Will money buy safety in Sochi?

The budget for upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, exceeds $50 billion (all amounts in U.S. currency). Of that, about 60 to 70 per cent would fall victim to widespread corruption and theft, an influential Russian journalist Julia Latynina estimates.

The budgeted amount for security of the games exceeds $2 billion. Judging by recent developments, the $2 billion is bare minimum, and the final amount is going to be much higher.

The main issue is whether even that will suffice. Why? Simply because there exist powerful groups that have been of the view that Sochi is not a Russian city in the first place, and that the games are being staged in a territory that was stolen from them. And they plan to do something about it. What something? They are perfectly open: they plan to commit sundry terrorist acts to make these games unforgettable, if not the best in history, as the usual formula at closing ceremonies has it.

Some would say it’s not terrorism. These people are fighting for what’s rightfully theirs.

Let’s put that argument (the one that asks whose country is it, anyway) aside. Other than that, endangering innocent civilian bystanders matches the accepted definition of terrorism with chilling precision.

For comparison sake: the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $6 billion (or more, but – apparently – not more than $10 billion). Vancouver’s original budget called for cost of about $2 billion. Except that budget calculation, resulting from the sheer genius of creative accounting, had been wrong all along.

In any case, the Sochi budget is close to the perfectly abominable cost of the 2008 summer games in Beijing, China (and the 2012 summer games in London). Keep in mind, too, that summer games are several times bigger (and more expensive) than their winter counterparts. So, even accounting for theft and corruption, the Russians will end up paying through their noses for quite some time to come.

No wonder, then, that they are getting somewhat nervous about the terrorist threat. The threat is real.

While intelligence experts are not rushing to link the two suicide-bombers’ attacks that happened earlier this year in Volgograd (earlier Stalingrad, and Tsaritsyn even before that), they wouldn’t say there’s no link, either. With Russian president Vladimir Putin ordering that Russian security forces (from the police to special army units a.k.a. Spetznaz) make their presence known in Sochi, intelligence and security experts fear he had stripped some other Russian centres of proper defences. Only future will tell whether they are right or not.

Leaked figures indicate there will be 42,000 police at Sochi, plus 10,000 armed Interior Ministry officials, plus 23,000 heavily armed Emergency Ministry personnel, to be stationed in border area mountains. The number of Spetznaz people has remained secret thus far. These professionally trained thugs have made their presence known by closing off Sochi to most incoming traffic on January 7, with one month to go to opening ceremonies.

An interesting gallery

Doku Umarov is the name cited by most experts. According to most reports, Umarov calls himself the leader (Emir) of what he describes as the Caucasian Emirate. The entity includes regions in the northern parts of the Caucasus Mountains, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, plus several other, smaller tribes.

While his overall goal is to gain independence for the territory, his immediate objective is to disrupt the Olympic Games and give Russia and its president a black eye to end all black eyes.

If he hopes the Russians would scrub the games before their opening, he would be too optimistic (and naïve), several intelligence experts agree: Putin has invested way too much, not only financially, but also of his personal prestige, in the games. There’s no stopping him other than a widespread calamity, if anything at all. Experts doubt Umarov has the wherewithal to cause anything close to a general calamity. Disruptions? May be. But forcing Russia on its knees? Highly doubtful. Of course, if there are civilian victims, they would quite obviously ignore this fine line between general outbreak of hostilities and individual terrorist acts. Still, who cares about individual victims? Nobody in Mother Russia does. Their motto claims there’s a lot of them (nas mnogo).

Umarov claims the games are going to be staged in places that he describes as burial grounds of millions of innocent Muslims killed in the wars with Russia. Historical data confirms that at least eight million indigenous people died in these wars during the 19th century alone. Umarov told the world it’s his movement’s goal to prevent this sacrilege, using “all the means that Allah permits us to use.”

And here it gets murky.

Ramzan Kadyrov, an incredibly successful bandit-turned-politician and today’s leader of Chechnya, claims Umarov has been dead for years, if not decades. Kadyrov hasn’t offered more proof than his own word, and a new video featuring Umarov seems to contradict his statement.

Not so fast, warn intelligence analysts: the newly-emerged video never mentions Sochi or the Olympic Games. It could have been made years ago for all they know.

Russian intelligence claim they have unearthed a weapons cache that belongs to Umarov’s people. It was somewhere in the Caucasus. Not many know if this was the only weapons cache Umarov’s people had, and even fewer people know whether some of the insurgents’ weapons had been transferred to Sochi for safekeeping long time ago.

To sum up: Russian intelligence claim to have found one weapons cache. That’s all.

Russian intelligence people say they’re not sure Umarov, if he still exists, would be able to mount a large-scale operation to penetrate Sochi and wreak havoc upon the games, once there. They dismiss him as a guy capable of not much more than training new cutthroats. That, they do at their own peril.

