Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev aren’t the first Russian leaders to treat Sochi as a second home. Atop another hill – this one much closer to the city and the Black Sea – sits the green-painted dacha where Joseph Stalin spent three months a year for almost all of his three-decade reign atop the Soviet Union. Like the tandem’s fortresses up in the mountains, the approaches to Stalin’s dacha are guarded by camouflaged pillboxes.
Now open to tourists, the dacha is a monument to the paranoid life Stalin lived even here, while running the country by phone, far from the usual Kremlin intrigues. The doors can only be opened if someone on each side simultaneously turns their key, and the lone couch in what was Stalin’s office is built with arms thick enough to stop a short-range shotgun blast. “Stalin didn’t trust anyone. He never slept in the same place,” explains Tatiana Dashyana, the dacha’s 60-year-old caretaker and tour guide.
Ms. Dashyana says Mr. Putin hasn’t been to visit Stalin’s dacha yet, but she “would welcome him.” She admires strong leaders and relates how first Stalin – an ethnic Georgian who preferred the warm south to Moscow’s cold greyness – and now Mr. Putin have built Sochi from a tiny fishing village into what it is today.
“Putin’s always here. He lives in Sochi,” she tells me, relating – like everyone here – how she often sees the presidential motorcade in the city. “Putin has done a lot for the city. He’s built kindergartens here, and children’s playgrounds.”
But what will become of Sochi after the Olympics are done? Critics say the Games will leave a ghost town behind when they’re over, an impression reinforced by the lower-than-expected number of tourists during the first days of the Olympics.
“Who is this for?” asked Andrey, a taxi driver, as we drove past the main venues in Adler on the night of the opening ceremony. “Who needs this?”
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