Russian ambassador says Sochi Olympics will be safe

jdepriest@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 31, 2014 

The Russian Ambassador to the United States told a Charlotte audience on Friday that unprecedented security measures will be in place when the Winter Olympics open Feb. 7 in Sochi, a town on the Black Sea coast.

Speaking at an event hosted by the World Affairs Council of Charlotte as part of the Ambassador Circle Series, Sergey Kislyak said of the upcoming event: “I’m absolutely sure it will be safe.”

“The Olympics are (a) very important thing for Russia, like any country,” he said. “It’s a festival of sports and health and something very positive.”

Calling terrorism a “global thing,” he compared security at Sochi to what’s being done by the Americans for the Super Bowl.

“It’s exactly the same scale,” Kislyak said.

A veteran diplomat, Kislyak served as Russia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs from 2003 until 2008 when he became ambassador to the U.S.

During his two-day visit to the Queen City, the ambassador spoke to students and teachers at UNC Charlotte and met with top business leaders.

Before Kislyak spoke Friday at the Westin Charlotte, Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller presented him with a catalog from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art autographed by Andreas Bechtler.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger also gave Kislyak mementos – a NASCAR cap, CIA hat and a Cam Newton Panthers jersey.

During his talk, Kislyak focused on such topics as the current political and economic relationships between Russia and the U.S., cooperation on international issues, defense and security initiatives.

While the two countries have differences, he said relations are much better.

“It’s never been easy,” Kislyak said. “But it’s no longer confrontational.”

The presidents of both countries agree on the need for “increased economic interaction,” he said.

Looking to the future, Kislyak was hopeful that when the next generation remembers difficult relations between Russia and the U.S., it will be “something from the history manual.”

He ended with the terse comment: “Yes, the Olympics will be safe.”

The Olympics have also come under scrutiny in recent months because of Russia’s anti-gay laws. President Barack Obama appointed a delegation to the opening ceremony that includes two openly gay athletes, tennis great Billie Jean King and Olympic medalist in ice hockey Caitlin Cahow.

During a question and answer session that followed Friday’s event, students asked Kislyak about everything from problems in the Ukraine to his favorite U.S. city. (His answer: “I don’t know.’’)

One student asked about the status of former Natural Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum by the Russian government when his flight from Hong Kong arrived in June. Kislyak noted that Snowden’s passport was revoked by the U.S. State Department.

Snowden was “not coming to Russia but going somewhere else,” Kislyak said. “We never issued him a visa in Russia.”

The problem, Kislyak said, is that Russia doesn’t have an extradition agreement with the U.S.

“We have proposed several times to conclude such an agreement,” he said, adding that the U.S. officials decided against it.

“We have no legal opportunity unless he (Snowden) violates Russian law,” Kislyak said. “He has not violated a single law. He came as a free man and will be as a free man for one year.”

Later, when Kislyak met briefly with the media, the subject of security at the Winter Olympics came up again.

When asked to comment on reports that some members of Congress don’t think there’s been sufficient exchange of intelligence information between the U.S. and Russia, Kislyak responded that what he’s heard is “just the opposite” and that the two countries are cooperating and working together.

DePriest: 704-868-7745

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