Russian President Vladimir Putin said 40,000 police and special services officers have been deployed in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to ensure security ahead of the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony on Feb. 7.
“We will protect our air and sea space, as well as the mountain cluster,” Putin said in an interview with foreign and domestic media recorded in Sochi Jan. 17 and televised yesterday. “I hope that it will be arranged so that it will not be evident and, as I have already said, will not depress the participants in the Olympic Games.”
Putin said the government introduced a “special regime” to limit the movement of people and goods in the region on Jan 7. Russia is spending about $50 billion to stage the games, more than any previous host nation.
Security has been stepped up across Russia since two suicide bombings killed more than 30 people on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 in the southern city of Volgograd, about 645 kilometers (400 miles) from Sochi. Police said Jan. 18 they were searching the city for Razmena Ibragimova, a woman they said may attempt a suicide bombing.
Sochi lies to the west of the Caucasus mountains, which stretch about 1,200 kilometers across Chechnya to Dagestan on the Caspian Sea, one of Russia’s most economically distressed regions. Russian forces have been responding to almost daily attacks in the Caucasus by Muslim extremists since the two separatist wars that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia will do “whatever it takes” to prevent a terrorist attack at the Olympics, Putin said in an interview broadcast yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” program.
“We have adequate means available to us” including the Russian intelligence service and the military, he said. “If necessary, all those tools will be activated.”
The network also reported that two men claiming to be Islamist militants in Russia’s North Caucasus region have released a video in which they threaten to attack the Olympics.
Laura Seal, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, had no comment on the threat. The agency has issued a travel alert for Americans planning to travel to Sochi for the Olympics and Paralympic Games in February and March.
Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on the ABC “This Week” program that any possible attacks would be most likely against “soft targets” such as transportation systems outside the perimeter of the games.
Cooperation between Russia and the U.S. on security for the Olympics “could be a lot better” and the U.S. has offered military assistance, McCaul said.
Echoing the concern about inadequate cooperation on security were Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, and Michael Morrell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, both appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Putin said in his interview with foreign reporters that he doesn’t see any need for the repeal of Russia’s gay-propaganda law even after the measure prompted criticism within Russia and internationally.
“The law we adopted does not hurt anybody,” Putin said. “People of non-traditional sexual orientation cannot feel like inferior people here because there is no professional, career or social discrimination against them.”
The legislation passed in June carries fines for anyone providing information about homosexuality and pedophilia to people under 18.
Putin linked the law to Russia’s drive to increase the country’s slowing birth rates and pointed out that homosexuality is “still a criminal offense” in some U.S. states.
“Shouldn’t we hold any international competitions there?” he asked.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2003 struck down state sodomy laws nationwide.
The Russian leader said he knows some people who are gay. “We’re on friendly terms,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr, one of the interviewers, in separate comments in Sochi. “I’m not prejudiced in any way.”
Responding to a question about allegations of graft involving the Olympic sites, Putin denied that there has been “big, large-scale instances of corruption” in their construction.
Putin said it is “premature” to talk about his participation in Russia’s 2018 presidential election.
“The worst and the most dangerous thing that can happen to a politician is holding on to power by all means and focusing only on this,” he said.
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