16 August 2013, 11:46

Sochi Olympics security: 'We have very serious safety concept' - Sports Minister Mutko

Виталий Мутко

Vitaly Mutko. 

Vitaly Mutko. 

A terrorist threat looms large over Sochi as it prepares to host the 22nd Winter Olympics in 2014, despite the safety precautions the Russian government is putting in place. That’s what the Washington Post wrote with an obvious touch of malice in the middle of this summer. "Intelligence analysts" polled by the newspaper made a startling "revelation", saying that participants and guests of the Sochi Games may see their peace and quiet disrupted by radical Islamists from the North Caucasus and that it takes little experience to build a simple, yet fairly effective explosive device.

The April bomb attacks at the finish line of a marathon race in Boston were referred to as an example. The Boston bombing suspects, the Tsarnayev brothers, had made a pair of bombs from gun powder and pressure cookers, according to the FBI. The tone of the article and the triviality of the arguments cited by the so-called analysts suggest that the newspaper was just looking for a pretext to take a jab at Russia.

Nevertheless, Moscow perceives the Boston bombings, with all due seriousness, as an alarm bell not to be ignored. "Naturally, we are beefing up security. It earns us a snarl from our foreign colleagues sometimes, but that’s what the world is like. We have a very serious safety concept," Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said. He acknowledged, however, that it’s hard to completely rule out terrorism. The athletes, organizers and personnel undergo special security checks, but there are visitors and fans and "here serious work needs to be done", Mutko said.

Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, for his part, deemed it inappropriate to draw a comparison between the Boston marathon and the Olympic Games in terms of security. The level of special security measures that are now being taken in Sochi is incomparably higher. "As for the sad experience of Boston, our effort and our degree of readiness are incomparable," he said.

The Russian police started preparing for the Olympics when the construction of sports facilities in Sochi was only just beginning. The security system meets the demands and recommendations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

A special Olympic security police headquarters was set up. In November 2012 and February 2013, it mapped out the areas, both on land and at sea, where tighter security measures are to be introduced for the period of the Olympics. Some of those measures are already in place. The Sochi police have been on higher alert since June 1, 2013. That was one of the additional measures proposed in the wake of the Boston bombings, although the Russian law enforcers have their own experience and reasons to stay alert.

In May 2012, the federal counter-intelligence agency FSB in cooperation with its colleagues from Abkhazia (Sochi is within several kilometers of the Abkhaz border) neutralized a terrorist group. Three people were arrested and ten arms caches were seized. The caches contained three portable Igla and Strela surface-to-air missiles, a mortar and 36 mortar rounds, a Shmel flame thrower, 29 grenade launchers, 15 anti-personnel mines, 12 homemade bombs, a sniper rifle, two submachine guns, 15 kg of trotyl and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition. The National Anti-Terrorist Committee of Russia said in an official statement that Islamist militants had been plotting to move all those weapons to Sochi for subsequent terrorist attacks during the Olympic Games. Intelligence reports indicate that Georgian secret services and Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov were involved in the plot. The Boston pressure pots pale in comparison to that.

Advanced technologies will be put to work to ensure that nothing will disturb the smooth running of the Olympic events. Unmanned aircraft will fly 24-hour surveillance missions over Sochi and the adjoining areas, high-speed boats will patrol the coastal waters, while mobile robots will search the sports venues for explosives. The mass movement of fans will be easy to monitor thanks to special ID cards, the so-called "fan’s passports".

"We are always ready to adopt advanced experience," Interior Minister Kolokoltsev said. "Our experts travelled to a number of countries and cities where major international sports competitions were held - to Vancouver and Turin, Brazil and China, Warsaw and London."

FSB deputy chief Vladimir Kuleshov told reporters that emphasis would be on making sure that the athletes and fans and, of course, the residents of Sochi feel comfortable during the Games. "There will be no extraordinary security measures," he said, "but our Russian laws will be enforced to enable everyone to feel at home at the Winter Olympics," he said.

Significantly, IOC President Jacques Rogge said after one of his inspection tours of Sochi that he did not doubt Russia’s ability and potential to guarantee that the Olympics will be safe.

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