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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Residents Say Sochi Bill Still Unfair

Itar-TassAbkhaz refugees' furniture being removed from their building last month.
The current State Duma is set to squeeze through a controversial bill in its final session Friday intended to speed up preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

With the eyes of the world on Russia ahead of the games, proponents of the legislation say it is vital if the country is to get the site ready on time.

Local residents and opposition Duma deputies, however, are up in arms about some elements of the legislation, dubbed the "Olympic Law," which they say could lead to thousands of people being kicked out of their homes without proper compensation.

"If the deputies really understood what the consequences would be, then maybe they would intervene," said Valery Suchkov, who heads an association of Sochi residents. "But in reality they are completely indifferent. That is the scariest thing."

The government is looking to clear land it says is needed for Olympic developments and wants to slash the length of time it takes to evict residents from their property to three months. Under current federal law, the process takes a year.

A number of Russia's biggest companies, including state-controlled Gazprom, Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element and Vladimir Potanin's Interros, are heavily involved in the multibillion-dollar redevelopment of the Black Sea resort.

Sochi residents have taken to the streets in a series of protests against the proposed law, while President Vladimir Putin has said that the interests of local residents must come first.

Having faced a barrage of criticism over the proposed law, deputies have introduced a number of last-minute amendments to try to ensure that those affected are fully compensated.

Yevgeny Fyodorov, who heads State Duma Committee on Economic Policy, Entrepreneurship and Tourism, which introduced the latest amendments Monday, defended the bill as being "aimed at protecting the rights of the citizens" and amply compensating them for their property.

"You can only envy these people, as they will have so much money that they will be able to choose where to buy homes for themselves," Fyodorov said.

He said compensation payments would be determined according to the market value of the property at the moment the official decision to expropriate it is issued by the authorities.

Private real estate appraisal firms will determine the price and residents will have the option of choosing the company themselves or allowing the state corporation do it, according to the bill.

Residents will also have the option to negotiate one of two alternative forms of compensation: either an apartment or a land plot, Fyodorov said. This would give them the right to ask authorities to provide them with housing in a desirable region, he said.

According to the new law, residents will be able to contest decisions on the level of compensation they receive but not the confiscation of property itself.

Despite the amendments, the latest version of the bill has still drawn fire from opposition parties in the Duma.

Communist Deputy Oleg Kulikov, whose party voted against the draft legislation in its first reading, said the new version was still "insufficient."

"This is a step forward, but all of this was still conducted in a big hurry," Kulikov said.

Boris Kibirev, a Communist deputy representing the Krasnodar region, said the bill violated constitutional guarantees.

"The right to private property is inviolable," Kibirev said. "Residents have no way to avoid the seizures."

Since the International Olympic Committee awarded the games to Sochi in early July, property values in the region have soared, with some real estate firms reporting a doubling of prices almost overnight.

One of the biggest concerns on the part of residents is that the compensation they ultimately receive will not match the real value of their property -- a concern that Kulikov said was well-founded.

"There aren't the necessary economic conditions in place to fulfill the requirements of the new law," he said.

The Sochi residents' association's Suchkov said that in cases where the evicted residents opt for land as compensation, the plots they receive are unlikely to be in desirable locations.

Perhaps the most important amendment to the bill has been the limitation of its authority to Sochi and building to a 2014 expiration date.

With no geographical or time limits set in stone, deputies feared that unscrupulous developers would invoke the legislation if they needed to clear land for construction anywhere in Russia.

The bill should go through its second and third readings on Friday and, after being passed by the Federation Council and signed by the president, come into effect at the start of next year, said Yury Barzykin, another of the bill's authors.

The Olympic Law will also cover a range of other, less controversial areas, ranging from advertising and the pricing of official merchandising to rules on bringing in migrant workers, Barzykin said.

Suchkov said Sochi's residents were being kept in the dark about the overall development plan for the Winter Games and that the bill should not be passed before things were made clearer.

Suchkov estimated that the final plan would mean the eviction of around 1,500 people from their homes.

Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak said Wednesday that a final list of sites to be developed for the games should be approved by the government by Dec. 1.

Suchkov said, meanwhile, that some evictions had already occurred. In a shape of things to come, the local authorities forcibly evicted around 25 families from their homes at the end of last month on the orders of a Sochi court.

Most of the families were refugees from Abkhazia who had sought sanctuary in Sochi in the early 1990s after a civil war in Georgia forced them to flee their homes, said Suchkov, who represented the families in court.

After arriving in Russia the families had moved into two derelict buildings in Sochi and, although they had lived in them for 15 years and had been granted Russian citizenship, never registered the buildings as their own property.

Mikhail Konstantinov, a spokesman for Basic Element in Sochi, said the company would be constructing Olympic facilities on the site.