Robert Dominic Ventre IIStaff Writer Amidst the looming political crisis in Ukraine, Russia is set to re-open Sochi to the world of competitive sports via the Winter Paralympics. Boasting its biggest turnout since the event's inception in 1976, Russia will play host to 547 athletes from over 40 countries worldwide. 72 gold medals will be up for grabs, while tensions in Crimea continue to rise. Although many world leaders and politicians have already stated their intention to avoid the games in light of Russia's actions against Crimea, Ukraine itself has elected to participate. Their Paralympic team, over 23 members strong, have asked Russian president Vladimir Putin to maintain peace during the games. As stated by president Valeriy Suskevich: "I wish every success to Russian Paralympians, but the Ukrainian team have a colossal desire to bring peace to Ukraine." However, Suskevich has also claimed that the team has every intention of exiting the games, should things in Crimea escalate to military violence: "I declare that should this happen we will leave the Games, we cannot possibly stay here in this case." The opening ceremony for the 2014 Sochi Paralympics began today in Fisht Stadium, with over 2,000 performers on-hand to showcase the ceremony's theme, "Breaking the Ice", which will celebrate the games' ability to break barriers and bring both athletes and spectators closer together. Vladimir Putin will introduce the games with a written speech, but the Russian president is likely to have few international guests to greet and accommodate. Despite Ukraine forgoing tensions with Russia in order to compete, many national leaders have elected to refuse attendance. A presidential delegation set to occur at the Paralympic games has been cancelled by the White House, while Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that all ministers representing the U.K. will not be present. Germany has stated their intention to compete, however, they have done so, "with mixed feelings". Per German deputy interior minister Ole Schroeder, in an interview with Die Welt newspaper: "I can't ignore the political situation, but at the same time I have the greatest respect for disabled sportsmen and women," World leaders have continued to show their disdain for Russia's aggressive antics in Crimea. A summit of G8 nations in Sochi scheduled for this June is now jeopardized by many nations' suspension of preparations. Furthermore, an entirely separate gathering of the Group of Seven powers is in talks about a new meeting, which will exclude Russia entirely. The U.S. and EU hope to utilize nonviolent tools in order to punish Russia for disregarding input from other nations around the world. Putin has since stated that the proposed boycott of the Sochi Paralympic games would be, "the height of cynicism". Many leaders disagree, and it has already been declared that the Netherlands has cancelled plans for participation. Poland, a neighbor to Ukraine, has also pulled its support, refusing to send its Minister for Sport and Tourism. Other nations, such as Australia, Greece and Spain had not planned on sending representatives at all. More on this story as it develops.
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