Sochi-bound Canadian fans of Team Canada for the Winter Olympic received new warnings from Steven Blaney, Public Safety Minister. Canada is one of the biggest names in the Winter Olympics, and the blunt warning from top Canadian official indicates the serious security risk concern that the international community has in upcoming Sochi 2014 Olympic.
The warning by Canadian government specifically refers to Imarat Kavkaz, an Islamic terrorist group from the Caucus, as the “most likely threat.” Mr. Blaney said that Canadian travelers should consider attending the Sochi Olympic very carefully, adding the customary statement that Canadian government is working with local authorities.
In video posted on last Saturday, a militant group called Vilayat Dagestan from the Caucasus threatened to disrupt the Winter Olympics at Sochi. The group stated that it was responsible for the December suicide attack in Volgograd, a city located only 400 miles from Sochi, which killed 34 people and injured more than 80. It warned Russian President Vladrmir Putin that he would receive a “present” at Sochi.
The U.S. Statement Department already released a travel alert for American travelers to Sochi; about 10,000 U.S. tourists are expected to attend the Olympics. On January 25, the Statement Department official also confirmed that it advised American athletes to Sochi not to wear their uniform outside the Olympic Village. Although Marie Harf, State Department spokesperson, stated that such warning is not unique to the athletes going to Sochi, the U.S. government is taking more than usual precautionary steps to prepare for the worst.
Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense, indicated in his joint conference with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the U.S. would offer Olympic security assistance at Sochi if requested. The New York Times reports that the Department of Defense has a plan to send two Navy ships in order to evacuate Americans from Sochi in case of an emergency. Warnings on Sochi issued by foreign nations are not the only thing that concerns Russia.
More worrisome for Russia is that threat is becoming increasingly specific as the opening date nears. Olympic teams of Austria, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia also received an email that their teams could be a target of terrorist attack. There are reports that those emails have been a hoax, but it has not calmed nerves of Canadian Olympians. Mike Smith, a goalie for NHL’s Phoenix Coyote, told CTV News that his pregnant wife and children will not attend the Olympics in Sochi. Roberto Luongo of Vancouver Canucks and another goalie for Team Canada also will not bring his family to Sochi for security concerns.
Already under fire for controversial law on gays and lesbians and its potentially negative implication for international athletes and travelers, the Russian government has been busy calming foreign authorities and travelers. It has already dispatched over 40,000 government forces to Sochi in addition to special forces and other security measures. Also, President Putin literally insulated the Olympic venues and surrounding area of a 1,500-square miles.
Russia has already spent $45 billion and wants to use the Sochi Winter Olympic to showcase the Russia’s restored status as a world power. However, even since the Chechen Wars in the 1990’s and successive Islamic insurgency spreading to neighboring Dagestan, the instability in the Caucus has been embarrassing to Putin and his government as they prepare for the Olympic. The fresh warnings from Canada and US highlight the regional serious issues, and the intensity of security concern is likely to rise as opening date gets closer.
Jonathan JY Jung