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Posts Tagged ‘Sochi

Umarov Wins (Again)

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Umarov has done what he set out to do.  He has proven that he is capable of carrying out some kind of attack.  And he has already done that.  Or rather, he has proven that Riyad-us-Saliheen is still operational, and capable of infiltrating Russia proper. 

Now all Umarov has to do is sit back and wait.  Because anything that happens in the next month or so will be blamed on the North Caucasian insurgency (aka: Caucasus Emirate).

The murder spree in Stavropol this week is a prime example.  The authorities now allege the crime was committed by men from the Zolksy Jamaat (a militant group) from Kabardino-Balkaria in revenge for the fact that they were nearly wiped out back in October.  This sounds a little too cut-and-dried to me.  There are too many unknowns about the Jamaat system for the cops to make that claim with any authority.  Therefore, I am not ready to dismiss the organised crime theory.  

Meanwhile, it took the authorities 2 weeks to round up six suspects in the car bombing in Pyatigorsk.  And they are still looking for the organisers of the twin bombings in Volgograd.  

So Umarov wins (again).

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Written by Nina Jobe

January 11, 2014 at 9:55 AM

Sochi Olympics is Accessible to Terrorists

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Journalist hops commuter train in Krasnodar bypassing security on January 5th. Ends up in Sochi (250km away) where he passes several different sets of cops and soldiers, who don’t even notice him. Conclusion: it would not be that hard for a terrorist to avoid security measures set up for Sochi.
Note: this experiment took place after the double bombings in Volgograd, but before the Olympic security regime in Sochi went into effect.
h/t Paul Goble

Written by Nina Jobe

January 10, 2014 at 11:46 AM

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Sochi 2014 Threat Assessment

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I have been promising to write this for quite some time, but have never managed to get around to it.  The Winter Olympic & Paralympic Games in Sochi are set to begin in about 6 weeks, and the security threat needs to be addressed.

The Canadians wrote a report in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and their media got hold of a copy and released it this week [http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/12/15/notorious-russian-terrorist-could-target-westerners-at-satanic-olympic-games-canadian-intelligence-document/].  However, the report is heavily redacted and offers nothing new in the way of information.

Meanwhile, Stratfor has mapped out the security measures in place for the Olympic Games in Sochi.  Which is helpful for those of us who are visual, but I still think that the great threat is to the so-called ‘soft targets’ outside the zone the FSB has set up.  But what are those targets?

Security is being tightened around public transportation, especially trains.  In April of this year, the Moscow Times reported that “Russian Railways… introduced additional security checks at entrances to 32 major train stations across Russia.”  They also implemented other security checks, and gave railway workers more authority to conduct searches of passengers if they feel the need to.

This is a necessity because of past terror acts on trains, including the Sapsan and the Nevsky Express.

The Sapsan is high-speed train that began operating in 2009 between Moscow and St Petersburg.  The security services allege that it was the target of a terror act in August 2011 that they managed to foil.  This past Tuesday, a Russian newspaper reported that 2 young men rode on the roof of the Sapsan wearing ski-suits and helmets.  They were caught, and fined 100 rubles (approximately $3).  An amusing story, but it does open up some questions about their methods, and how they were able to do so in the first place.

The Nevsky Express is another high-speed train that also operates between Moscow and St Petersburg.  Twice terrorists have hit the Nevsky Express: first in August 2007, and again in November 2009.  The second attack resulted in the deaths of 27 persons.  The railway promised to put up cameras to monitor the train route, but it is still unclear if they followed through (I’d appreciate any updates).

A new high-speed train has been added to connect Moscow to Adler, where many sporting events will take place during the Olympics.  While this has not been hit, an attempt on it cannot be ruled out.

Trains would be relatively easy and inexpensive to hit.  A few kilos of TNT on a track would be enough to derail a train, if done right.  A train derailment in July on the way to Adler shed light on this.  The authorities denied the derailment was the result of an act of terror, though they never offered proof.  And the security services cannot monitor every kilometre of track at every moment, even if security cameras have been installed.

Another threat to public transport is that of a suicide bomber on a bus.  The terror attack on a Volgograd bus this past October showed that suicide bombing is still a popular method.  The infusion of ethnic Russians in the Daghestani branch of the IK, in particular, makes it easier for them to get past checkpoints.  Attacks on similar targets, normally outside the scope of the federal authorities purview cannot be discounted.

