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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ski Spat May Dash Sochi's 2014 Bid

Itar-TassTourists using ski lifts at the Krasnaya Polyana resort near Sochi on Jan. 9.
Kremlin officials were scrambling Wednesday to get Sochi's bid for the 2104 Olympics back on track after an embarrassing shutdown of the city's Krasnaya Polyana ski resort drew disparaging remarks from President Vladimir Putin.

Inspectors this week closed the resort's slopes to skiers at the height of the season, claiming that the ski lift operator's facilities were unsafe.

The ski lift operator fought back, accusing the regional governor of being behind the shutdown as a way of muscling in on its operations.

An International Olympic Committee delegation is coming to Sochi to inspect its bid next month and will make its choice in July between the Black Sea resort and the two other finalists, Austria's Salzburg and South Korea's Pyeongchang.

Putin weighed in on the dispute Tuesday, telling Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref that he did not share his optimism about Sochi's "smooth" preparations for its bid, a version of his comments posted in the Kremlin web site said.

When Gref, the government's point man on the Olympic bid, told Putin that "everything has been working smoothly," Putin shot back: "I don't share your optimism, but we will talk about it in greater detail when the press leaves."

Gref said later that there were "problems with the speed" at which the lift operator, Alpika-Service, was fulfilling its commitments ahead of the IOC inspection.

"We'll talk to the company," Gref told reporters later Tuesday in remarks posted on www.sochi.biz, a local news portal. He added that if the company could not prepare for the visit, "we'll do that for it."

Putin, whose residence, Bocharov Ruchei, is located near Sochi, has given strong support to the city's bid.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that the Kremlin knew about the dispute but that Putin's remarks had nothing to do with it.

Pyotr Fedin, the owner of Alpika, on Wednesday accused Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachyov and officials in his administration of trying to close the company down and said Putin was aware of the problems he was facing.

"Putin has real information about what's going on here," Fedin said by telephone from Krasnaya Polyana. Speaking about Tkachyov and his officials, Fedin said, "They would like to bankrupt us and shut us down by fair means or foul."

Fedin owns the land and the ski lifts, while his business associate, Yury Shpalov, owns several restaurants and cafes at the ski resort.

Fedin said the regional authorities had long been eyeing his business, including the land worth millions of dollars and the opportunities that come with it. Under the Sochi Olympic bid, the area would be a designated venue for the freestyle skiing competition.

Because of the dispute with regional authorities, the ski lifts and several restaurants and cafes were shut down for two days, only resuming work Wednesday, Fedin said.

On Wednesday, spokesmen for the Kremlin and Tkachyov's administration were hard at work dealing with the media fallout from the dispute.

Putin's comments were "most likely" referring to a $12 billion federal program to turn Sochi into a world-class resort, Peskov said. That program is "complex and difficult" and "there are problems that require closer attention," he said, adding that the chances to win the bid were very high.

Peskov praised the Krasnodar regional authorities for helping Russia make the Olympic shortlist, and said the dispute did not mean they were "throwing a wrench into the works" of local businesses.

Officials in Tkachyov's administration Wednesday dismissed Fedin's allegations.

Vladimir Prigoda, a spokesman for the regional administration, said the safety inspections at Krasnaya Polyana were part of the federal program to upgrade facilities at Sochi. Out of several venues inspected, only Alpika had problems, Prigoda said.

Maxim Shakirov, an expert at real estate consultancy Colliers International, said land in Sochi had always been popular and the Olympic bid had made it even more attractive, with interest in the area growing over the last couple of months.

Recounting his version of events, Fedin said regional authorities on Friday closed down several cafes and other facilities following a court order.

Fedin said he then stopped the ski lifts Monday for two days to ensure tourists' safety. Some tourists left, and those who stayed, especially foreigners, were "roaming around confused," he said.

Fedin claimed that Tkachyov personally asked him to hand over a 50 stake percent in the business three years ago, and that when he refused the authorities started applying pressure on the firm.

Between Jan. 3 and last week, Fedin said, the company underwent at least 25 inspections. "After that we lost count," he said.

Officials accused Fedin's firm on Jan. 4 of leaving 800 tourists stranded midair on ski lifts, Fedin said. He said that was "nonsense" because the ski lifts had backup generators.

Fedin complained that plans to open two new ski slopes were now on hold, and noted that Alpika, the largest firm at Krasnaya Polyana, had paid 25 million rubles ($1 million) in taxes last year.

Shpalov, Fedin's business associate, despaired of shaking off the authorities' pressure.

"It's impossible to fight this machine," he said, referring to the regional administration.