Russia said on Thursday that its Sochi Olympics were as safe as any place in the West from militant attacks after Washington warned airports and some airlines that toothpaste tubes could be used to smuggle bomb-making materials onto a Russia-bound plane.
Russian forces are on high alert over threats by Islamist militant groups based in the nearby north Caucasus to attack the Winter Games, which officially begin on Friday. Twin suicide bombings killed at least 34 people in December in Volgograd, some 400 miles northeast of Sochi.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, speaking on the eve of the opening ceremony, told journalists in Sochi that Russian security services were working with colleagues from Europe and North America.
“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,” Kozak said, speaking through a translator.
“We can guarantee the safety of people as well as any other government hosting any mass event.”
President Vladimir Putin, who launched a war to crush a rebellion in nearby Chechnya in 1999, has staked his reputation on the Games, which at around $50 billion will be the most expensive in Olympic history.
Russia, hosting a Winter Games for the first time, has come under mounting criticism since the government passed legislation last year which critics say curtails rights of homosexuals and discriminates against them. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned discrimination and attacks on people based on their sexual orientation Thursday.
Eighty-eight nations will compete in 98 events at the 22nd Winter Olympics, hosted this year by Sochi, Russia. This is the first time Russia will host the Olympics since the collapse of the USSR.
The renowned event this year began with the Opening Ceremony yesterday xx, and the Games will officially run from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23.
The event is estimated to cost $51 billion, the most expensive of all the Winter Olympics games yet.
In the months and weeks leading up to the games, several issues have raised questions of whether Sochi is ready to host such a major event.
Controversy has erupted over the notorious anti-gay attitude prevalent throughout the country, including a law enacted last summer that banned the adoption of Russian-born children to gay couples, as well as individuals who live in countries where marriage equality exists. Some groups have urged a boycott of the Games.
The event has also raised concerns over security: several terrorist groups have issued threats to attack the Games. Within the last few months, two suicide bombings took place about 400 miles away from Sochi.