I will confess I am not a sports fan. I am not competitive by nature, and I participated in 4 different competitive sports before I realized it. So I do not play sports, and I also do not watch them except for a few select Olympic sports. And I do not recall hearing of the Universiade before Kazan 2013 came on the scene.
That being said, I am interested in the Universiade in Kazan for one reason: security. The events in Kazan this summer (6-17 July) will be a test run for next winter’s Olympic Games in Sochi. They will be a test for Russia’s security apparatus, and could potentially be a test run for terrorists too.
I want to briefly look at the threats facing the Summer Universiade and what the authorities say they are doing to combat these threats.
The security threat is vague. We know that Tatarstan has seen some terrorist activity in the last year or so. Last July, there was a dual attack on Tatarstan’s mufti and his deputy [http://www.rferl.org/content/tatarstan-attack-spar-fears-that-islamist-threat-is-spreading/24650674.html]. The mufti miraculously survived, but his deputy did not. It is still unclear who exactly was behind the dual attack, as fingers were pointed at both “Wahabbis” & some kind of power struggle over money/influence [http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=9570].
Shortly thereafter a video was posted to YouTube [http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BH0_CVDy8oQ#!] of an unmasked man claiming to be Tatarstan’s emir, and reaffirming loyalty to Dokku Umarov, leader of the North Caucasus Emirate. However, it was unclear if the video was authentic.
A month later, a car exploded on the highway to Kazan [http://www.rferl.org/content/three-killed-in-tatarstan-car-blast/24682340.html]. The authorities said it was a group of 3 men who were planning a terrorist attack. Their intended target was not identified.
In late October 2012, a Counterterrorism Operation (CTO) was conducted in Kazan [http://rt.com/news/russia-militants-special-operation-140/ & http://vserusskie.ru/news/134123%5D. This was the first CTO ever conducted in Tatarstan, and ended with 2 militants, and 1 FSB officer dead [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20072293].
As for how the authorities are preparing for the event in July, here is what their candidature proposal says [http://kazan2013.net/index.php?id=questionnaire]:
Kazan has a rich experience of hosting major events including sports competitions. The level of security provided during the Universiade will satisfy the highest demands. The Organizing Committee will develop a detailed plan for ensuring safety at all facilities, especially in and around the Universiade Athletes’ Village which will be guarded twenty-four hours a day by law enforcement officers. In order to prevent illegal trespassing, the territory will be regularly patrolled and CCTV cameras will be used. Sports competition venues will be fenced by portable metal barriers. Participants and spectators will be required to pass through check points equipped with standard metal detectors. In order to ensure no forbidden objects and weapons are carried through, all bags will be checked by security guards and documents will be subject to electronic inspection. All Universiade facilities and nearby areas will be patrolled by canine handlers with dogs specially trained to search for explosives.
About 10,000 law enforcement officers from Tatarstan and the neighboring regions will be on active duty during the Universiade. If necessary, more officers can be available to guarantee safety. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Tatarstan guarantees the presence of safety staff in required numbers and the reliability of the safety system during the Universiade. Moreover, specially trained volunteers in distinctive uniform, selected from Kazan University students, will help ensure public order at the Universiade facilities and recreational areas.
These are all good traditional methods of crowd control, but how effective will they be against a car bomb, for example? Tatarstan has been relatively quiet since the shootout in Kazan last October, but that is not a guarantee of safety, especially considering the fact that we know almost nothing about the insurgency in Tatarstan, including how many people claim membership. There is also a possibility that a group from the North Caucasus insurgency could come in and use Kazan as a test run for the Olympic Games in Sochi next winter.
The threat against the Universiade in July is real, however much the authorities wish to publicly turn a blind eye. This is not to say they are not gathering intelligence even now against a threat, but the lack of transparency is concerning.