The Sochi Games: next door to Russia’s most dangerous regions

This is our main political objective for the 2014 Winter Olympics: proving to the whole world that stability and security have arrived in southern Russia. The problem, however, is that when the International Olympic Committee voted in Guatemala, there was no stability or security in southern Russia.

Seven years from now, right after the 2014 Winter Olympics, a new era will dawn in Russia. The civil war in the Caucasus, bloodshed and xenophobia will all fade away into history; grudges and territorial claims will be forgotten; new world-class resorts will be built along Russia’s Black Sea coast. Unless this happens, the whole Sochi Olympics plan could become a dangerous gamble.

Ramzan Kadyrov, president of Chechnya, has put it in a nutshell: “Passing the baton to this southern Russian city is evidence that southern Russia is secure, with a stable socio-political situation – and this couldn’t be said in the past.”

This is our main political objective for the 2014 Winter Olympics: proving to the whole world that stability and security have arrived in southern Russia. The problem, however, is that when the International Olympic Committee voted in Guatemala, there was no stability or security in southern Russia. Security has yet to be achieved – and that’s far more difficult than upgrading the entire sewerage system in Sochi.

About 25 kilometers from Sochi, right behind Adler, is the border with the unrecognized state of Abkhazia: in a state of permanent war with Georgia (a cold war at present). This confrontation has lasted 15 years already, and now it’s safe to predict that the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict will be frozen for the next seven years, right up to the Sochi Olympics. One of the conflict’s key participants, Russia, won’t take any steps to resolve the situation in the next seven years, because any solution carries the risk of war – or, as politicians put it, “destabilizing the situation.” The same applies for the other unrecognized state on Georgia’s territory – South Ossetia.

Now let’s turn to our domestic affairs. Here’s a quote from a fresh police operations report, transmitted from Chechnya to the federal Interior Ministry: “At the present time, according to Interior Ministry estimates, 46 minor gangs with a total of around 450 members are active in Chechnya. Around 30 foreign mercenaries still remain in the North Caucasus; the most dangerous of them is said to be a man known as Yasir, from Algeria, and Saif Islam, an Arab from Jordan. Saif Islam acts as treasurer for the so-called president of Ichkeria, Doku Umarov. The most unstable regions in the North Caucasus are Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria, where there are well-trained deep underground terrorist groups led by Astermirov, Mukozhev, and Solpagarov.”

The most important point here is that gunmen aren’t confined to Chechnya – they are present in other regions of the Russian Caucasus, and not only in the abovementioned regions. The Stavropol territory, the Rostov region, and Adygea have their terrorist undergrounds as well – and Adygea is very close to Sochi. It’s revealing to note that the terrorist underground’s ideologues responded immediately to the IOC decision. Straight after the vote in Guatemala, the leading Chechen separatist website posted an editorial written in the sophisticated language of an experienced propagandist. Specialists say that Ichkerian ideologue Movladi Udugov must have been involved in writing it. The Chechen separatist editorial describes the Olympics as a pagan festival and calls on the mujaheddin to fight and liberate the Caucasus from pagans.

Now we have come to the most vulnerable spot. Russia’s war in the Caucasus has gradually lost its immediacy in recent years, shifting to the periphery of public attention in Russia and the West. What does the superficial observer see? The most volatile region, Chechnya, is headed by a former rebel, now a decorated Hero of Russia – Ramzan Kadyrov. There are no large-scale hostilities. Shamil Basayev has been destroyed. The region is gradually arising from its ruins. Chechnya has moved out of the headlines in international news reports; the smouldering conflict in the Caucasus is now seen as Russia’s internal affair.

But after Sochi’s win in Guatemala, the problems of the North Caucasus have become relevant again. Any act of terror, even a minor bombing, anywhere near the site of the future Olympics would make headlines all over the world. The danger is that the guerrillas are well aware of this, and will certainly make every effort to disrupt the Sochi Games. What’s more, there are plenty of other countries with an interest in damaging Russia’s image – and for the next seven years, their interests will overlap with the interests of separatists like Udugov. Is our state up to this challenge, a challenge it has issued to itself?

Or perhaps the state is hoping for assistance from patriotically-minded citizens in fighting the Caucasus extremists. If so, we can expect our leaders to make a certain counter-propaganda move in the near future. It will be said that the guerrillas used to fight for Chechnya’s independence and obsolete Wahhabi fundamentalist ideas, but now their objective is to disrupt the Winter Olympics and ensure that Russia is expelled from the company of decent nations.

It wouldn’t be that difficult to ensure security for athletes at the Winter Olympics. Just disable cellular communications and fortify all Olympic facilities like a concentration camp. Prior to that, carry out a comprehensive purge throughout the Caucasus. Kill off all the guerrillas at any cost, disregarding civilian casualties; relocate all unreliables at least a hundred kilometers from Sochi. These measures would achieve the “security” and “stable socio-political situation” mentioned by Ramzan Kadyrov, who is very skilled at producing simulations of law and order. Besides, it could all be regarded as returning to historical roots. When the Olympic Games first began, Ancient Greece wasn’t in a stable and secure situation either.