Ter­ror­ism in Rus­sia: Road to Sochi

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS -

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

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