By Claude Salhani - Trend:
The Sochi Winter Olympics are going to be remembered as the most expensive Games on record; as well as the most security conscience Games ever held.
Let's hope this is the only thing the Sochi Games are remembered for, other than, of course, record breaking events given by athletes from around the world.
The Sochi Games are also most prone to attacks from Islamist terrorist groups active in the North Caucasus.
High on the list of suspects is Doku Umarov, and his Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz) a group that emerged in 2007 in the Russian Autonomous Republic of Ichkeria and is seeking to have an independent state governed under shariah law and to spread global jihad. In a video released on July 3, 2013, Umarov urges his fighters to "do their utmost to derail' the (Sochi Olympic) Games."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the dispatch of some 35,000 security personnel to deploy for the Games and has set up two security perimeters around the city.
U.S. security experts have voiced new concerns about the effectiveness ahead of the Winter Games now less than three weeks away. Meanwhile, Russian security forces are reported to be hunting down female suicide bombers believed to be in or near the city where the Olympic events are to take place.
Two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in the Russian city of Volgograd earlier this month killing 34 people.
In a briefing to journalists at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor, Juan C. Zarate, warned of "clear threats" from terrorist groups operating in the North Caucasus.
These groups are focusing on vulnerable "soft targets like transportation hubs", said Zarate, who was responsible for developing and implementing the US government's counterterrorism strategy and policies related to transnational security threats during President George W. Bush's second term.
Coming on the heels of a U.S. State Department travel warning earlier this month, the media event was the first time the CSIS had organized a press briefing devoted to security issues at a global sports event.
"In large part the danger stems from the choice of Sochi as Olympic host city," said Russia and Eurasia Program director, Andrew C. Kuchins. "Never before have Olympic Games been held so close to a regional conflict zone which is the North Caucasus," he added. One of the Boston Marathon bombers originated from the North Caucasus region.
The spotlight will be on Russia as the host country in more than one way. The organization required to ensure that all Olympic events take place without any incidents from a logistics perspective is already a Herculean task in itself. Now and the threat of terrorist attack and it becomes nothing short of a nightmare.
Kuchins questioned the capabilities of the Russians authorities to protect athletes and other attendees of the Sochi Games appropriately. "Russia has no experience with securing such an event of this magnitude", he said.
Russia, or rather the Soviet Union, did host the 1980 Moscow summer Olympics - which was boycotted by a number of Western nations including the United States -- but the global political climate was very different at the time.
The US security expert believes that Russian security services, "despite being considered ruthless and effective, focus on securing the government, not the public in general, said Jeffrey Mankoff, Kuchins,' deputy at the CSIS and a former U.S. State Department advisor on U.S.-Russia relations.
Mankoff said corruption was a major security problem in Sochi. The Sochi Winter games are set to become the most expensive in Olympic history, but a lot of money has already been "misappropriated, embezzled or stolen" Mankoff said. Potential terrorists can easily "bribe their way through security checkpoints," he added.
Olympic Committees of Germany, Italy, Hungary and Slovenia have reported receiving letters containing terrorist threats. A spokesman for Slovenia's national Olympic Committee said on Wednesday that the letter received was in Russian.
The U.S. has offered to help Russia but the offer was turned down, as Russia, say American officials, wants to prove that it can do it on its own. "The general feeling in Russia is: We can do this on our own, we don't need your help," Kuchins said.
The U.S. military meanwhile has confirmed, Reuters reported, that they have plans to provide assistance in Russia if an evacuation is necessary. Aircraft will likely be on alert at European bases with two U.S. Navy ships patrolling the nearby Black Sea.
Meanwhile, one has to wonder what is the psychological effect all this talk of potential terrorist attack has on the performance of the athletes.
"The threat of terrorist attacks on the eve of the Olympic Games certainly has an adverse impact on the sportsmen's psychological state," Chingiz Huseynzade, vice president of the Azerbaijan Olympic Committee told Trend. "The sportsman may experience psychological pressure due to a threat of a terrorist attack."
(Trend senior editor Claude Salhani, a specialist on terrorism affairs will report periodically on security issues leading up to the Winter Olympic Games that will be held from Feb. 7 to 23 in the Russian resort city of Sochi. Elchin Mehdiyev contributed to this report.)