Will Vladimir Putin’s $2 billion “ring of steel” prevent terrorist attacks on the Sochi Olympic Games that open on February 2? Probably. Will there be terrorist attacks in Russia coinciding with the games? I believe this is certain.
The enormous and stifling security that will be in place at the Games does not mean American athletes and spectators can let down their guard. No security net is perfect and it is possible that Islamist terrorists from the volatile northern Caucasus region will find a way to penetrate the Sochi ring of steel.
December’s dual suicide bombings in Volgograd, 400 miles northeast of Sochi, demonstrated the fanaticism of these terrorists and their determination to embarrass Putin during the Sochi games when the world’s eyes will be on Russia.
Islamist extremists issued a video in early January claiming responsibility for the Volgograd bombings and promising “presents” for Putin and tourists during the Olympics.
LIGNET.com recently discussed the possibility of a “dirty bomb” against the Games. Click Here to read.
There has been a great deal of concern over the last few weeks about attacks on the Games by so-called “black widow” suicide bombers, women from the Chechnya and Dagestan republics whose husbands were killed by Russian forces during the violence that has plagued the region since 1999. The Russian government is searching for at least four possible black widows suspected of planning terrorist attacks against the Olympics. One suspect, Ruzana Ibragimova, may be in or near Sochi, according to press reports.
Click Here to access LIGNET.com’s Insider Intelligence Series "The Sochi Winter Games: Moment of Truth for Putin."
I don’t want to ignore the threat from black widow suicide bombers at the Games but their effectiveness depends on the element of surprise which they probably will not have. Russian security forces will be carefully screening everyone who wants to gain access to areas near the Games and will be paying special attention to women who fit the black widow profile.
While there are some insurgents who may be planning to attack the Sochi Games, I believe the main terrorist risk will be outside the ring of steel security zone.
Instead of trying to penetrate Sochi’s tight security, insurgents may try to carry out terrorist attacks like the Volgograd bombing elsewhere in Russia. Attacks in Moscow or St Petersburg or against Russian tourists en route to Sochi from other areas of Russia could turn into a PR nightmare for Putin and lead to fears that attacks on the Games are imminent.
Some U.S. officials have expressed concern that because Russia is diverting so many security forces to protect Sochi there may not be enough security to protect the rest of the country. This could leave major cities, rail lines, transportation hubs, and infrastructure vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
It is hard to understate the hatred of Moscow and Vladimir Putin in the northern Caucasus region. An estimated 80,000 Chechens died in two wars between 1999 and 2009. Thousands more have been killed since the second Chechen War ended in 2009. Putin installed hand-picked strongmen as the governors of Chechnya and Dagestan. Chechnya’s governor, Ramazan Abdulatipov, reversed an amnesty plan for insurgents and closed mosques in a pre-Sochi crackdown last August. Last year the Russian Parliament voted to exclude the Northern Caucasus republics from the resumption of direct gubernatorial elections in the rest of Russia.
I fear that the Sochi Olympics are too tempting a terrorist opportunity for militants from the northern Caucasus to ignore. A major terrorist attack during the Games in Russia — anywhere in Russia — will get them the international headlines they are seeking to embarrass Putin. While Putin’s security forces may be able to protect the Sochi Games, this is no time for Americans to tour other areas of the country.
Fred Fleitz served for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently Chief Analyst with LIGNET.com, Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service. Read more reports from Fred Fleitz — Click Here Now.
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