Sochi broke ice of skepticism over Russia: Deputy PM

Sat Feb 22, 2014 5:16am EST
 
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By Karolos Grohmann

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The Sochi Olympics were successful in "breaking the ice of skepticism" surrounding hosts Russia, the country's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said on Saturday, a day ahead of the Winter Games closing ceremony.

Russia's human rights record had been called into question in the buildup to the Games following the arrest and jailing of several high-profile dissidents, while critics said the country's anti-gay propaganda law curbed the rights of homosexuals.

Security was also a serious concern with Islamic militants in the North Caucasus threatening to attack the Olympics, an event which Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes will polish the country's image on the international stage.

"The friendly faces, the warm Sochi sun and the glare of the Olympic gold have broken the ice of skepticism towards the new Russia," said Kozak.

"The Games have turned our country, its culture and the people into something that is a lot closer and more appealing and understandable for the rest of the world," he told reporters.

Asked whether he would have changed anything looking back at the preparations and execution of the Games, he said: "I would not change anything. Nothing should ever be changed here."

He praised organizers for what he said was a seamless operation and said security had worked like a clockwork.

"We were certain that the security agencies were able to accomplish the task," he told reporters. "Their work was stellar, I repeat stellar. Friendly smiling police officers. We fulfilled this task brilliantly."   Continued...

 
Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch clears a gate during the second run of the women's alpine skiing slalom event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center February 21, 2014. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler