January 7, 2014

Sochi 2014: Terror Threat Assessment

Note: This post is part of a multi-part series on the status of Russian security efforts for the Olympics. The purpose of this series is to keep SOFREP readers informed on the latest developments regarding the games as they draw closer.

Amidst Russia’s extensive security preparations for the Winter Games, it remains to be seen whether or not the Russian security measures are capable of preventing or at least temporarily disrupting the high terrorist threat originating from the North Caucasus.

As SOFREP previously reported, various nefarious actors undoubtedly possess the intent and capability to disrupt the games and will likely dedicate much time and effort to create a black eye for Putin by gaining a political victory for their grievances and followings.

BACKGROUND

When considering the historical data regarding terrorist trends and violence originating from the North Caucasus, the decision to host the games in such close proximity to an active insurgency and volatile region is highly relevant.  According to reporting from the Crisis Group, “armed conflict in the North Caucasus is the most violent in Europe today,” with over 1,200 people killed in 2012, and over 240 killed and 250 wounded from January to June of 2013. Analysis from The Institute for the Study of Violent Groups (ISVG) reports the majority of these attacks were perpetrated against law enforcement officials, followed by civilians, then military, and finally, government targets.

Caucasus violent events 2010-2013, courtesy of ISVG

In the North Caucasus, “violence is greatest in Dagestan, then in Chechnya and Ingushetia.” What complicates this violence is the diverse and complex variety of grievances inherent in the region. Among them are “disputes over territory, administrative boundaries, and land and living space…[coupled with] ethnic and religious tensions and the state’s incapacity to ensure fair political representation, rule of law, governance, and economic growth.” It is this list of grievances, along with the continued political and social alienation of North Caucasus residents that motivates such a large number of attacks against Russia.

While Westerners have not been previously targeted by the Caucasus Emirate, the State Department reports that they have previously targeted civilians as indirect or complicit supporters of the government. Previous targets include ski resorts, metro systems, high-speed rail, airports, a theater, and most recently a bus and trolley.

THREAT LEVEL

Based on the historical data associated with violence in the North Caucasus, along with statements by the Caucasus Emirate Emir Doku Umarov calling for “maximum disruption” of the games, the terror threat at Sochi and surrounding areas is at a high level. The item of highest relevance to the terror threat at Sochi is the inherent vulnerability of infrastructure and transportation networks. While key facilities at Olympic Park and throughout Sochi are relatively easy to secure and monitor, securing or monitoring the extensive transportation and infrastructure networks that feed into Sochi from the surrounding region is much more difficult.

SECURITY FOCUS AREAS

Transportation lines and key infrastructure have already proved to be preferable targets for Caucasus-based terrorists and are a popular terrorist target choice due to the high number of people gathered in specific locations. This was evidenced in the recent Volgograd bombings and previous Caucasus Emirate activity reported above, to include numerous bombings of various trains, subways, and busses in the past several years. Securing these soft targets will most likely prove to be the most resource-intensive challenge the Russians face.

Lastochka high-speed rail Sochi routes, courtesy of eng.rzd.ru

Aside from the infrastructure and transportation networks feeding into Sochi from the surrounding area, transportation lines in Sochi and specific Olympic venues will also prove difficult to secure.  According to the State Department, there are numerous express trains and shuttles scheduled to frequently operate between various Olympic venues, including areas only accessible by Sochi’s public transportation system. This constant activity, coupled with the anticipated traffic levels in the city, will be extremely heavy and saturated. This target-rich environment only complicates the challenge faced by Russian security forces.

Sochi Spectator Transportation graphic, courtesy of Sochi.ru

COUNTERING NEW TERRORIST TRENDS

In addition to the challenge of securing soft targets like infrastructure and transportation networks is a relatively new trend in the way Caucasus-based terror and insurgent groups operate. According to the International Crisis Group, previous terror attacks in the region “were [typically] carried out by Chechen women seeking to avenge their killed relatives.”  These so-called “black widows”, while typically of Chechen ethnicity and not Russian, were still representative of a certain demeanor and manner. In short, an ethnic Chechen woman in a headscarf exhibiting the contextually appropriate pre-attack indicators typical of suicide bombings was relatively easy to detect.

However, recent bombings “are the work of ideologically motivated jihadists from [the] neighboring Dagestan, some of them ethnic-Russian men,” which instantly presents a much more difficult threat to identify or detect. If this trend is indicative of a new operating procedure for any pending Caucasus Emirate attacks, Russian forces will be hard-pressed to identify or detect any nefarious bombers exhibiting pre-attack indicators based on ethnic disposition.

Recent ethnic Russian Volgograd bomber Oksana Aslanova wearing headscarf, courtesy of Time

While Russia may or may not be aware of this potentially developing trend, security forces have gone to great lengths to ensure the integrity of Sochi in regards to any possible internal ethnic or foreign threats.  According to comments from residents living in Sochi, Russian authorities began deporting the majority of foreign workers from the city approximately six weeks ago.  The majority of these workers hailed from Uzbekistan and other former Soviet republics and held primarily three-month visas, typical of foreign workers in the area.  It is evident that Russia is aware of the difficulty of mitigating the threat of non-Olympic personnel, spectators, and athletes, and is working hard to address the issue.

CONCLUSION

The high terrorist threat at Sochi is both historically and geographically relevant, and poses a major political and security concern to Russia. Despite Russia’s extensive preparations to secure Sochi, the target-rich environment, complexity, and determined intent of various nefarious actors will be difficult to counter. The time and location for an attack is perfect for the Caucasus Emirate and would greatly improve its following in addition to further sharing its grievances to the world, which would in turn place immense international scrutiny and pressure on the Russian regime.

Thanks for listening.

(Featured Image Courtesy: AP)

About the Author

is a junior active duty officer working ground intel and supporting an airborne-capable unit. Not SOF, just a regular guy. He holds a BS in Political Science with a German minor from a small engineering school in Colorado, where he loves the adventure found in the mountains. He strongly advocates admitting nothing, denying everything, and making counter-accusations. Nothing here is written in an official capacity or represents the positions of the USG; all work is his personal opinion alone. NFQ

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  • Pepomaster1

    anniversaries aren't good indicators,let's sit and watch.

  • ArcticWarrior

    6 February: Russia – Anniversary of the 2004 Moscow metro bombing 6-7 February: Russia - Opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics 6-23 February: Russia- 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi

  • ArcticWarrior

    YankeePapaArcticWarrior I knew that in Japan they don't really touch on the topic of WWII but didn't realize it went that far. They better start learning about the old Japanese nemesis China because things might get interesting in Asia in the near future....the Chinese remember the slightest disrespect from 500 years ago...

  • YankeePapa

    ArcticWarriorYankeePapa, . ...The Japanese teach their kids about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and not much else about WWII.  This is one reason why China (and some other Asian countries) have a major case of the red xss about a lot of thoughtless Japanese denials and pronouncements.   . ...About 20 years ago, Japanese college students visiting the Philippines were shown part of the route of the Death March.  Shocked... never even knew that Japanese troops in the Philippines in WWII. . ...When Clint Eastwood filmed Letters From Iwo Jima, he had to educate almost all of the Japanese cast and crew as to what had taken place there...  The Japanese didn't even bother to educate their people about a battle that they could have been proud of...  . -YP-

  • YankeePapa

    ArcticWarriorYankeePapa,  . ...Historical awareness of that sort of thing makes me shake my head when I hear some kid whining to his friends that his parents won't buy him the latest electronic update on some gizmo.... . ...Most young Americans prior to Gulf War One could not find Kuwait on a map.  Fortunately the majority of those who could were in uniform.... . -YP-