SOCHI, Russia -- If there really are 50,000 Russian soldiers and police officers assigned to protect the upcoming Winter Olympics by creating a "Ring of Steel" around Sochi, they either have not all mustered in the area or they are being very discreet.
There was one policeman in the arrivals area at Sochi's airport two days ago. During a long walk half a day later around the Olympic Park, which is inside a secured perimeter, the only evidence of security personnel -- none with visible weapons -- was at the interior checkpoints where accreditation passes are scanned to permit further access.
One such checkpoint was at the entrance to the Iceberg figure skating venue. Having cleared it, I wandered wherever I wanted for 30 minutes, past "guards" in chairs who seemed to care little about who was walking by or where they were going, especially if it meant lifting their eyes from the smartphone occupying their attention. The awards podium was on the ice, along with workers and several non-Olympic skaters, in an apparent rehearsal of positioning for medal presentations.
At the venues, such freedom of movement undoubtedly will disappear over the next few days, as it always does. Yet being told where one can and cannot go does not necessarily add to a feeling of being safe.
With no spectators yet in the vast Olympic Park, the primary feeling is one of quiet emptiness and calm, except for some 11th-hour construction. The chain-link fences surrounding the park are formidable -- but, of course, not impregnable -- barriers against intrusion, and there is a pervasive sense of being as safe as one can in a world that too often goes mad.
A claustrophobic security presence might only increase apprehensiveness among visitors to this volatile corner of the globe. For now, the balance has not tipped that way. One can only hope it will not need to.
(c)2014 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services