The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are just two weeks away and many Russians can't be bothered worrying about possible security problems.
Julia Barton is covering the run-up to the Games for PRI’s The World and has been in Moscow for a week now. She said you can’t escape the Olympic hype when you land in Moscow’s Sheremyetevo Airport because the terminals are plastered with Sochi posters, logos and merchandise. But once you get into the city, she said, you don’t get much sense that Russia is hosting the world’s biggest sporting event.
The big story leading up to these Olympics has been security. Barton said security at the airport was not especially noticeable. But on the metro, she noticed a heightened police presence, with more officers than usual riding the trains and positioned at stations.
Security tensions rose this weekend when a video surfaced showing two young men claiming to be behind the suicide bombings in the central Russian city of Volgograd last month, which killed 34 people. In the video, the men threaten to carry out more attacks.
Barton said Russian TV has largely ignored the video.
“It’s a sense of not wanting to alarm anybody,” said Barton. “There is a little sense of tension, but at the same time that video that is being discussed quite a bit in the West, I couldn’t see any sign of it on the [Russian] nightly news.”
She said she watched a 30-second story on Perviy Canal, TV1, about the Olympic Torch passing through Volgograd today, with no mention of terrorism or the new video.
Barton said Russian journalists have been discussing the video in newspapers and online, but often in confusing ways. Some reports are saying the video is linked to Iraq or Saudi Arabia and is a provocation to disrupt talks on Syria.
Barton said the consensus within the Russian media is that the video is fraudulent, not done by the people actually responsible for the suicide bombings.
The other big story in the Russia news today is the protests in Ukraine. Barton said Russian TV is showing the violence in Kiev — people throwing Molotov cocktails and beating police with sticks — interspersed with interviews of Ukrainian politicians who support pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich. Barton said supporters of Yanukovich appear to be a model of calm and reason compared to the protesters, at least as they are seen on Russian TV.
“The Ukrainian protestors who have resorted to violence have just handed a huge propaganda win to the Russian media and the Russian state," said Barton.
She added that every broadcast report makes sure to mention and translate a statement from the US White House supporting the Ukrainian protest movement.