And yes, there’s Kadyrov, a bosom friend with French artist Gérard Depardieu, who claims Umarov’s a non-entity.

But if not Umarov, is there anybody else?

Turns out the answer is yes.

Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev, the two Chechen strategists who would have been able to stage spectacular assaults anywhere their hearts desired, have met their maker some time ago. These two guys did groom successors. One such name: Aslanbek Vadalov. Certainly, according to some reports, Vadalov and Umarov hate each other’s guts. They are not on speaking terms, even. Except, again, how do we know whether Umarov is still alive? And how do we know the rumours about their distinct lack of chuminess toward one another are true?

Meanwhile, Rusian intelligence people, working off the premise that Umarov is alive and well, claim he asked for and received reinforcements of well-trained fighters with experience from Afghanistan and Syria.

Sporting tradition?

The North-Caucasian anti-Russian groups like sports events as grounds to stage their attacks.

Ramzan Kadyrov’s own dad Akhmad, perished when a bomb exploded right under his bottom during a soccer game. It was quite skillfully built into the presidential seat at a stadium at Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

Whether former Russian security service (FSB) chief Nikolai Patrushev was only mischievous, trying to sow discord amongst the Chechens, not many know. He said for the record that judging by the placement of the bomb, Kadyrov’s people (at least, some of them) had to know about the assasination plan.

This wasn’t the only such attack against a government official. Khachim Shogenov, Interior Minister in the Cabardian-Balcar Republic escaped with injuries, when a bomb exploded under his seat during a soccer game.

What’s going to happen?

Some intelligence experts say the entire media coverage has been designed to scare the Russians enough so they call the Olympic Games off. Others suggest that to achieve that goal, the insurgents may throw in a suicide bombing attack here and there, within safe distance from Sochi, just to add some fear to the general atmosphere. These experts use the Volgograd attacks as an example.

Here’s the issue: Putin has staked his integrity, his legend that he happens to be a capable leader, exactly what the doctor ordered for his country, on these Olympic Games. He’s obsessed. To him, Sochi has become synonymous with showing the world the progress Mother Russia has made under his guidance and leadership.

The question is not whether it is worth spending all that money. The question is whether Putin is not only aware of the proper and correct answer but whether he would be willing to act upon it – if he is aware of the implications, that is.

Yes, most of the billions has gone down the drain by now, but still …

By now, security measures as ordered by Putin, himself a former high-ranking KGB officer with experience in espionage and personal security, have reached shocking proportions.

No car is allowed into town without a proper permit. Those permits are being made using some high-technology tools. They would be impossible to fake. In theory, at least.

Besides, on Putin’s personal orders, all construction workers had to leave their sites a month before the opening of the games. If they obey this order, many venues would be left unfinished. Still, orders are orders, and orders coming directly from Putin have this unshakeable character of finality, Russian journalists say. Asked what’s going to happen if the construction workers obey and some venues are not ready by the opening day, February 7, they only laughed: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Another special order has subdivided Sochi into several special zones.

The city that runs more than 100 kilometres along the Black Sea coast, now features areas where locals would have terrible difficulty getting to their homes. Especially if they are unlucky enough to live anywhere close to the Olympic village and any of the venues.

The Sochi National Park is off limits for everybody, and so is the border region close to the Abkhasia territory within the Republic of Georgia.

In addition, anyone wishing to gather in public for a demonstration or any other such objective, has to get a permission in advance from the security service (FSB). This neatly includes everything, including whatever gathering supporters of alternative sexual orientations had in mind. There go the gay pride parades whose specific ban had so many in the West so stirred. Putin’s decree did not include the famous Latin saying that tres faciunt collegium (meaning: three makes company), but one is beginning to wonder.

Besides, at least seven thousand specialized personnel took part in an extraordinary exercise how to handle saving hostages in a hospital. Whether this is based upon he experience of Chechen rebels taking over a hospital in Budyonnyi in 1995, who knows, but some intelligence experts said they could foresee a mass hostage situation with the hostage takers demanding that the Olympic Games be abandoned forthwith or they will kill all those innocent bystanders.

A couple of those analysts said they were not sure Putin would permit abandoning the games even if it cost a few hundred hostage lives.

Which brings us to a somewhat shocking finding: the person responsible to Putin personally for all matters concerning the security of the Sochi Olympic Games is Oleg Syromolotov. Intelligence analysts say he might be good in the field of counter-intelligence, but has got no practical experience in countering terrorism whatsoever.

But that’s logical, at least two intelligence sources said: Putin likes governing by decree, and having got the opportunity to do so, he would use any screwdriver available to tighten the screws on Russia and Russians everywhere, not only in Sochi.

“How many such chances is he going to get?” asked one of these experts rather cynically.

Who cares about Olympic medals, be they gold, silver or bronze? People will spend their time in Sochi in fear, hoping they’re going to survive.

And that has been the terrorists’ objective to begin with.

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