- Associated Press - Thursday, December 16, 2010

MOSCOW (AP) - The 2018 World Cup will ramp up the quality of life in Russia so much that it will help reduce crime and make the nation healthier, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday.

Putin also said the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi will bring new levels of infrastructure to the southern Black Sea resort.

Putin’s goal was to bring both top sporting events to Russia as part of a wider drive to raise prestige abroad. The World Cup represents a “powerful development of all the infrastructure in the country’s European territory,” Putin said.

Russia is spending at least $10 billion on dramatic upgrades to infrastructure in 13 cities to prepare to host World Cup matches. It is also remodeling Sochi from a Soviet-era vacation resort to a Monaco-style destination of glamor in a project estimated to cost more than $30 billion for the Olympics.

Putin said locals will reap the rewards for years to come.

“There will be less crime, less drug-taking,” Putin said during his annual call-in show on state television and radio. “In the end it’s an integrated, exclusively positive influence on the future of the country.”

Of the World Cup facilities, including a dozen new or revamped soccer stadiums, Putin noted: “All this will be left to the people, and will serve them for decades. It will facilitate a healthy way of life.”

Putin conceded that if it weren’t for the Olympics, the region may have remained neglected.

“I hate to say it, but we might never in 100 years have done what we are doing now _ or maybe we would never have done it,” Putin said. “Roads, gas pipes, new electricity stations. … It’s Sochi.”

For the Olympics to be considered succesful in Russia, a traditional winter sports powerhouse, the national team must avoid a repeat of its dismal showing in Vancouver. Russia won 15 medals, including only three gold.

Putin said improvement is expected.

“There will be cries of delight and pride in our national team,” he said.

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