“The threat of terrorism and the very, very hostile actions Russians have taken towards gay people is a reason for Americans to be cautious about traveling over there,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
For people travelling to Sochi, Wyden advises them to follow the State Department’s travel advisories.
“They have consistently been on target and … the combination of the threat of terrorism and these exceptionally hostile actions towards gay people is a reason for Americans to be cautious,” said Wyden.
Let’s keep in mind that Senator Wyden, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, has struggled in the past to warn Americans about information he has come across but cannot share widely due to constraints on his position on that Committee. Whether he is aware of additional Sochi security threats and Russian anti-LGBT efforts, he may not be able to say.
Meantime, a fifth terror incident was thwarted in Southern Russia today:
Russia’s National Anti-terrorism Committee (NAC) said the latest arrests were in Nalchik, a town about 300 km (190 miles) from Sochi in the Caucasus region, where insurgents want to carve out an Islamic state.
“Security forces have detained five members of a banned international terrorist organization,” the NAC said in a statement received by Russian news agencies. An NAC spokesman confirmed the statement to Reuters.
“The anti-terrorism operation discovered and seized ammunition, grenades and a homemade explosive device packed with shrapnel ready for use,” the statement said.
This follows the three fatal terror attacks (two in one week) last year in Volgograd, through which any train traveler to Sochi must transit, as well as another incident in the south earlier this week:
On Thursday police went on combat alert in the Stavropol region, also in the south, after the discovery of at least five corpses with gunshot wounds and an explosive device.
The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee has said Moscow has taken every possible measure to ensure the safety of the games.
Despite these high-profile anti-terror efforts, US experts are losing confidence (video autostarts):
U.S. counter-terrorism experts are losing confidence in Russian security for the Winter Olympics in Sochi after recent suicide bombings targeted a major transportation hub many are expected to use to attend the Games, officials told ABC News this week.
While the Olympic venues in Sochi, the Black Sea resort town hosting the international competition, are being locked down by a massive Russian military cordon, outlying areas in which Olympians, their families and spectators will be transiting are unlikely to be anywhere near as safe from violent Islamist extremists in the region, experts warn.
“I think the real vulnerability may not be within the Olympic games themselves but possibly outside this perimeter where you’re going to have a lot of soft targets,” House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) told ABC News on Thursday.
“Soft targets” are hotels, restaurants, malls and transportation that are not fortified, or “hardened,” like military or government installations.
The State Department’s guidance for travelers to the Olympics can be found here. The LGBT section is below:
In June 2013, Russia’s State Duma passed a law banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors. The U.S. government understands that this law applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia. Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100). Foreign citizens face similar fines, up to 14 days in jail, and deportation. The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms, and provides vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as “LGBT propaganda.”
The United States places great importance on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, as well as anyone attending or participating in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The U.S. calls on Russia to uphold its international commitments regarding freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression, now and in the future.
LGBT travelers should review the State Department’s LGBT Travel Information page.