SOCHI, Russia – Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak said Thursday the concern over a terrorist attack on the Winter Olympics has been overblown in media reports and characterized Russia's ability to secure the games equal to any country hosting a major international event.
"The level of fear should be lower," Kozak said through an interpreter. "The level of threat in Sochi is no worse than in New York, Washington or Boston. Based on information we received from our intelligence services, there's no reason to believe Sochi is under more threat than any city on the planet."
Kozak's comments came during a previously scheduled news conference several hours after reports that the Department of Homeland Security had issued a bulletin warning airlines that explosives might be concealed in tubes of toothpaste – perhaps to be smuggled into Sochi – on flights from the U.S. to Russia.
Kozak would not comment specifically on the report but said there was no reason to believe there were new threats.
After the press conference, Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, was asked how information about the threat was relayed to him: "I don't want talk about specific responses to specific threats because I think it actually impairs our security plan to do that. But I will say that we were made aware of it, and I can't really say anything beyond that."
"The safety and security of our athletes and whole delegation is always the primary concern. As we always do we work closely with our state department and our state department is in very close contact with the local authorities. We react to situations as they arise but we also have a lot of planning exercises in advance and these games are no different than any other Games in that respect."
That advisory is the latest in a series of security concerns leading up to Friday's opening ceremonies. Islamic extremist groups based in the nearby Caucasus mountains have vowed to disrupt the Olympics and claimed responsibility for twin December suicide bombing in Volvograd – roughly 500 miles away – that left more than 30 dead.
Though Russia has promised a "ring of steel" around the Olympic area, with more than 40,000 security forces in the region, some members of the intelligence community have questioned whether the concentration of manpower will leave other outlying areas vulnerable to an attack.
Kozak said the intensity of talk about the terrorism threat has been "a little too much."
"In any place, in any sporting event on the planet, it has the same nature," he said.
Kozak was also asked for his reaction to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who blasted any "arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions" carried out against homosexuals during a speech to the IOC on Thursday morning. The comments were pointed toward Russia's so-called "gay propaganda" law, which has inspired various forms of protest and political blowback leading up to the Games.
Kozak essentially repeated Russian president Vladimir Putin, who said the law only bans propaganda aimed at minors and that gay athletes and visitors won't be arrested in Sochi.
"We don't differentiate between people depending on nationality, religion or sexual relations," Kozak said. "We are all grown-ups and any adult has the right to understand their sexual acts. Please don't touch the kids, that's the only thing."