Russian President Vladimir Putin "denied that any large-scale corruption surrounded the Sochi Winter Olympics and challenged those with allegations of misconduct to come forward with proof," according to Thomas Grove of REUTERS. Western and Russian opposition critics have made allegations that "large amounts of money have been stolen during construction for the 2014 Olympics in the Black Sea city, but have provided little concrete evidence." Some Olympic subcontractors have said that "corruption has been endemic during preparations for the games." Putin said in an interview with ABC, BBC and Russian and Chinese journalists broadcast on Sunday, "We don't see any large-scale instances of corruption during our preparations ... in Sochi. If anyone has any information about corruption in Sochi, please hand it over, we will be glad and grateful" (REUTERS, 1/19). RIA NOVOSTI reported when asked to comment on media reports quoting Swiss IOC member Gian-Franco Kasper as saying that up to a third of Sochi's circa $50B budget had possibly been siphoned off, Putin said that "the Olympic official did not say that directly." Putin: "I have seen the transcript of his meeting with some journalists, your colleagues tried to drag him to this topic, and I can understand journalists, it is their job -- always drag out 'hot' topics. But the Swiss specialist ... he did not say that, as it seemed to me based on the report" (RIA NOVOSTI, 1/19). BLOOMBERG's Rudnitsky & Kravchenko wrote Putin said that "gay visitors to the Winter Olympics in Sochi are free to visit" and will not be targeted by the country’s law banning homosexual "propaganda" to minors. Putin: "We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being detained. There is no punishment for these kinds of relations, unlike many other countries. You can feel free and relaxed, but please leave the children alone." Gay rights activists "plan to challenge Putin and pressure Olympic sponsors by protesting the vaguely worded ban on homosexual propaganda during the Sochi Games" (BLOOMBERG, 1/18). R-SPORT reported in June Putin "signed into law a bill forbidding the promotion of homosexuality to minors." While the law’s proponents argue it is aimed at protecting children from harmful influences, critics allege that "the move restricts freedom of speech and is part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community" (R-SPORT, 1/17).
RING OF STEEL: In London, Harriet Alexander wrote Putin "is sure that the security systems put in place ahead of the Games will prevent a terrorist attack." Putin said, "If we allow ourselves to display weakness, display fear, to show our fear, then we will be helping the terrorists to achieve their aims." Russian authorities have deployed 40,000 troops and created what they term "a ring of steel" around the Games (TELEGRAPH, 1/19).
GUEST LIST: The AFP reported Putin "downplayed Sunday the planned no-show of key Western leaders" at the Winter Olympics. U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande are among the leaders who have said that "they will not attend the Games, seen as Putin's pet project" (AFP, 1/19). The AFP also reported Japanese PM Shinzo Abe is planning to attend the Opening Ceremony "despite calls for a boycott over Russia's anti-gay laws" (AFP, 1/17).