, where Sochi is located, as well as his reputation as a incorrupt workaholic appear to have been the main factors behind his selection.


"Putin's mention of his consultations with the IOC on Tuesday suggests he is really concerned with the slow pace of constriction in Sochi," said Dmitry Badosky, a political analyst with the Institute of Social Systems. "And Kozak has a reputation as the best Kremlin man to get the managerial engines churning."

Earlier this year, Jean-Claude Killy, the head of the IOC's Coordination Commission for the 2014 games, said preparations for the Sochi Olympics would be the most challenging ever.

Additional concerns have come as the financial crisis has taken a toll on the country's construction companies and real estate developers.

Last month, Putin told a government meeting that he would not tolerate any setbacks in the preparation for the games, which have become a flagship project for boosting the country's international status.

As regional development minister, Kozak had already been deeply involved in the preparations.

Basargin's appointment as Kozak's replacement suggests that the government will focus increasingly on northern industrial development.

As deputy presidential envoy to the Urals Federal District, Basargin, 51, was also chairman of the supervisory board of a corporation aimed at the development of the region's northernmost areas.

Igor Barinov, a State Duma deputy elected from the Sverdlovsk region said by telephone on Tuesday that he had no doubt that Basargin's active work for the corporation, known as Urals Industrial-Urals Polar, has earned him notice in Moscow.

Vasily Guskov, deputy general director of Uralpolit.ru, a Yekaterinburg-based information portal, said Basargin had been the project's most active lobbyist and that his appointment meant the government was becoming increasingly serious about the industrial exploration of the North.

"This project will get colossal backing," Guskov said by phone.

Basargin's appointment stood out because "it was the result of [his] business qualities," Barinov said, describing him as systematic and thoughtful.

Basargin might also owe his new post to connections to Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Sobyanin, who is also the government chief of staff.

Sobyanin served as first deputy presidential envoy to the Urals Federal District from 2000 to 2001, the same time Basargin served as the presidential envoy's chief of staff. Basargin took over as deputy presidential envoy in 2001.