Kavitha A. Davidson questions whether the seats will be filled in Sochi:
Because of security concerns, Russia can’t expect a boost from foreign fans. And it will probably have a tough time selling domestic fans on the cost, despite organizing committing Chairman Dmitry Chernyshenko’s optimistic estimate that 75 percent of spectators will be Russian citizens. Putin has boasted the affordability of the tickets — the cheapest tickets cost $15 and more than half the tickets sell for less than $150 — but the problem most Russians face is accessibility. Transportation to the remote city of Sochi is largely out of reach, with flights costing more than half the average monthly salary of $860.
Bershidsky notes that “the security measures have been obvious and oppressive — and the athletes and guests have yet to arrive”:
Residents of Sochi have endured emergency evacuations of the new railway station in Adler. Rail commuters must get special permission to transport liquids, laser and high-frequency devices, bicycles, tools and winter sports equipment. Since Jan. 7, out-of-town cars have been banned from entering the Sochi area and required to park in special lots at least 60 miles from the city center. Nikolai Yarst, a reporter for the Ura.ru site in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, visited checkpoints at the city limits and found long lines of cars with Sochi plates awaiting a painstaking examination by police.
Jonathan Mahler claims that the threats are unprecedented:
We’ve had terrorist attacks at the Olympics before. But this is the first time we’ve heard so many credible threats before the Games. It’s also the first time the Games have been held in a region featuring two wars between the host country and native Islamic separatists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised that Sochi won’t be another Munich, and he is turning the city into a police state to make good on that promise. But how much faith does anyone have in the integrity of the 1,500-square-mile security zone that Russia claims to have built around the Games? The U.S. will have two warships in the nearby Black Sea — a couple more high-value targets? — in case Americans need to be evacuated en masse. It has also volunteered military support to help keep the Games safe, though there seems little chance that Putin will accept the offer.
Meanwhile, Amelia Urrey shines a light on Sochi’s environmental toll:
Not only is this shaping up to be the most expensive Olympics in the history of the games, with $51 billion of new development, it is also arguably one of the most destructive. Five thousand acres of pristine forests have been felled, while wetlands that served as important stopovers for migrating birds have been filled in. Landslides and waste dumping threaten the watershed, which feeds into the Black Sea. … The construction projects have also left local Sochi-ers in the lurch, facing frequent power shortages, land subsidence, flooding, and widespread pollution. While the mayor of Sochi pointed to a new Louis Vuitton store as a symbol of progress, nearby communities are living without running water, and some have been cut off from the city by a new $635 million highway.
(Photo: Security personnel talk in the Olympic Park in the Coastal Cluster in Alder, Russia on January 9, 2014. The region will host the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, which start on February 6. By Michael Heiman/Getty Images)