News / Europe

Russia Seeks Olympic Comeback With Sochi Games

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Olympic Village Mayor Elena Isinbaeva (R) visit the Coastal Cluster Olympic Village ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Athletes Village in Sochi, Feb. 5, 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Olympic Village Mayor Elena Isinbaeva (R) visit the Coastal Cluster Olympic Village ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Athletes Village in Sochi, Feb. 5, 2014.
When Russia last staged an Olympic Games, much of the world's finest were no shows.

With Sochi, Russia is banking on staging an elaborate turnabout.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has invested heavily in the Winter Olympic Games, which begin Friday in the Russian Black Sea resort.

“Keep in mind the last Olympics in Russia were the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. And these were held a year after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. And as a consequence of that, more than 60 nations boycotted the Moscow Olympics,” said Brian Jenkins, an analyst with the RAND Corporation.

“It was a debacle for the Soviet Union, for the Russians. Sochi is their comeback,” he said.

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, told reporters there that “the Olympic stage is ready for the best winter athletes of the world.”  

Russian authorities have spent more than $50 billion on the Winter Olympics making them the most expensive games in history. As a comparison, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London cost $15 billion.

Thomas de Waal, who has written extensively on the North Caucasus, agrees that  Putin has staked his personal prestige on the peaceful outcome of these games.

“He is a man who, as we know, has made his whole brand about this, this is a man who has put Russia back on the map. He has made Russia strong again, respected again, a place of prestige,” said de Waal. “He is also a man who loves physical sports and the outdoors. And so he has definitely put an enormous amount into these games and pumped unprecedented amounts of money into these games as well.”

De Waal said if the Sochi games go well and without incident, no one will be more relieved than Putin. But if things go wrong, he is the one who will be blamed.

  • Russian speed skaters train at the Adler Arena Skating Center ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Feb. 5, 2014.
  • Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov practice their routine at the figure stating practice rink ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 5, 2014.
  • A woman poses with the Olympic rings in Olympic Park as preparations continue for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 5, 2014.
  • Hidenari Kanayama of Japan completes a training run in the men's luge singles ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • Canadian short track speed skaters and brothers Charles and Francois Hamelin watch a replay of their training on an iPad at the Iceberg Skating Palace, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • A Russian security forces K-9 officer patrols with his dog near the finish area of the Alpine ski course ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • Rosa village is seen from a gondola prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • Olympic workers ski through a tunnel on the way to the Alpine ski course ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • A competitor takes a jump past a giant matryoshka doll during a Snowboard Slopestyle training session at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • U.S. snowboarder Ryan Stassel takes air off a jump during slopestyle snowboard training at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • Speed skaters from the Netherlands train at the Adler Arena Skating Center ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • Players from the Swedish women's national ice hockey team take part in a training session at the Shayba Arena in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • An Olympic worker overlooks the Caucasus Mountains from the Alpine ski course ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2014.

Security measures tight

 A lot of money has been spent on unprecedented security arrangements to prevent terrorist attacks, according to Brian Jenkins, an expert on security and terrorism with the RAND Corporation.

“There are anywhere between 70,000 and 100,000 policemen and military troops deployed around the city. In addition, we hear reports that Russian authorities are going door to door in Sochi looking for suspects - they have some particular individuals they are looking for,” Jenkins explained.

“Vehicles from outside Sochi have been banned in the city. There is a surveillance effort that has been established which will provide the Russian authorities with instant access,” he added, “real time access to all communications taking place in Sochi and, reportedly, even the ability to intervene and alter messages themselves.”

North Caucasus threat

The main threat comes from separatist and jihadi groups in the North Caucasus, especially from Chechnya and Dagestan, located some 500 kilometers from Sochi. Several groups have vowed to disrupt the Winter Olympics.

One such group claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in late December that killed more than 30 people in Volgograd, the largest city closest to Sochi - some 600 kilometers away.

Bruce Hoffman, an expert on terrorism with Georgetown University, said Sochi has been transformed into a closed city.

“This is probably, without any doubt, the most threatened Olympics since the 1972 Munich Olympics where, of course, the tragedy of the terrorist attack on the Israeli athletes really resulted in the profound changes we see to the Olympics, but also to other huge sporting events in terms of their security.”

Sochi - the only target?

Hoffman said the tight security measures make Sochi a difficult target for terrorists, butu that they don’t need to strike at the games to either disrupt or overshadow the Olympics.

“They may understand that they can’t get close to the games or even the athletes themselves, or even the spectators," Hoffman noted. "But they can and I believe their intention is to make life difficult for the Russians and to create some sort of an incident that takes away from the enjoyment and the sporting spectacular that is the Winter Olympic."

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More