MOSCOW, February 3 (RIA Novosti) – Holding this month’s Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi and developing resorts in the neighboring North Caucasus region risk increasing tensions in the already unstable area, a research group has warned in a report.
The International Crisis Group presented a new study Monday titled “Too Far, Too Fast: Sochi, Tourism and Conflict in the Caucasus,” analyzing the dangers and conflicts linked to the Games, which are due to open next week in the Black Sea resort amid unparalleled security measures.
“We hope that everything will be fine and safe, but the possibility of a terrorist attack remains,” Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, head of the group’s North Caucasus program, told reporters Monday.
The authorities have introduced unprecedented security procedures for the Games, which carry a price tag of $51 billion. Last summer, Doku Umarov, an Islamic militant leader in the North Caucasus, called for terrorists to target the Olympics.
Twin suicide bombings killed 34 and injured scores of others at a train station and on a trolleybus in the southern city of Volgograd in December, raising concerns that more violence might occur during the Games.
“It has become clear that the terrorists’ target is not the venue, but the timeframe,” Andrei Soldatov, a security expert and chief editor of Agentura.ru website, told the press conference Monday.
Sokiryanskaya said the authorities have focused on fending off the threat coming from the conflict-torn predominantly Muslim North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, which has been an epicenter of insurgency in the region. But threats could also come from other regions, while attackers might be harder to identify among natives of non-Muslim regions who have converted to Islam, she warned.
“Radicals can come from any region of Russia,” Sokiryanskaya said.
The 42-page study also looks at reported rights violations of migrants working on Sochi’s construction sites, as well as the relocation of local residents and incidents of pressure being put on environmental activists and journalists amid preparations for the Games.
Russia plans to boost the economy of the North Caucasus and improve its image by developing a resort cluster that is expected to create jobs and attract tourists.
The ICG report noted that the development project is prone to corruption and property right violations, and risks damaging the local environment.