Sochi will be on everyone’s list of things to watch when the Olympic games start there soon. Concerns for safety are rising each day.
A video which threatens the Winter Olympics has been found. Russia’s President vows the games will be safe and some U.S. Lawmakers are convinced they will not. One thing is clear though – as the debate over security continues, safety of the athletes and visitors is of top concern.
Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed that the Games, like any high-profile event, could easily be a target for terrorists. He says that Russia understands completely what the threat is and how to stop it.
In the video, shown on a well-known website, two men believed to be responsible for last month’s double suicide bombings in Volgograd speak about those attacks and make a promise. Stating that they have prepared a present for the athletes and tourists come if they games are held, they go on to say that the present will be for “…the Muslim blood…” that has been shed.
The men in the video are dressed all in black and standing in front of a banner with a scripture verse that is usually linked with al Qaeda extremists. December’s attacks in Volgograd, 400 miles from Sochi, raised concerns over safety as the Olympics starting date nears.
The explosions, which targeted a train station and trolley, claimed the lives of more than 30 people. Besides the Volgograd attacks, there has been violence recently in Dagestan, the latest linked to Islamist terrorism in the North Caucasus.
Putin promises that visitors to Sochi will be safe. His security chief is working to make sure that safety measures are not too obvious and will not be too noticeable to Olympic attendees. At the same time that security measures will not be easily seen, Russia is relying on its experience in providing security for other high-powered, international vents such as G20 summits.
American lawmakers do not feel as confident as Putin does. Legislators said they do not plan on attending the games, nor allowing their families to go either. Several also called for there to be more cooperation with America in the area of intelligence gathering. Legislators called the level of Russian concern adequate, but also expressed disappointment in not getting all of the information felt needed prior to the games start.
Russia’s position on gay rights has been another thorn of contention for many visitors and potential visitors. Under international pressure since last summer when the Russian parliament passed a law outlawing, what it calls, “gay propaganda”. The law makes it unlawful to talk to minors about gay equality. Western leaders have called the law discriminatory.
Putin defended the law Friday when he met with journalists, saying that the law was meant to protect children. Claiming the law is not about sexual orientation, Putin says it’s merely there to keep the children safe.
Freedom of speech is another area in which Russia has been criticized as the world gets ready to travel to Sochi. Russians have set up an official protest site, but it is about a 30 minute drive from the Olympic village and can be close to impossible to find.
The final bill for Sochi construction tops $45 billion and passes the $40 billion China spent in Beijing. The total is also three times the investment of the London Games in 2012. Between politics and safety concerns for Sochi, Russia has plenty on their plate to contend with.
By Jerry Nelson