The 2014 Winter Olympics get underway this week, while the international community continues to question Russia’s ability to safely host the games, taking place in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.
Despite its past dominance of the Winter Games, Russia has never had the privilege of hosting the Winter Olympics; Moscow hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics. Russia’s desire for better reputation since the fall of the Soviet Union has been tarnished by a pair of suicide bombings in Volgograd in December that took the lives of 31 people, as well as the threat of future attacks.
“No Olympics in recent memory will commence as inauspiciously at the 2014 Sochi Games,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of the center for security studies at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, in an interview with Fox News.
“This would be unprecedented in Olympic history and likely reflects the perpetrator’s intention to disrupt the games even before the opening ceremony,” Hoffman added.
Why Russia is not worried despite doubts
“Sochi is as safe as the rest of Russia,” said Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S., in an interview with CNN. “It’s a wonderful place for the Olympics.”
“It’s not close to a war zone. There is no war zone in Russia,” Kislyak said in response to Americans questioning Russia’s security measures following recent terror attacks.
Experts link the December suicide bombings to Islamist fighters seeking to create a fundamentalist Muslim state in Russia’s North Caucasus Mountains, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. Russian police have been warning hotels in Sochi to be on the lookout for women known as “black widows,” who are believed to have plans of suicide bombings in order to avenge the deaths of husbands and family members killed by Russian security forces in 2012.
Additionally, civil unrest is not far from Sochi. Ukraine is on the brink of civil war, and Kiev — which is a 20-hour drive from Sochi — is at the center of the violence, worrying some that Ukraine’s problems could bubble over.
Russian officials, however, say they are taking the necessary safety precautions to ensure a safe athletic environment.
“We do not take it lightly,” Kislyak said of Olympic security preparations. “We have excellent specialists. We have put a pretty strong team to deny terrorists any chance of success. I’m absolutely sure we are going to succeed.”
U.S. takes safety measures for Sochi
The United States is placing great emphasis on the safety of its 230 athletes in the Winter Games, the largest in Winter Olympic history from any country.
The U.S. military will deploy at least two warships to the Black Sea to enable a rapid evacuation of Americans in the event of an attack, according to CNN. Military presence is seen as a necessary step to prepare continued threats vowing to avenge Muslims around the world.
American athletes will have to trust the United States and Russian Olympic committees to take proper precautions for their safety.
“The U.S. Department of State has advised that wearing conspicuous Team USA clothing in non-accredited areas may put your personal safety at greater risk,” a memo from the U.S. Olympic Committee to athletes said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Ashley Wagner, a 22-year-old two-time U.S. figure skating champion, said she is putting her faith in the United States and Russian Olympic committees to ensure Olympians’ safety.
“Obviously I keep up with the news, I’m very aware of the security threats,” Wagner, who will travel to Sochi with her parents to make her Olympic debut, said in an interview with the Washington Post. “At the same time, I have to tell myself that the USOC and the Russian Olympic Committee are doing everything they can.”
Wagner added, “Really, what can you do other than believe in the people put in charge to take care of you?”