WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory Friday cautioning Americans planning to attend the Winter Olympics next month in Sochi, Russia, that terrorists have threatened to attack the games, and expressing concern about the quality of medical care in the region, noting it could “differ substantially from Western standards.”
The alert also reminded Americans about a Russian law barring propaganda on nontraditional sexual relations, which is widely viewed in the West as an effort to suppress homosexuality. Russian officials have said there will be no discrimination against gay athletes or fans, but there is much ambiguity about how the law may or may not be enforced.
State Department travel alerts are routine advisories “about short-term conditions” that the government believe “pose significant risks to the security of U.S. citizens.” For more serious situations, the government issues “travel warnings” urging Americans to reconsider their plans.
In Friday’s alert, the State Department noted that between Oct. 15 and Dec. 30, three suicide bombings occurred in Volgograd, about 600 miles from Sochi. It also noted that Doku Umarov, leader of the Caucasus Emirate, a Muslim separatist group designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, threatened in July to attack the Olympics.
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Still, the department said: “Russian authorities have indicated that they are taking appropriate security measures.”
It added: “There is no indication of a specific threat to U.S. institutions or citizens,” but “U.S. citizens are urged to remain vigilant.”
Sochi, a resort city on the Black Sea and at the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, has a remarkable mix of coastal beaches and new ski resorts. The State Department noted that the Olympics are “the first large-scale event” in the area and that its medical system is “untested for handling the volume of visitors expected for the Olympics.”
The travel advisory urged Americans attending the games to consider purchasing private medical-evacuation insurance.
Along with more routine advice to be watchful for crime and to avoid situations, including political demonstrations, that may involve large crowds, the State Department urged Americans to be mindful of the gay-propaganda law. Foreigners convicted of violating the law face fines of up to $3,100 and 14 days in jail.
The United States is sending a delegation to the Olympics that includes a number of high-profile gay former athletes, but the State Department advisory warned about advocating in public for gay rights.
“The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public,” the department said, “but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms.”