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Foreign Policy

What Could Sochi Offer for Big-Country Relations?

Feb 17 , 2014
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

The 22nd Winter Olympic Games, running from February 7 to 23, are now under way in Sochi, Russia. The opening ceremony on February 7 was spectacular and impressive with distinctive Russian characteristics, and marked a good start.  The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics have the following to watch: 

First, Russia attempts to build itself into a world power by hosting the Games.

Yu Sui

Sochi is known as the “Pearl of the Black Sea” and is hosting the biggest ever Winter Olympics. President Putin said: “Russia has worked towards this moment for seven years.” Based on the Russian official data, the Sochi preparations would make the Games the most expensive one in the Olympic history. Total expense was estimated to amount to $51 billion, almost triple the expense of the Nagano Winter Olympics, which stood at $17.5 billion, and also exceeding the expense of the Beijing Summer Olympics in Beijing six years ago, which was $40 billion. 

Of the total expense for the Sochi Winter Olympics, costs on security alone were as high as $2 billion. The Russian security departments mobilized a big amount of new equipment for the Games. During the Games, drones will hover and special forces are deployed into the sea to keep an alert eye for security. Russia also deployed short-range air-defense missile systems to counter any possible airplane or cruise missile attacks. 

It is known to all that security is one of the biggest concerns of this Winter Olympics. The Russian side stressed time and again that it is capable of making the Sochi Winter Olympics “the safest Olympic Games in history.” President Putin vowed to build “iron walls” in Sochi to guarantee safety, security and success of the Winter Games. According to the plan announced by the Russian Interior Ministry, 30,000 police officers and soldiers have been mobilized to perform security missions during the Games, drones are deployed and more than 5,500 security cameras were installed to spot any possible terrorist activities. 

Second, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership was further elevated.

President Xi Jinping attended the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 6-8. This was the first time that the Chinese head of state attended a big international sporting event held outside of China. The Russian side said that President Xi’s visit showed China’s support for the Olympic movement and for Russia in hosting the Winter Olympics. 

The Chinese and Russian heads of state have met six times in less than one year. During the meeting between Xi and Putin on February 6, they comprehensively summarized the development and the important achievements of China-Russia relations over the past year, and made strategic planning and deployment of bilateral cooperation in the coming year, and reached important consensus on strengthening bilateral strategic coordination on major international and regional issues. 

It is worth mentioning that the two heads of state decided to co-host the celebration events for the 70th anniversary of the victory of the world anti-fascist war and China’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression in 2015 to remember the history as a warning to posterity. Putin said the heinous crimes of the Nazi forces invading the Soviet Union and other European countries and of the Japanese militarism against the Chinese people and other victims in Asian countries cannot be forgotten. 

This author believes that President Xi’s presence at the Sochi Winter Olympics manifests the importance of the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination. This author also believes that, based on the principle and spirit for constructing the new type of big-power relationship between China and the US, President Xi Jinping would do the same thing if the Winter Olympics were held in the United States. 

Third, the US is caught in a dilemma but the Olympic Games offer an opportunity for good interaction in the Russia-US relations.

US-Russia relationship has encountered some problems, but the United States still chose to attend the Sochi Winter Olympics in a rational manor.  

The White House first dismissed a proposal made by Senator Lindsey Graham to boycott the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on the excuse of the Snowden incident. This proposal was widely opposed, from the White House to the US Olympic Committee, and some senators in the Congress also criticized Graham’s proposal as “a big mistake.” The US Olympic delegation to Sochi comprises of 230 athletes from 38 states, and they will take part in all 15 competition events and compete for 94 gold medals out of the total of 98.

The United States has also paid high attention to the security of the Sochi Winter Olympics and sought to cooperate with the Russian side on security issues. The US president, secretary of state and defense secretary all expressed their willingness to provide anti-terror assistance for the Olympic Games. On February 4, in a meeting with his national security team, President Obama instructed them to cooperate with Russia to guarantee the safety of the Winter Olympics. 

The command ship USS Mount Whitney and frigate USS Taylor from the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet have also sailed into the Black Sea as scheduled in a security move to cope with any possible emergencies during the Sochi Winter Olympics. 

Some media reports chose to play up the absence of US president, vice president, former president or the first lady from the Sochi Winter Olympics, speculating the US was giving a “cold shoulder” to Russia and magnifying the “distrust between the US and Russia has thrown their bilateral relations to a low again.” A report by the Chosun Ilbo of South Korea on January 19 was even entitled “Sochi Winter Olympics a new battlefield for the tussle between Obama and Putin.” These were all far-fetched and over-exaggerated. This writer believes that the US-Russian cooperation on the security front for the Sochi Winter Olympics could be an opportunity for them to improve their overall relations in the future. 

Yu Sui is a Professor with the China Center for Contemporary World Studies


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