Vladimir Putin toured the Centre together with IOC Executive Director for the Olympic Games Gilbert Felli and IOC Coordination Commission Chairman Jean-Claude Killy.
The Centre was set up in 2009 within the framework of the programme to restore the Persian leopard population. It is the first centre in Russia for the breeding and rehabilitation of large carnivores that are subsequently released into the wild. Currently the Centre is home to six adult leopards and four cubs.
In 2001, the Persian leopard was entered into the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora.
After his visit to the Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre, Vladimir Putin answered questions from journalists.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: This is a unique centre: nothing of its kind exists anywhere else in the world. We are doing something truly commendable as part of the Olympics project. As you may know, poachers killed off all the leopards here in the Caucasus back in the 1950s. We decided to restore the leopards’ population as part of the Olympic effort. This is hard work that requires great sensitivity. I believe you have heard the experts talk about what they have been doing here – I found it both interesting and very encouraging. Let us consider the restoration of a lost animal species to be part of Sochi’s Olympic legacy.
I am sure you know that the environment here has become much better – many times better, and I would like to stress this. This is mainly due to a far better quality of the roads, which, in turn, has led to reduced emissions; there are no more burning landfills, and waste treatment facilities are more efficient. The environment is two, three, and according to some parameters, four times better now. The air is cleaner, the environment is better – this is obvious.
Naturally, such major construction sites cause concern among the environmentalists. However, overall the situation has become better, rather than worse.
I expect us to be able to implement other major projects of this kind with equal efficiency, although I doubt that we will have any more challenges of this scale in the near future. The next milestone will be the preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is also a huge undertaking.
Question: Regarding the roads: I hear you took the new Kurortny Avenue on your way here, which has just been commissioned. What is the traffic like there? Not too heavy?
Vladimir Putin: Haven’t you been there yourself?
Remark: No, not yet.
Vladimir Putin: I strongly recommend you try it out. There are no traffic jams there, but that’s not the point. The thing is that this is a very complicated engineering structure since practically the entire road is made up of tunnels. The route has only been commissioned temporarily, on a trial basis. Nevertheless, I have to say that all the necessary security measures have been taken there. Some tunnels will have additional fire-fighting teams standing by. They have envisaged everything that has to do with security, even before fully commissioning all the electronic and fire-fighting systems. The road should be fully completed in about six to eight weeks. Overall, it is perfectly safe for operation provided the additional measures I have mentioned are in place.
Question: What about the situation in Sochi in general? We remember what you said in Guatemala: there will be no traffic jams, I promise. Will that be the case?
Vladimir Putin: It certainly looks like it. You have seen all the roads that have been built and all the interchanges. In my opinion, we should definitely be proud of this achievement. I am sure people will use them for years to come. There is a motorway and a railway going up into the mountains. I would like to repeat that I am truly impressed with all the interchanges they have built. I am happy to see that we have achieved so much in this area. There are still questions remaining regarding some of the hotels, but they are not of a critical nature. Whether there are issues or not, we have the required 40,000 hotel beds, and they are all ready to be used.
Question: Mr Putin, can you disclose the main Olympic secret: who will light the Olympic flame?
Vladimir Putin: You mean the torch?
Question: Yes, the torch. There are all sorts of jokes circulating on social networks. I am sure you are aware of them.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I am, Dmitry Peskov [Press Secretary] told me yesterday. I am sure these are just rumours. We have quite a few outstanding athletes, including those in winter sports, all famous not only in this country, but around the world as well. Honestly speaking, I never got involved in this aspect of the preparations and have no intention of doing so. However, I have to say that I have deep respect for all athletes who have shown outstanding results.
This requires extremely hard work, and these men and women dedicate their lives to it, training twice daily from early childhood, working flat out. I know this partly from personal experience, and even to a greater extent from members of the national judo team, which is my favourite sport. They have practically no private lives to speak of: with two training sessions a day, they live from competitions to training camp and then to competitions again. They all deserve great respect. In comparison to, say, the so-called middle class, they work for meagre pay, only out of their love for sports, for their fans, for their country (with the exception of tennis, ice hockey and football players). I repeat, they all deserve great respect, men and women alike. We always tend to show special attention to women because often their achievements are even greater than men’s.
I believe I will speak for all fans if I say that we love them all – all the Olympic athletes, including the fair sex, and we wish them every success at these Olympic Games, and at all other competitions. I am sure this is how it will be.
As for who will light the Olympic flame, I am sure this will not be a problem. As I said from the start, we have enough great athletes doing winter sports.