The Sochi Olympics still look troubled in the run up to the games. The Olympics has in the past been the focus of political violence and action, from boycotts to the horrendous killing of Israeli athletes during the Munich games. In Munich the security response to the hostage crisis was heavily criticised, and investigations showed the German authorities were unprepared for such an incident.
After a pair of suicide bombings took place in the Caucasus, the troubled south of Russia, hitting the Volgograd central train station and a bus, President Putin pledged to destroy the terrorists. Indeed, the husband of the suicide bomber who attacked the bus and four other militants have since been killed by the Russian security forces, but the threat to the olympics remains real. The Volgograd bombings claimed 34 lives and was followed up a video threatening further attacks specifically against the Olympic events.
The US government is taking these threats very seriously and is looking at ways to mount potential rescues of US athletes if they were to come under attack. However, the Russian authorities will likely not accept foreign armed security within Russia, and so the main security responsibility does now lie with the Russians themselves. With the Olympics only weeks away on february 7th, the US is looking to increase communication with the Russians on the subject, as the Sochi Olympics could still be a focus for violent trouble. The cell that attacked in Volgograd may well have been destroyed, but other groups may also be active.
One of issues is the location of Sochi itself, it is close to the troubled Caucasus region, and with large numbers of foreign nationals visiting from all over the world, infiltration of the crowds by Islamist insurgents is clearly possible.
The greatest threat is currently believed to be in places outside of Sochi itself, which will be more easily accessed. The State Department has asked American citizens to be vigilant about their personal security when away from the main olympic sites.
Vladimir Putin is clearly taking the Sochi Olympics very personally and very seriously, he has ordered 37,000 troops to guard the games. He has also repeated his stance that he will do “whatever it takes” to make sure the games are secure.
The games facilities themselves are state-of-the-art and no expense has been spared in the preparations for the games. Indeed they are easily the most expensive winter games ever staged. However, critics have said that the corruption involved in the placing of contracts for the olympic facilities was staggering, and the whole event has been used by President Putin to increase his internal power through bribery.
Reports suggest that local people were forced from their homes, and then payments for their homes were stolen by local authorities, leaving them on the street. This type of action, and other like it, that may have been rife over the lest seven years of preparation, could have created a hostile environment around the olympics even without the threat of terrorism.
US officials and lawmakers have been questioning the Russians on security this week as they don’t believe the Russians have been sharing intelligence as freely as other nations have in the run up to the games.
The Sochi Olympics still look troubled, and one US senator even went as far as to say they would not take their family to games under the current conditions.
By Andrew Willig.