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Sports spotlight back on Sochi amid Crimea crisis

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm •  Published: March 5, 2014

Overshadowed by the international crisis over Ukraine, Russia welcomes the sporting world back to Sochi this week for Winter Paralympics that will be snubbed by some politicians and will struggle to match the successful Winter Olympics that ended less than two weeks ago in the Black Sea resort.

The Olympic flame had only just been extinguished when Russian military action began in Crimea, the Ukrainian region some 300 miles (475 kilometers) northwest of Sochi.

While the Olympics were acclaimed for overcoming logistical and security challenges, Russia's global reputation has suffered as a result of the operations in Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin's pet project, the costliest ever Olympics, has veered significantly from his script ahead of Friday's opening of the Paralympics, a 10-day event featuring hundreds of disabled athletes.

"It would be the height of cynicism to put the Paralympics at risk," Putin told reporters on Tuesday. "We all know that this is an international sports event at which people with disabilities can show their capabilities, prove to themselves and the entire world that they are not people with limitations, but on the contrary, people with unlimited possibilities, and demonstrate their achievements in sport."

The leader who tried to soft his image through sport — mingling with Americans at their Sochi headquarters, beaming with spectators and posing for selfies — is set to return to Sochi for the Paralympics while being condemned in Washington and European capitals for Russia's intervention in the Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea where Russian speakers are in the majority.

If the Sochi infrastructure has showcased the modern, emboldened Russia's ability to stage large-scale events, by transforming a decaying resort at the cost of $51 billion, the military intervention in neighboring Crimea has projected the nation's geopolitical power again.

The challenge for Paralympic organizers is to prevent the tension along the Black Sea coast in Crimea from casting a shadow over the games. The Russian Paralympics Committee accepts that the crisis has created a "negative impact on the international situation" which could spill over into the ceremonies and sporting events.

"I call on all those responsible for successful organization of the games, which is a tremendous holiday and a source of inspiration for all the people with restricted abilities, to make maximum effort so as the existing conflicts should not give a bitter touch or disappoint the world," Russian Paralympic chief Vladimir Lukin said in a statement to Itar-Tass news agency. "This applies both to participants and guests of the Paralympics."

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