Targeting Sochi

Terror attacks on a railway station and then a trolleybus in the Russian city of Volgograd have evoked shock worldwide. The attacks have claimed the lives of 34 people so far and dozens of others are injured. While no one has accepted responsibility for the attacks yet, the needle of suspicion points in the direction of Islamist militants fighting the Russian state in the Caucasus republics of Chechnya and Dagestan.

Topmost on the list of suspects is the Caucasus Emirate, a terror group that has carried out several attacks on trains, subways, airports, etc in Moscow and other Russian cities. The attacks signal the continuing capacity of militants to carry out major attacks outside the volatile Caucasus region despite the Russian government’s assertion that the insurgencies there had been wiped out. Volgograd was targeted by terrorists in October last year as well.

The targeting of Volgograd has been interpreted by security analysts as a precursor to similar attacks at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. In fact in July last year, Doku Umarov, who heads the Caucasus Emirate, had threatened to disrupt the Sochi Olympics. The Games are due to begin in less than six weeks from now and the attacks at Volgograd, which is located around 480 km from Sochi, have laid bare enormous gaps in the security grid. It has raised doubts over Russia’s capacity to provide security for athletes and spectators at Sochi.

 Analyses of the Volgograd bombings in the Western media have been largely alarmist with some writers claiming that Sochi is in the middle of a ‘conflict zone,’ and warning athletes and visitors of ‘several dangers’ awaiting them there. Such over-the-top interpretations seem aimed at maligning Russia rather than providing an objective analysis of the situation.  

Nevertheless, the bombings at Volgograd underscore a grave failure of intelligence and loopholes in the security network. These need to be addressed urgently. An enormous amount of money is being poured into making the Sochi Olympics the most spectacular ever.  At a price tag of US$ 51 billion this is the costliest games ever. The Russian government must get its priorities right. Rather than be preoccupied with pomp and pageantry at the Olympics it should focus on making the games safe. Caucasian terror groups will be looking for media coverage. High-profile events like the Winter Olympics provide them with a ready venue. They cannot be allowed to succeed.

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