The Sochi Olympics have now turned into the Security Olympics. Every angle of the media has begun to wrap its head around the safety of the upcoming Winter Games. Russia has been involved in a longtime struggle with extremists, many of whom have promised to target the Olympics beginning February 7 in Sochi. This year’s games will be ringing in a $50-billion price tag to ensure that the games are safe and secure… but will this bill be enough?
Two attacks, carried out by suicide bombers the last week of 2013 at a railway station and on a bus in Volgograd (located about 400 miles away from Sochi) killed up to 45 people, and injured over 100. These recent attacks have enormously heightened the fear of an attack at the Olympics and made security at the Games Russia’s main concern.
Yulia Yuzik, an expert on suicide bombers, points out that terrorists have had more than six years to plan an attack against the Games ever since Sochi won the rights to host the Olympics in 2007.
“Many of them have been waiting for this moment, to hit Putin where it hurts. These groups are highly professional and very determined,” she says.
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has stepped up efforts to secure the Olympic park, including the Olympic Villages as well as Sochi’s seaport, railroad terminal, airport, and national parks. The FSB will lead about 100,000 security personnel in defending the Games and the city of Sochi overall. More than 40,000 police officers and Interior Ministry troops, which is the equivalent to about 10% of the city’s population and more than double the security deployment at the London 2012 Olympics, will put Sochi and its suburbs on lockdown over the next month and a half in hopes of stopping any kind of attack. This is all happening at a price tag of over three billion dollars.
So, has the Olympic fever of excitement and happiness been destroyed by the amount of security concerns? By closing off the city, the state has shown that the terrorists have already managed to taint the mood of these winter Olympics with fear.
“It is certainly not an atmosphere of celebration here,” says Vladimir Kimaev, a local businessman and environmental activist whose transport business has already been required to close shop until the end of March when the security command will be lifted. “It’s more a feeling of resignation to wait this thing out and then get on with life.”
Russian citizens realize that these extreme measures are necessary to protect the games and themselves, but they are also ready to go back to life as it was, before the security. So, for many residents, the real reason to celebrate might come with the closing ceremonies, not the opening.
“I know they say they have evacuation stuff for us and all, but you just never know. I guess that you have to wonder at what point, does someone say, it isn’t a good idea for us to go.”
Parise certainly has a point – one that is echoed by some of his fellow athletes, journalists traveling to Sochi, and other visitors. How dangerous does it have to become for countries to back out? Vladimir Putin has promised safety to all athletes, but this hasn’t changed the level of concern. The United States has created an evacuation plan in case an attack were to arise. They will use two warships in the Black Sea and planes already on standby in Europe to evacuate Americans. BUT, this all depends on Putin’s approval which has yet to be given.
Athletes, viewers, sponsors and Sochi citizens are all possible victims for criminals. Precautions should be taken against pick-pocketing, robbery and assault. Traveling around the country won’t exactly be easy either. Extreme delays at airports, buses and rail transportation are anticipated due to heightened security.