Putin takes personal responsibility to ensure success of Russia's first Winter Olympics

Preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi face no risk from the global financial crisis or the recent series of explosions in the Russian resort, the games' chief organizer said Wednesday.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee, said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is taking personal responsibility to ensure the success of Russia's first Winter Olympics and that funding for the $12 billion project is secure.

"This is really project No. 1 in the country," Chernyshenko told The Associated Press in an interview in London. "Considering that the overall price for construction is tens of billions of dollars, it's nothing for a country like Russia. So there is no risk of under financing of this project."

Although Russia is facing its worst financial crisis in a decade, Chernyshenko said the Sochi Games are "fully guaranteed" at the highest level of government and that billions in public funds have already been allocated for major infrastructure projects.

Private financing for venue construction is also safe with firm commitments from the Gazprom and Interros companies, he said, adding that Sheraton plans to open a hotel in Sochi in 2011 and two other major chains are set to follow suit.

"The concentration of investment in this region is so high," Chernyshenko said. "In view of the global crisis, the Sochi project is highly attractive in terms of the guaranteed investment."

Chernyshenko also said there has been "huge interest" from big Russian companies in the oil, banking, telecommunications and automobile industries. Once Sochi organizers complete a marketing agreement with the International Olympic Committee next month, they can begin signing up national sponsors to eight-year contracts through 2016.

"They understand that the crisis is a temporary thing, and the long-term partnership with Sochi is one of the most smart and valuable investments," Chernyshenko said.

He played down the six suspicious explosions that have occurred in and around the Black Sea resort this year, killing four people and wounding nearly two dozen. The latest blast came Tuesday, maiming a man after he picked up a metal can on his car and it exploded.

"We're waiting for the result of the investigation," Chernyshenko said. "They are trying to decide if there is any connection between (the explosions). Sochi is welcoming annually 4 million visitors and this is one of the safest places in the country and probably in the world. It's a residence of our prime minister and president.

"I know the government is committed to implement the security concept so that this region is one of the most protected in the world. Our stakeholders consider very seriously the security of the games and no doubt they will deliver it in full."

The government's commitment to the games was underscored by the appointment last month of a deputy prime minister, Dmitry Kozak, to oversee preparations.

Russia's leadership has enormous prestige riding on the Olympics. While he was president, Putin traveled to Guatemala to lobby IOC members to award the games to Sochi.

"Sochi 2014 is a project under the personal direction of Vladimir Putin and together we will not let you down," Chernyshenko said earlier in an address to the Sports Event Management Conference in London. "Russia is a reliable partner. Our work for the games will show once again that we can deliver on our commitments."

Most of the Olympic facilities in Sochi are to be built from scratch.

The clearing of land has begun in the Olympic Park, Chernyshenko said, with venue construction to start in the middle of next year. All venues are scheduled to be ready by 2012 so they can stage test events over two winters ahead of the games.

Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov