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

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    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.
    Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United Statesi
    X
    July 28, 2016 2:16 AM
    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora