UK & World News

  • 7 February 2014, 9:07

Winter Olympics: 'Sochi As Safe As London'

With just hours to go before the opening ceremony in Russia's Winter Olympics, senior officials have insisted security fears are unfounded.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak told reporters in Sochi that Russian security services were working with colleagues from Europe and North America to minimise the risk of attack.

"There is no reason to believe that the level of danger in Sochi is greater than at any other point on the planet, be it Boston, London, New York or Washington," he said.

The US Department of Homeland Security warned earlier this week that terrorists could be trying to smuggle explosives on board flights bound for Sochi in toothpaste containers.

Several teams have reported receiving unspecified terrorist threats.

Mr Kozak said: "If this information is proved, then it means that our security organs are on alert.

"And all of this information that we got today about any threats and risks enables us to say that the safety of the Olympic Games and of the city of Sochi will be provided for as required."

Islamist militants have vowed to attack the games using "maximum force".

The games are being held right on the verge of Russia's most volatile region - the North Caucasus - the heart of an Islamist insurgency threatening to target these Olympics, and through them Russia's president himself.

Time Magazine's Simon Shuster explained: "Putin's name has been so closely attached to it, he's treated it as his baby.

"It's his pet project, because of that the insurgents who are camped out in the mountains around here - they realise that it's a very tempting target, because it would hurt him personally."

Mr Putin appealed personally to the International Olympic Committee in 2007 for the right to hold these games, in one of his only official speeches in English.

He has staked his credibility on the result.

Arkady Ostrovsky, Moscow bureau chief for the Economist, told Sky News: "What is at stake here ultimately is his international legitimacy.

"This is a personal project and it's incredibly important to him that this goes well and a lot depends on how this goes."

"In terms of domestic policy, in terms of Russian foreign policy, in terms of what kind of Russia we'll be dealing with - this is really a very important, not just symbolically important, but genuinely important political moment."

But so far it's not been going entirely according to plan.

Several media hotels are still being built, their occupants taking to Twitter to chronicle their accommodation's inadequacies under the hashtag "sochiproblems".

Two snowboarders have suffered serious injuries on the slope-style course, amid concerns from competitors that the course is dangerous.

But veteran American skier Bode Miller, competing at his fifth Olympics, said Sochi had exceeded all expectations so far.

"It's great. It really has been awesome so far," he said.

"I felt like that's how it was going to be, but after a lot of kind of negativity and a lot of speculation about what the challenges were going to be here ... so far for us it's been great."

The build-up to Sochi has been dogged by concerns about security, allegations of corruption, and the country's new anti-gay propaganda laws, but officials insist Russia is ready to host the winter games.

The opening ceremony is due to begin at 4pm UK time on Friday.

:: Watch Sky News live on television, on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.

Advertisement