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.
In preparation for the 7-23 February 2014 Winter Games, Russia has gone to great lengths to ensure the safety and security of the athletes and spectators in attendance. These efforts are in response to a relatively significant threat environment surrounding Sochi that has been highly publicized and called into question following back-to-back suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd on 29 and 30 December. With the “threat of international terrorism at sporting events…highlighted at [events like] the Boston Marathon”, similar concerns over the terrorist threat at Sochi are of substantial concern to Russian planners.
INCREASED THREAT ENVIRONMENT
Tasked not only with the immediate security of the city of Sochi and the Olympic Park but the entire region, Russia is faced with the formidable task of controlling or at least temporarily quelling the threat of violence from a wide swath of actors possibly intent on disrupting the Games: protestors, rioters, lone wolf terrorists, militant Islamists, separatists, and others.
The majority of threats to Sochi and Russian efforts emerge from the volatile Caucasus region and any associated radical Islamist or insurgent movements, the most significant of those originating from Doku Umarov and the Islamist Caucasus Emirate, a State Department designated terrorist organization.
RUSSIAN SECURITY POSTURE
In response to the well-established threat environment surrounding Sochi (primarily the active insurgency in the North Caucasus), Russia has compiled an unprecedented and multi-layered security force responsible for securing the Olympic Park, Sochi, the Caucasus mountains to the northeast of Sochi, the southern Russian border with Georgia and Abkhazia, and other air, land, and sea zones near the games.
Primary control and direction of Russia’s security forces at the games originates with the FSB, Russia’s primary internal security agency and successor to the KGB. The FSB will likely prove more than capable and experienced enough to properly oversee the extensive coordination required among the various participating agencies for such a high-profile event.
Before getting anywhere close to Sochi, there are multiple “restrictions on movement in and around [the region] that will be introduced at varying times before the games, to include both ‘controlled’ and ‘forbidden’ zones.” Controlled zones include all the Olympic venues and infrastructure; the restricted zones include Russia’s border with the disputed state of Abkhazia and the Sochi National Park. Several of these zones stretch up to 60 miles from Sochi, and will pose a significant challenge to any terrorist or insurgent freedom of movement in the region. Within these security zones, there are over “600 facilities that will be put under special protection months before the games”, to include not only Olympic facilities but key terrain and infrastructure as well.
By the numbers, Russia’s security force at Sochi alone is twice the entire number of security forces the UK used to secure the city of London during the 2012 Olympics. According to reporting from STRATFOR and other experts, a police force of over 40,000 will be “deployed in securing the event…[with] Police at the games…able to converse with spectators and other guests in three languages: English, French, and German.” Approximately 30,000 additional members of the armed forces, comprised of professional soldiers and not conscripts, will augment this police force.
Outside the city and Olympic Park, a Russian special forces group “dubbed ‘Operations Group Sochi’ [will be] securing the mountains North and East of Sochi using roughly 10,000 troops”. SOFREP previously reported some of the preliminary facts about this group recently.
To Sochi’s southeast, Russia has tasked its 58th Army with “securing and supervising the southern border with Georgia.” The 58th Army has long operated in the Caucasus region and has participated in several engagements during the Second Chechen War and the 2008 Ossetia War. It works in close conjunction and coordination with Russia’s 4th Air Force and Air Defense Army, and will likely severely limit or shutdown illegal travel across the Abkhazia-Georgia-Russian border for the duration of the games.
In addition to the extensive deployment of Russian law enforcement and military forces, Russia has compiled an equally as extensive surveillance apparatus for the games. This surveillance force will include “drones, reconnaissance robots, sonar systems, high-speed patrol boats…and a computer system to monitor all Internet and communication traffic [passing through the area].” The Russians are relying heavily on these capabilities to intercept or provide advanced warning of any pending terrorist threat or disruption to the Games. They are also complementing this surveillance apparatus with a reported 5,500 closed-circuit cameras throughout Sochi.
Russia is “no stranger to high-profile security events”, and will likely saturate Sochi with enough security forces to prevent or mitigate any major terrorist threats at the Olympic games themselves. However, control over the surrounding area and associated infrastructure (i.e. transportation lines, etc.) will prove more difficult and require more extensive cooperation among participating agencies. Due to the extensive security efforts in Sochi, it is more likely an attack would be attempted leading up to or shortly after the Olympic games than during the actual games. While the games may be an ideal location and time for an attack, the likelihood of their success is highly mitigated by the current Russian security posture. However, the possibility of an attack on another regional location could occur as well, such as Moscow or other centers of gravity, due to Russia’s narrow and heavy focus on Sochi. This imbalance of security forces and effort could leave other areas vulnerable to other terrorist or insurgent threats.
Thanks for listening.