Rocky Road to Sochi: 2014 Winter Olympics on Violent Fault Line
The world’s choice of Sochi, Russia, is suddenly looking like a risky bet for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and not only because of its lush subtropical climate.
The resort town on the Black Sea borders a hotbed of international terror. It’s right next door to Georgia, which Russia invaded during the 2008 Summer Olympics, and not far from Chechnya, the homeland of last week’s Boston bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsaraev. Let the Games begin in February.
“Wrong place, wrong time,” warns Paul Goble, a specialist on the mountainous Caucasus region, about the Sochi Olympics. He cites massive corruption and environmental hazards, in addition to very real potential for terror attacks, as some of the forces at play in the area.
Also the site of one of the biggest mass murders in history, says Goble, “Sochi is where Russian tsars to Joseph Stalin exterminated or exiled entire populations to Kazakhstan. Olympians will be skiing over their skulls.”
So add yet another grievance to the cauldron of ethnic and religious hatred that recently boiled over in Boston.
Yuri Maltsev was an economic adviser to the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. He attributes what he calls the “new geography of terror” — at least for Americans — to Washington’s naive post-Cold War foreign policy.
Presidents from George H.W. Bush to Barrack Obama have all pursued a “reset” with Russia, he says, but Vladimir Putin prefers the U.S. as a foil rather than friend. In wooing Putin, the U.S. has alienated ethnic groups who looked to Washington for support in the 1990s, during struggles for independence.
The Chechens, always strong nationalists, have “turned into mad dogs,” says Maltsev.
He singles out the Clinton administration for providing intelligence on Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, whom the Russians then assassinated in 1996. “They had been secular before that, but embraced fanaticism in desperation.”
That meant adopting Islamic jihad and its violent tactics. As Russia stamped out rebellions in Chechnya, driving the Tsaraevs to the United States, their ideological brethren waged terrorist warfare, notably in a Moscow theater in 2002, and at a school in Beslan, Russia in 2004.
Patrick Sandusky, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo., promises protection for American athletes. “Like past Games, we will work closely with the local organizing committee, our state department and a relevant law enforcement agency to ensure the proper security plan is in place,” he told The Daily Caller via email.
But, full Russian cooperation is not guaranteed, according to Admiral James Stavridis, U.S. Navy Commander in Europe.
Stavridis testified to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in March that, amidst disagreement with his military counterparts on most matters, he still hopes they will find common ground in Sochi, which is, he noted, “susceptible to the increasing influence of radical Islamists.”
However, says Ray Mey, a former FBI counter-terror agent, now Olympic security consultant with the Soufan Group, who’s helped Salt Lake City, Turin, Chicago and Madrid plan Olympic Games, “International experts I know have minimal to no involvement in Russian planning,” adding, “The door is not open. The Cold War is alive and well.”
Goble and Maltsev believe the admiral’s hope for more cooperation — reflecting Obama administration policy — is misplaced. “The Russians will be happy to take U.S. information but will exclude Washington from any Olympic security planning,” says Maltsev.
He predicts, because of the Boston bombings, the U.S. will simply give wider latitude to Russia to crackdown on ethnic groups in the Caucasus, especially the Chechens. “Putin is probably very happy about what happened in Boston.”
“There are no constitutional controls for him,” seconds Mey. “Now Putin’s going to pull out all the stops in a challenging area.”
Follow Brendan Thomas on Twitter @brendanathomas. The article is reprinted here with permission of Brendan Thomas.