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US, Russia Cooperate on Sochi Security

  • Kent Klein

A police leaflet at a Sochi hotel, depicting Dzhannet Tsakhayeva (r) and Zaira Aliyeva, suspected of being suicide bombers, Jan. 21, 2014.

A police leaflet at a Sochi hotel, depicting Dzhannet Tsakhayeva (r) and Zaira Aliyeva, suspected of being suicide bombers, Jan. 21, 2014.

In the face of terrorist threats, the United States is offering to help Russia strengthen security at next month's Winter Olympics in Sochi. The offer could help to improve U.S.-Russian relations or cause them to deteriorate further.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says President Barack Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday about efforts to keep the Olympics safe.

"What I can tell you is that we are having conversations with the Russians. We have made clear that we are prepared to provide any assistance that we can, if Russia asks for it, and we're going to continue to work with them," said Carney.

The two leaders spoke a day after the Pentagon said it offered Russia air and naval help to secure the Black Sea resort city of Sochi and the surrounding area.

James Goldgeier, dean of the School of International Service at Washington's American University, says despite their differences, Obama and Putin can work together when necessary.

"The relationship between President Obama and President Putin is clearly not a strong relationship," he said. "That doesn't mean they can't do business when they need to do business, and I expect when they identify common interests, they will do so."

The presidents' conversation took place as Russia searched for at least three potential female suicide bombers and faced other terrorist threats. One of them is from an Islamic militant group that claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings last month in Volgograd.

Meanwhile, Israel says it has foiled al-Qaida's plans for a suicide attack on the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.

The U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert, advising Americans who go to Sochi for the Olympics to be cautious.

Jay Carney says other U.S. security precautions are not out of the ordinary for a large international event.

"As you might expect, in the run-up to an event like this, there has been an uptick in some of the threat reporting, and we are taking precautions accordingly, but that is not unusual," he said.

While the presence of U.S. ships in the Black Sea could be seen as antagonizing Russia, James Goldgeier says it shows that Washington shares the world's interest in preventing a terrorist incident at the Winter Games.

"I don't know that it's antagonizing, but I think, you know, it is a sign that the United States worries that Russia alone is not able to take care of the situation, and so the United States is prepared to do whatever it takes, and it has to, to make sure that its people are safe," he said.

With differences between the two countries over Syria and Edward Snowden, who leaked U.S. intelligence documents and took asylum in Russia, many people on both sides hope the security cooperation at the Olympics will lead to better relations.