A plane hijacking or bombing would be more difficult to accomplish, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility.  In October of this year, I wrote about a story about a man who attempted to bribe his way onto a plane for under $50.  He ultimately failed, but the security risk from the systemic corruption that Russia faces cannot be over emphasized.

I would not discount the possibility of Umarov’s death next month.  However, while this would be a victory in the short-term, it would be nothing more than a publicity stunt, as Umarov’s control over the IK is negligible.  And in making the threat to Sochi only about Umarov, the Russian security services would be downplaying the true threat and risk to the Olympic games.

The IK is too atomised to effectively carry out a series of coordinated attacks at this time.  This is partially due to the Russians’ counter-terrorism efforts, and partially due to poor leadership.  Umarov is not a strategist, and it does not appear that anyone else in the IK is either.  Nevertheless, a series of lone wolf terror acts cannot be discounted.  The infrastructure is still in place in many cells of the IK, particularly in Daghestan, which is where the suicide bomber in Volgograd came from.

As with any public sporting event on the scale of the Winter Olympic Games, it is impossible to fully guarantee security of the fans or the athletes.  The risk is even greater for Sochi since it is located near a region that has been experiencing a low-grade civil war for over a decade.  The British and American Governments have both issued travel warnings to those attending the Olympic Games.  The British even provided a map [h/t Rod McLeod] telling people to stay away from areas bordering Sochi.  While the Russian security services are doing their best to protect Sochi, but it may not be enough.

EDIT: It appears that the authorities are preparing the public for Umarov’s sudden death.  Kadyrov said today that he hopes (prays?) that Umarov is already dead, and they are just looking for his body.  This could be Kadyrov just posturing, but it will be interesting to see where it leads.

Written by Nina Jobe

December 18, 2013 at 8:04 AM

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Arsen Kanokov

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The Kremlin accepted the resignation of Kabardino-Balkaria’s chief, Arsen Kanokov, on Friday.  A short announcement posted on the President’s website simply stated that Arsen Kanokov had resigned and was being replaced by Yuri Kokov, the former chief of the Interior Ministry’s anti-extremism branch, Department E. 

There had been rumours for at least the last 18 months that Kokov wanted Kanokov’s job.  A series of arrests in June 2012 of local officials seemed aimed at Kanokov’s relatives and allies.  Kokov’s name popped up then as a possible rival to Kanokov, though nothing seemed to come of it.  Then six months ago, an ally of Kanokov’s was gunned down in Moscow.  His murder was never solved.

A later announcement on the Kremlin’s website showed a photo of Putin meeting with Kokov to discuss the acting chief’s new job.  At one point, Putin noted that Kanokov had done a lot for the republic, saying:

Many problems still remain, but on the whole, the dynamic is positive.  This applies to the budgetary provision and concerns the development of infrastructure.  But, I repeat, the unresolved problems are, of course, much more.

Given Putin’s words and phrasing, it seems likely that Kanokov was relieved of his duties because of the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi.  Tensions remain high in the region of the North Caucasus and fears of a terror attack during the Olympics are very real.  Yuri Kokov’s appointment speaks to the fears associated with the upcoming event.  As former chief of Department E, his experience in fighting extremism likely provides a feeling of security for the federal authorities.  Russia has spent close to $51 billion (if not more) in the Olympic games, and Putin has a lot riding on its successful outcome.

Kanokov fought the terrorist threat in his republic as best he could, but his efforts were not acceptable by the Kremlin’s standards.  In replacing Kanokov with a security expert, the Kremlin is again attempting to replicate the model of Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechnya.  However, that model is not effective.  Putin has already tried this in Daghestan this year with disastrous results.  The strong leader role that the Kremlin has assigned to Abdulitipov has only turned Daghestan into a war zone, with daily shootouts and bombings.  Even the Kremlin’s gold standard — Ramzan Kadyrov — does not fully control Chechnya, though most of the information about acts of terrorism in that republic are hushed. 

The terrorist threat to the Sochi Olympic games remains very real, but with less than 100 days remaining to the event, it seems unlikely that replacing Kanovkov will have any real impact.

Written by Nina Jobe

December 9, 2013 at 1:22 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.

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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