Now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has officially welcomed gays to next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, a larger and more threatening attendance situation is surfacing — how to keep terrorists out.
Tensions began to escalate this Fall when suicide bombers struck a train station and a bus in the Russian metropolis of Volograd, killing dozens of civilians. A new danger arose earlier today with a video posted on an extremist Chechen site featuring two purported militants. The terrorists threaten that if Russia holds the event, Olympic tourists will get a "surprise" that will avenge Muslim deaths "all over the world."
Putin has responded to all recent terrorist threats with verbal gusto, pledging to “destroy the terrorists completely” in his New Year’s address to Russian citizens. The Russian president also said in an interview on Sunday that he will do “whatever it takes” to protect the multitude of tourists in Sochi next month, which includes an estimated 15,000 Americans.
A key lawmaker in Congress, Representative mike Rogers of Michigan, has meanwhile expressed that he is “very concerned” about Olympic security at Sochi. Maine Senator Angus King told CNN that he personally would not go to Sochi for the Olympics because the area is a “rich target” for an attack. Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. Homeland Security Committee, has in turn announced his plan to travel to Russia on Monday to study Russian evacuation plans should there be an attack, according to the New York Times.
Exactly to what extent security measures are being tag-teamed by Russia and the U.S. remains uncertain. “So far, so good,” James Comey, FBI Director, said regarding the two countries’ cooperation on Olympic defense. Other U.S. officials, however, have expressed their dismay at not being included in more security measures by the Kremlin. "This appears to be very different from even the Beijing Olympics, where the Chinese were willing to cooperate with and bring in foreign intelligence agencies, including from the U.S.," Seth Jones, a counterterrorism specialist at the Rand Corp., said. "There is a feeling that the Chinese were more cooperative, which isn't a very high bar.”
Sochi is located on the coast of the Black Sea near Russia's unstable North-caucus region, where rebels have tried to establish an Islamist state for over a decade. Sochi is “very difficult to get to,” according to Don Dahler for CBS News, and hotel rooms for tourists are still in the process of being built. The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Sochi in early January, warning visitors to the Olympics to “remain attentive” to “personal security at all times.”
For now, however, the show in Sochi must go on. “We have great expectations,” Mark Adams, IOC spokesman, says. “The organizers have built amazing venues and we look forward to witnessing great performances from the athletes.”