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Cold War mentality behind Sochi criticism, Putin says

In this Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles as he visits Chinese house in Sochi, Russia during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin says a "Cold War" mentality in the West led to unfair criticism of the 2014 Winter Olympics before their opening.

The lead-up to Sochi was plagued by allegations of corruption, criticism of a new law banning "gay propaganda" in Russia and fears of a possible terrorist attack on the Olympic city.

Criticism has dulled since a spectacular opening ceremony on Friday, with media attention now turning to the athletes and the events.

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"Back in Cold War times the theory of containment was created," Mr. Putin told a televised public meeting in Sochi on Tuesday. "This theory and its practice were aimed at restraining the development of the Soviet Union... what we see now are echoes of this containment theory. This, unfortunately, has also applied to the Olympic project."

Mr. Putin has staked a substantial part of his personal reputation on Russia being able to host a successful Olympics. The Sochi Games, at a reported cost of $51-billion, are by far the most expensive Olympics ever held, winter or summer.

By Tuesday, the biggest lingering concerns were about the weather – it was a balmy 13-Celsius near the main coastal Olympic venues on Tuesday, and nearly as warm in the Krasnaya Polyana mountain resort, and highs of 16 and 17 degrees are expected in Sochi later in the week – as well as poorer-than-expected attendance in the first days of the Games Rafts of empty seats were visible over the first four days, particularly at less-popular events, like biathlon, slopestyle and cross-country skiing. Concerns rose after just 6,000 of 7,500 seats were filled for the men's downhill race on Sunday, traditionally one of the bigger Winter Olympic draws.

"There are not enough people," said Gerhard Heiberg, a Norwegian member International Olympic Committee, and the head of its marketing commission. "We were warned about this. The TV pictures are wonderful, the competitions are wonderful, the venues are great. But I feel a bit the lack of enthusiasm and the joy of sports."

Alexandra Kosterina, of the Sochi organizing committee, said 92 per cent of tickets for Day 1 events were sold, but only 81 per cent of people of ticket holders made it to their seats, in part because of long lines caused by the tight security around Games venues. "We've had some problems, basically with Russian mentality…Russians like to come to events not prior, but as close as possible (to the start)," she told a press conference.

That tight security has – so far – accomplished its mission of preventing a terrorist attack on the Olympics. On Tuesday, an Islamist militant group that had previously vowed to strike Sochi during the Games seemed to give up and leave the matter in the hands of God.

"All who are able to read this letter can supplicate that the Almighty destroys the land in Sochi with an earthquake," read an online post attributed to Caucasus Emirate, a militant group based in nearby Chechnya and Dagestan that has claimed responsibility for a series of bloody bombings and hostage-takings around Russia over the past decade.

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Follow Mark MacKinnon on Twitter: @markmackinnon

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About the Author
Senior International Correspondent

Mark MacKinnon is currently based in London, where he is The Globe and Mail's Senior International Correspondent. In that posting he has reported on the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of Islamic State, the war in eastern Ukraine and Scotland's independence referendum.Mark recently spent five years as the newspaper's Beijing correspondent. More


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