Let The Games Begin (with a warning): State Dept. Issues Advisory For Sochi
On Friday, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory for American citizens planning to attend the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia starting next month. The advisory is in effect from Feb. 7 through Mar. 24, 2014.
In addition to the standard advisory alerting citizens to increased crime around major events, the notice also warns U.S. citizens to stay away from the designated political demonstration area in the village of Khost, located several miles from Olympic venues. The State Department also points out potential disparity in medical care and suggests that travelers purchase private medical evacuation and/or repatriation insurance.
Notably, the State Department issued an advisory for LGBT travelers, saying:
In June 2013, Russia's State Duma passed a law banning the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors." The U.S. government understands that this law applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia. Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100). Foreign citizens face similar fines, up to 14 days in jail, and deportation. The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms. Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes "LGBT propaganda," and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as "LGBT propaganda."
The advisory urges LGBT Travelers to review State Department's LGBT Travel Information Page.
Not surprisingly, in light of recent events in the the North Caucasus region, there is a heightened alert against terrorism. The State Department makes particular note of "Russia's Bin Laden," Doku Umarov, head of the Caucasus Emirate (an organization the United States designated as a terrorist organization in 2010, and known in Russian as the Imirat Kavkaz or IK). Recently, Umarov released a video message rescinding prior directions not to attack civilians and calling for attacks on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Caucasus Emirate is responsible for many of the aforementioned attacks. The group has targeted civilians, as indirect supporters of the government, including through attacks on a ski resort, metro system, high-speed rail, airport, and a theater. Westerners have not specifically been targeted, but are viewed by IK as complicit in the Russian government's efforts to control the North Caucasus region.
The State Department strongly recommends that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Russia enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://step.state.gov/step. STEP enrollment allows citizens to receive the Department's safety and security updates, and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate to contact them in an emergency.