Russian Politics, & Personalities

Posts Tagged ‘Olympics

Security vs Corruption at Sochi

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With a little more than 100 days to go until the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Sochi, security has become a central focus.  Any security system has its weak spots, but as two incidents this week have shown, there are too many holes in Russia’s system. 

The first incident was a bus bombing in Volgograd on Monday afternoon [http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/10/a_suspected_black_wi.php].  A female suicide bomber boarded a bus and blew it up.  As I wrote over in my Global Voices column [http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/10/23/in-wake-of-suicide-bombing-russians-question-their-security/], some in the Russian blogosphere were quick to point out that after 14 years of Putin, Russia’s security apparatus still cannot protect its citizens. 

The second incident actually took place last month, but came to light only yesterday.  RIA Novosti [http://en.ria.ru/crime/20131023/184311460/Passenger-Skips-Russian-Airport-Checks-for-Bribe-Worth-47.html] reported that a man in Yakutsk bought a domestic plane ticket on a discount, using a false passport.  When he arrived at the airport, he bribed a security officer to let him through “pre-flight inspection” with a bottle of cognac and a box of chocolates worth approximately $47.  The police arrested the culprit before boarding the plane, but the fact that he got as far as the departure lounge is worrying.

Two stories, two different outcomes, but both reveal the single greatest threat to security surrounding the Winter Olympics in Sochi.  There has been a lot of outrage about the security system put in place by the Russian security services for Sochi 2014.   A report [http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/06/sochi-olympic-venues-kremlin-surveillance] by security experts Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan “found that phone and Internet networks in Sochi have been retrofitted with a surveillance system, known by its Russian acronym Sorm, which allows the FSB to eavesdrop on phone and data communications in the city [Sochi]” [http://www.themoscowtimes.com/olympic_coverage/article/all-communications-traffic-to-be-monitored-at-sochi-olympics-report-says/487352.html]. 

But what good is a state of the art security system if a man can bribe his way onto a plane for under $50? 

Written by Nina Jobe

October 24, 2013 at 2:57 AM

Batumi Shootout and Sochi 2014

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We now have less than 150 days until the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.  As the event gets closer, security fears are rising not just in Russia, but in neighboring countries as well.  This past April, Georgia’s defense minister Irakli Alasania stated that the Georgian government was concerned that the Russian Government could accuse Georgia of being complicit should a terrorist attack take place.  As a result, the Georgians said that they were doing everything possible to enhance security in their country [apsny.ge/2013/mil/1364934484.php].

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he “was prepared to give Georgia a role in security at next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, which borders the Caucasus country’s breakaway region of Abkhazia” [en.rian.ru/sports/20130611/181618922/Putin-Ready-to-Give-Georgians-Olympic-Security-Role.html].

The following day, Georgia’s Foreign Minister said that Georgia was prepared to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to take a role in security at the Winter Olympics [http://en.ria.ru/world/20130612/181633162/Georgia-Accepts-Putins-Offer-for-Olympic-Security-Role.html].

However, I have neither seen nor read that this gesture of cooperation has gone beyond the statements made over the summer.  In a short brief written in July, Tom De Waal wrote [http://carnegie.ru/eurasiaoutlook/?fa=52424&lang=en] that he believed the two countries were both concerned about the security situation, and but were working separately.

The Russians are alleged to have posted a list of names of people who they believed to be security threats to the Sochi Games.  I have seen no evidence of this list, though I would appreciate any help if any of you know where I can get a copy.

At the same time, the Georgian authorities seem to have a list of their own. Two men are part of Georgia’s Greco-Roman wrestling junior team say they are on a list of alleged “Wahhabi extremists” kept by the Georgian security services. In August, wrestler Piruz Tsulukidze claimed that he was prevented from leaving Georgia to participate an event in Bulgaria due to his association with “Wahhabists”.  In an interview given last week, Tsulukidze’s coach, Temur Bakhuntaradze, says he was detained twice by police in Batumi for proselytizing [http://www.ick.ge/articles/15781-i.html].

On Friday evening, the two men were detained along with a young man with a Russian passport [http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=26455]. The 3rd detainee, Yusuf Lakaev, is alleged to have entered Georgia illegally.  The authorities claim they were informed of his presence in Batumi on Friday, September 13.  During a routine document check, Mr Lakaev began shooting wildly.  Before the police shot him, Lakaev managed to injure one policeman, and a bystander.  None of the three people were seriously injured, but were taken to the hospital for observation.


Arms cache the Georgian police found (screenshot from YouTube)

When they raided the Georgians’ homes, police found one grenade, a home-made gun with a wooden grip, six different knives and two backpacks in military print colors [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0B2OZPR2zA].  This would seem to verify the police allegation that the two Georgian men were helping Mr Lakaev to cross into Turkey, where presumably he would have joined a group heading to Syria.

Fortunately, Friday’s shootout ended with only minor injuries.  But without real cross-border cooperation, we may see more incidents like it in both Georgia and Russia.

Written by Nina Jobe

September 16, 2013 at 4:23 AM

Kazan 2013

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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.

Written by Nina Jobe

April 9, 2013 at 11:58 PM