Terrorism in Russia: Road to Sochi
WHEN Russia’s bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics was successful almost seven years ago, it was already obvious that the risks were high. Russia would be open to western pressure or even a boycott because of human rights issues as the event approached, just as it was with the Moscow games in 1980. Second, there was the technical gamble: Sochi, although a pleasant place, was also a remote one, lacking in the necessary infrastructure. Everything, not only the sporting facilities themselves, would have to be built almost from scratch. Fiascos involving accommodation, transport, or equipment breakdown could easily be imagined.
Third, there was the risk of the kind of terrorist attacks that all major sporting events attract, compounded in Russia’s case by the impact of the Chechen wars. The Beslan school massacre had shocked the world only three years before the Sochi bid. President Vladimir Putin made a few concessions to western opinion when he released the Greenpeace protestors, members of the Pussy Riot band and the businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But, even before that, it was clear there would be no effective boycott, although a few heads of state and government will not attend. In Sochi itself, there were delays, unforeseen difficulties, such as avalanche protection, and rumours of much corruption. Still, the work is more or less on schedule. It is on the third front, sadly, that the worst fears could turn out to be justified. Sunday’s apparent suicide bombing of the main Volgograd railway station, with many dead and injured, was the second such atrocity in two months in that city; there was a car bomb in another south Russian city on Friday. Volgograd lies just above the North Caucasus region, the mainly Muslim region from which many of Russia’s Islamist extremists come, and which includes both Chechnya and Dagestan. It is more than 400 miles from Sochi, but it is a transport hub for people travelling to the south. In any case, there is good reason to suppose the bombings were related to the Sochi Games, since security there has become so intense, according to one former member of Russia’s anti-terrorist forces, that the extremist groups trying to disrupt the event are switching to more distant targets. That does not mean they will not soon try to close in on Sochi itself. Mr Putin’s record in combating Muslim extremism is not a good one. The invasion of Chechnya that he ordered in 1999 exacerbated and spread opposition across the Caucasus. A high price has already been paid for his and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin’s mistakes in the region. Let us hope it does not rise even higher at Sochi. — The Guardian