WASHINGTON – Tensions rose Sunday over security preparations ahead of the Sochi Olympics, as several congressional leaders expressed concern about Russia’s willingness to share information about terrorist threats, while President Vladimir Putin asserted he would “do whatever it takes” to protect the thousands of visitors arriving soon for the games.
The separate remarks, made on Sunday morning news programs, came before a video was released online showing two young men who said they were responsible for suicide bombings in the central Russian city of Volgograd in late December that claimed 34 lives and raises fears of more attacks to disrupt the Olympics. In the video, the men promise additional attacks.
Extremists affiliated with the militant Doku Umarov, a former Chechen nationalist leader who now heads a broad Muslim separatist movement and advocates global jihad, have also vowed to disrupt the Olympics.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that U.S. officials working with Russians ahead of the games had “found a departure of cooperation that is very concerning.”
With an estimated 15,000 Americans planning to travel to Sochi for the games, which begin Feb. 7, Rogers said Russian security services should provide their “full cooperation.”
In particular, Rogers said on the CNN program “State of the Union,” “They’re not giving us the full story about, what are the threat streams, who do we need to worry about, are those groups – the terrorist groups who have had some success – are they still plotting?”
In his remarks on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Putin said Russia would “do whatever it takes” to protect people attending the games. And he reiterated that Russia would welcome athletes and visitors of any sexual orientation, despite recently enacted laws in Russia that are widely viewed as hostile to gay people.
Putin said a full panoply of security measures was being brought to bear not just in Sochi, but also elsewhere in Russia. “If necessary, all those tools will be activated.”
He added that if foreign athletes wanted to provide their own additional security, “there is nothing wrong with that,” as long as they coordinated with the Russian authorities.
Rep. Michael T. McCaul, R-Texas and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, also expressed concern about Sochi preparations, though he said he believed that “President Putin is taking this very seriously” and that Putin is “taking all the precautions.”
But given the recent deadly attacks by regional terrorist groups and the threats of more to come, McCaul said he believed that attacks somewhere in Russia during the Olympics were “likely.”
Several officials from the FBI will be in Sochi to attend to the security of the U.S. team.
Meanwhile, amid complaints from foreign athletes and officials about Russia’s nationwide ban last year on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” which makes it a crime to mention homosexuality around minors, Putin insisted that visitors had nothing to fear.
“In this country, everybody is absolutely equal to anybody else, irrespective of one’s religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” he said. “Everybody is equal. So no concerns exist for people who intend to come as athletes or visitors to the Olympics.”