Friday, December 20, 2013

See you in Sochi!

In the months leading up to the start of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Russian policies have been repeated in the news, usually receiving harsh critiques.  Concerns of poor infrastructure, missing critical building deadlines, human rights abuses, anti-gay rhetoric, and security breaches have littered the news for the last year, increasingly coloring international perception of both the Games and Russian policy.

While the majority of the recent reports have focused on Putin's anti-gay rhetoric, security concerns are increasingly abounding.  Many have interpreted Obama's recent announcement of the United States' Olympic delegation as a retaliation against Putin's blatant anti-gay sentiments and as an open snub of the Russian government.  However, the obvious lack of US governmental officials on this delegation could also be a result of the intense security concerns in Sochi.

In order to deal with the increasing security concerns, namely terrorism, in and around Sochi, the Russian government deployed at least 10,000 troops to the Black Sea region to establish security over the course of the next three months, beginning January 7 and ending March 21.  Some have even likened the security plans to "Soviet-Style" security, such as the use of drones for surveillance and communication monitoring.  Police and military forces have begun conducting exercises in the region to preparation.

The United States Olympic delegation is set to include former Olympians and other US persons of note.  The Sochi Olympics will be the first time since 2000 where the President, First Lady, or former President have not attended the Olympics as part of the official delegation.  Departmental secretaries are also conspicuously missing from the delegation list.  It should be noted that the White House has not officially commented on the rationale behind the conspicuously different delegation make-up.  The presidents of both France and Germany have declared that they also will not attend the Games.

As preparations for the Games continue, it will be interesting to witness the effect of the Games (and the controversies surrounding it) upon the United States' relationship with Russia.  Especially if the President's conspicuous absence (and the absence of other Western leaders) weakens his diplomatic relationship with Putin.

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