Russia President Vladimir Putin on Saturday "eased a sweeping ban on public protests" in Sochi starting tomorrow and "continuing through the Olympic Games next month and the Paralympic Games in March," according to Steven Lee Myers of the N.Y. TIMES. However, any demonstrations "will require approval in advance from the authorities." The ban had "prompted criticism from rights groups and concern" from the IOC. The new order "seemed to be an effort to burnish Russia's reputation before the Olympics." The announcement "completed plans that had been in the works to allow approved protests at a park in the Khosta district, about halfway between central Sochi and the Adler district, where the main Olympic Village is." The protest zone, which is "about nine miles from the nearest Olympic site, is similar to three created by the Chinese government" during the '08 Beijing Games. The restrictions on protests are "part of some of the most extensive security measures ever put in place for an international sporting event." The authorities beginning tomorrow "will ban unregistered vehicles in Sochi and increase security in public places." The government issued the new order as Putin "toured Sochi for a second day to oversee final preparations of the two 'clusters' of Olympic facilities." Putin was "accompanied by many senior government officials, underscoring the prominence of the Olympic project" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/5).
SECURITY OVERSHADOWING THE GAMES: NBC's Richard Engel notes the Games begin one month from today and said, "Security has been overshadowing the build-up to these Games, but Russian officials insist they will be safe." Engel: "Russia does seem ready. ... There's snow and in case it gets warmer, Russia has 1 million cubic meters of it frozen in reserves. The stadiums are built, although there's still some construction." He noted these Olympics "may be as much about showing that the Russian bear is out of hibernation as they are about sports." However, with last week's bombings in Volgograd, terrorism "has come back to Russia." NBC's Bob Costas said "there's always talk" about security at the Olympics. However, this time, "you've got the terrorists right there on Russian soil and they've already made their declaration of intention: Do anything possible to disrupt the Games." Costas: "It's right there and I think that's put it front and center" ("Today," NBC, 1/6). Costas added the Russian government is creating a "giant perimeter of security," and while "nothing is certain, I think if you're within the Olympic perimeter you're going to be okay." Costas: "But what could happen outside is a different question." NBC's Willie Geist asked, "What does that do to the feel of the Games? I mean, we were in London and yes there were tons of security but it didn't feel like a police state." Costas said Sochi "will have a little different feel to it" but it "doesn't have the kind of appeal London would have or even Athens would have" as a terrorist target ("Morning Joe," MSNBC, 1/6).
LEVELS OF CONCERN: NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said of security around the Sochi Games following last week's bombings, "That's going to raise some questions, if not concerns. I don't think anyone's suggesting that we re-evaluate the decision to go to Sochi, but obviously, we have a full month between now and then. ... I certainly don't anticipate any problems rising to the level of having to reconsider that decision, but it's obviously something we're monitoring." Daly said "more than a handful" of NHL security officials would go to Sochi, adding the number would be "nothing out of the ordinary from how we've approached other Olympic Games" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/5). Meanwhile, in Chicago, Rick Morrissey noted the Sochi Games will mark his eighth Olympics, and wrote, "I didn't give much thought to security issues at the previous seven. ... Am I scared? No. I'm somewhere between very much aware and concerned, with an option to be freaked, if necessary" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/4).