Aware that the success or failure of the Sochi Games will help
shape his legacy, Putin has closely identified himself with the
$50-billion event which opens on February 7.
Putin outraged many in the West last year by signing a law banning
the spread of homosexual "propaganda" among minors. Critics say the
law is discriminatory and aimed at stifling dissent but calls for a
boycott of the Games have failed.
In a speech to new foreign ambassadors presenting their credentials
at a ceremony in the Kremlin, Putin offered his latest assurance
that every athlete will be treated equally.
"The Olympic Games will be held in full compliance with the Olympic
charter, without any discrimination on any basis. Russia will be
rooting for its own athletes of course, but we wish success to all
the athletes," Putin said.
The Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi are a priority for
Putin, who wants to use them to showcase Russia's modern face to the
world, more than two decades after the fall of the communist Soviet
In an attempt to improve Russia's image on human rights
before the Games, Putin has already eased curbs on protests in
Sochi, freed members of the Pussy Riot punk protest group under an
amnesty and released former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had
been Russia's most famous prisoner.
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"I am confident the Olympics will bring nations closer together
and help strengthen friendship, trust and partnership around the
world," Putin said.
The International Olympic Committee has not commented on Russia's
gay propaganda law, but some human rights activists are hoping the
Games will be used as a platform to protest.
The United States is sending three openly gay members in its
official Olympic delegation.
Putin's easing of curbs on demonstrations in Sochi will allow groups
to hold some marches and gatherings at sites approved by the
There is also a security threat to Sochi, which lies on the western
edge of the Caucasus mountains. Militants trying to carve out an
Islamist state in the region have threatened to attack the Games.
At least 34 people were killed last month in two suicide bombings in
the southern city of Volgograd. Putin beefed up safety measures
nationwide after the attacks and about 37,000 personnel are
providing security in Sochi.
(Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; writing by Alessandra Prentice,
by Timothy Heritage)
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