Next month the world will gather in Sochi, Russia for the XXII Winter Olympic Games. From February 7-23, the city will host this international spectacle of sport – although there are serious concerns regarding the safety of athletes, spectators and visiting dignitaries as the opening ceremony approaches.
Sochi is located in the Krasnodar Krai region of the North Caucasus – home to a rash of militant Islamic activity.
“Armed skirmishes between the Russian federal security forces and extremist rebels in North Caucasus republics such as Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino–Balkaria are almost a daily occurrence,” write Cassandra Lucaccioni and Ariel Cohen, a pair of Heritage Foundation scholars. “The Kremlin has difficulty containing these insurgents and cutting their supply of weapons due to the Islamist propaganda, social failure, high unemployment, corruption, and heavy-handed tactics of law enforcement and the secret police. Insufficient surveillance of Russia’s borders with other post-Soviet states is also a factor.”
For these reasons, the U.S. Secretary of State’s office advises “travel to the North Caucasus region of Russia is dangerous,” and that U.S. citizens “not travel to Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus region.”
How dangerous? Well, we wrote about one recent attack … but there have been dozens of others. And Sochi provides an opportunity for these extremists – led by Doku Umarov – to elevate their “daily” battles by launching a signature attack.
Also, as many as 100,000 armed agents of the Russian Federal Security Service – the successor to the KGB – will descend upon Sochi, providing the militants with an opportunity to do battle with their enemy concentrated en masse.
American and British special forces will also be dispatched.
It’s a target rich environment, in other words …
Russian forces conducted a security sweep of Sochi this week after another round of terrorist attacks, but there remain concerns that Vladimir Putin’s administration isn’t playing nice with its American counterparts.
“The U.S. government has offered our full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games, and we would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators, and other participants,” U.S. President Barack Obama’s National Security Council (NSC) said in a statement late last month.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Russia’s current level of cooperation.
We hope Sochi is peaceful. And while for the first time ever we won’t be cheering for American athletes this year, we hope all 6,000 Olympic competitors from around the world (and the hundreds of thousands of fans who attend the games) stay safe during their trip.
Still, we can’t shake the fact that we’ve got a very bad feeling about Sochi …