Sochi's Sixth Ring

Terrorism fears prompted Russia to build a "ring of steel" around the Olympics and guard it with 40,000 troops. For Putin, it's the ultimate test of his promise to make his country safe for everyone

Illustration by Joe Magee for TIME

With the Sochi Olympics scheduled to begin on Feb. 7, nearly all the preparations have been finished. What's left are the last-minute security precautions, "what we call fine-tuning," says Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of Russia's Olympic Organizing Committee. But all eyes in the final days are on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who insists on managing the last details himself.

If all goes smoothly, Sochi could be the redeeming triumph of Putin's career. A Sochi Games remembered for medals, records and hospitality rather than terrorism (like the four deadly bombings which have struck cities close to Sochi in recent months) could demonstrate that the rigid command structure he has installed during his nearly 10 years as President and nearly five as Prime Minister — running a government his critics dismiss as deeply corrupt and inefficient, sputtering along on easy profits from the sale of oil and gas — was exactly what was needed to show the world that modern Russia is capable of hosting one of the world's greatest celebrations of sports.

But the attention Putin has lavished on Sochi has also made it an enormously tempting target for his enemies. And in a way, the insurgents have already succeeded in tainting these Olympics with fear.

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