Obama: Russia 'understands stakes'

Updated: January 31, 2014, 8:09 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

President Barack Obama says he believes the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will be safe and is not discouraging Americans from attending.

Obama says Russian authorities "understand the stakes" involved in securing the games and the potential threats against the events. He says the U.S. is coordinating with Russia and officials have looked at the Russian security plans.

Still, Obama says there are "always some risks" involved with large international gatherings like the Olympics. And he says he feels better when those types of events are held in the United States because American officials have full control over what happen.

Obama spoke in an interview with CNN.

Five days before the opening ceremony, new IOC President Thomas Bach will convene his inner cabinet Sunday to review final preparations and security plans for the Sochi Games.

The buildup to Sochi has been overshadowed by Western criticism of Russia's law banning gay "propaganda" and the threat of terrorist attacks by Islamic insurgents from the North Caucasus region. The pair of suicide bombings in late December that killed 34 people in Volgograd, 400 miles (600 kilometers) from Sochi, has ramped up the security worries ahead of the Olympics.

The Sochi organizing committee will be reporting to the IOC board on Sunday, and Russia's security operation will be high on the agenda. Russia is deploying more than 50,000 police and soldiers to protect the games, the biggest security apparatus in Olympic history.

IOC leaders, who have repeatedly expressed confidence in Russia's ability to secure the games, will be looking for last-minute reassurances.

"I understand the sports facilities are ready and magnificent and I hope that that the necessary security operation can be managed in such a way that safe games are delivered with a happy Olympic ambience," IOC vice president Craig Reedie of Britain told The Associated Press.

Sochi organizing committee leader Dmitry Chernyshenko said this week that the host city was the "most secure venue at the moment on the planet." He said security measures would not be obtrusive or detract from the Olympic atmosphere for athletes and spectators.

"You can be sure the Russians will be doing everything to welcome everybody and make everybody feel comfortable," Bach told reporters this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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