Russian security forces yesterday "went on combat alert in Sochi and tightened restrictions on access to the Black Sea resort," as part of measures by Russia President Vladimir Putin "to ensure security at next month's Winter Olympics," according to Elizabeth Piper of REUTERS. Authorities are "deploying tens of thousands of police and interior ministry troops to Sochi." Officials said that beginning yesterday, "access was being further curtailed into Sochi, where a new traffic scheme has come into operation to give priority to Olympic transport" (REUTERS, 1/7). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Paul Sonne notes the safety regime "requires authorities to prevent cars without local license plates or special permits from entering Sochi, a measure that will remain until weeks after the Games." The order "bans weapons and explosives from being sold in Sochi." It also "divides Sochi into 'forbidden' and 'controlled' zones, where guards will now begin controlling access and checking documents." Visitors will be "subjected to metal detector scans and bag searches, in addition to the background checks the authorities plan to carry out." Police already "often check the passports and visas of people on the streets and such checks could occur in Sochi." Though few Russian policemen "speak English, organizers have set up a call center where officials can receive simultaneous translations" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/8).
ESCAPE CLAUSE: USA TODAY's Kevin Johnson notes a "private crisis-response firm assisting the U.S. ski and snowboard teams for the Winter Olympic Games in Russia has up to five aircraft on standby in the event that medical or security emergencies require an evacuation from Sochi." The evacuation contingencies "underscore growing concerns about Olympic security in the wake of two suicide bombings last week." USA Hockey Senior Dir of Communications Dave Fischer "declined to discuss the team's security plan and the involvement of private security." Johnson writes not since the '02 Salt Lake Games and the '04 Athens Games -- closely following the 9/11 attacks -- has Olympic security "captured the attention seen so far in the run-up to Sochi" (USA TODAY, 1/8).