Putin’s Showdown With Terror
By Matthew Vadum
Russian President Vladimir Putin is augmenting security for the upcoming Winter Olympics in southern Russia in the hope of preventing possible Islamic terrorist attacks at the international sporting event.
Putin tried to reassure Russian media that visitors will be safe at the Olympics that will take place from Feb. 6 through Feb. 23 in Sochi in the Caucusus mountains in the region of Krasnodar Krai on the Black Sea, not too far from Russia’s land border with Georgia. Islamists have already threatened to attack the games and authorities are searching for potential suicide bomber Ruzanna Ibragimova, the 22-year-old widow of a jihadist killed by Russian security forces who may have traveled from Dagestan to Sochi. Last week three security officers and four militants who may have been planning attacks on the Olympics were killed in a gunfight.
Parts of Russia are reportedly turning into armed camps as authorities crack down on protests and perceived anti-government activities in the sprawling nation with a significant Muslim minority.
About 40,000 members of Russia’s police and security forces will patrol the events, he said, and elite Spetsnaz fighters will be guarding against violent Muslim separatists.
“We will try to make certain that the security measures are not intrusive or too conspicuous, so they are not too noticeable for the athletes, the Olympics’ guests or journalists,” Putin said. “But at the same time, we will do our utmost to ensure that they are effective.”
Russian authorities have created a large security zone around Sochi, deployed thousands of extra police and troops, and are spending billions of dollars to keep the games safe. Submarines are patrolling the Black Sea coast while drones keep an eye on the host city from above. S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems are in place, capable of blowing hijacked aircraft out of the sky.
Sochi may as well have a giant bulls-eye painted over it. It stretches more than 60 miles and the Olympic Stadium, media complex, and ice hockey, speed skating, and figure skating facilities are located on the coast. A 44-mile express train route runs from the shore through the mountains to one of the two Olympic Villages, ski runs, and luxury hotels, generating headaches for security experts.
Critics are worried that Putin can’t guarantee security for athletes and tourists in the wake of last month’s Islamist bomb attacks in Volgograd that left more than 30 dead. The U.S. Department of State warns that Americans planning to visit Sochi should be vigilant about security because of potential terrorist threats, crime, and unreliable medical care.
Although former CIA Director Michael Hayden said he’s confident in Putin’s ability to provide the needed security, some American politicians aren’t convinced aren’t convinced that Putin is shooting straight.
After the FBI announced this month they would be deploy special agents to Sochi to assist the Russians in counterterrorism activities, House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), called on Putin’s government to be more cooperative in sharing intelligence with the United States before the games begin.
“Their level of concern is great, but we don’t seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the games,” said Rogers. “I think this needs to change, and it should change soon,” he told CNN.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he didn’t plan to attend the games himself – “and I don’t think I would send my family,” King told CNN.
“It’s a very serious fear because the Olympics are being held in an area where there’s a history of terrorist activity, where there’s been a lot of tension between Islamists in that area and the government of Russia,” King said.
Hosting the Olympics in Sochi is fraught with risk, according to Der Spiegel.
“For years, tensions have been brewing in the region east of the Black Sea city. Riots continuously erupt between Russians and Caucasians. The federal subjects of Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya and Dagestan — only some 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Sochi — are active operational zones for Islamist terrorists. In the past year, 33 attacks shook the North Caucasus. Since October alone, 139 people have been killed by terrorists. Back in September at a meeting of the Security Council of Russia, Putin called for the mobilization of all forces to ensure the safety of the Winter Games.”
Dagestan was in the news in the U.S. last year because it has a connection to terrorism stateside. The late Boston Marathon bombing mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev frequented a radical mosque in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, during a six-month visit to that politically unstable, jihadist-friendly Russian republic. The mosque is reportedly a terrorist hangout.
Three years ago Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) warned the U.S. government about Tsarnaev, saying he could be an Islamic terrorist, but those admonitions went unheeded in Washington, D.C.
The clueless bunglers at Obama’s Department of Homeland Security haven’t stopped much of anything in recent years. When a terrorist attack has been foiled, it has been stopped because the plot was uncovered inadvertently (e.g. Faisal Shahzad) or because by-standers took action (e.g. “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab).
And if Putin’s forces learn of legitimate terrorist threats related to Sochi, unlike his American counterpart he won’t be handicapped by politically correct rules drafted to prevent minority groups from being inconvenienced.