WASHINGTON – Informed sources say there is growing concern that even with a security force of 100,000 that is four times that of the 2012 Olympics in London – bolstered by drones, anti-aircraft missiles and submarine patrols nearby – athletes, spectators and visitors to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games Sochi, Russia, will be in danger.
With the games scheduled to begin Feb. 7, Russia has decided to send an additional 30,000 police and interior ministry troops to Sochi.
The terror threats have been issued by Islamic militants from the North Caucasus region, which borders the city.
The latest troop buildup is in addition to the 50,000 police, intelligence officers and soldiers who already have been deployed.
Russian authorities also have enhanced submarine patrols at the Black Sea coast, increased drones to monitor Sochi itself and set up S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems to shoot down any hijacked aircraft, which bodes ill for innocent passengers on those aircraft, should a hijacking occur.
The Islamic militants, especially the so-called Black Widows from Chechnya, are well known as suicide bombers.
The two attacks in December in Volgograd, while some 300 miles from Sochi, have raised concern about security. Police and security forces especially are watching all airline traffic into Russia and inside the country, as well as railroads, subways and bus transports.
Almost all of the suicide attacks have occurred on these modes of transportation, since they represent especially soft targets where large numbers of people gather.
The German magazine Der Spiegel quotes the Russian Interior Ministry as saying that there are some 600 underground fighters in the region. The jihadists are organized in some 40 gangs spread throughout the territory of the Russian North Caucasus provinces of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia.
The U.S. State Department recently issued a travel warning to U.S. citizens planning to attend the Olympics at Sochi.
The security threat is regarded as so great that Moscow finally agreed to a request by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to dispatch “dozens” of agents to Russia. In an agreement between the FBI and its Russian counterpart, the MVD, there are to be two dozen FBI agents in Russia, with one dozen in Moscow and another dozen dispatched to Sochi to support Russian security services.
To Russian citizens, the agreement to allow FBI agents to assist in security has underscored the seriousness of the threat.
Sources say that coordination of the security services with U.S. counterparts may be a challenge due to the language barrier. It’s also a concession that security concerns are greater than what Moscow can handle.
There’s also the issue of having U.S. agents running around Russia, which would require the Russians to watch them out of concern for potential spying.
The complications themselves might generate their own dangers.
“The massive deployment of security personnel of every imaginable kind – from air defense units to Cossack patrols – may inevitably result in dangerous cases of miscommunication, since any minor incident might trigger an entirely disproportionate response,” according to Pavel K. Baev of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.
“Indeed, the psychological stress of a long-lasting high-security alert increases the possibility of false alarms, which could interrupt the heavily loaded schedule of ceremonies,” he said. “Sochi has been so fortified by high fences, check-points and ‘no-go’ zones that it resembles a besieged fortress, except that no standing army is actually besieging.”
The concentration of security in the Sochi region, will mean that security in other parts of the country may be reduced or absent. Consequently, there is increasing concern that the Islamic fighters may launch attacks in these areas to draw security away from the Olympics.
“It is nonetheless clear that the more security resources and manpower are concentrated in Sochi and in Moscow, the less secure the rest of the country becomes,” Baev said.
Other analysts have underscored the concern.
“The extreme security apparatus being put in place in Sochi will go far in protecting the games against any attacks,” said Fred Burton of the open intelligence group Stratfor. “However, a wide range of disruptions could occur not only in Sochi, but throughout Russia as Russian security forces will have their hands full in safeguarding Sochi and the rest of Russia during the games.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks upon the Olympics as a way to show the war in the North Caucasus has been brought to an end. The Islamic militants, however, see the games as an opportunity to say their war with Moscow is far from over and to advance their aim of establishing a Caucasus Emirate in the predominantly Muslim southern Russian provinces.