Moscow’s aim to deliver ‘the safest games ever’ exacerbating troubles in the North Caucasus and rousing nationalism
MOSCOW — With a 60-mile-long security zone, extensive identity checks, drones and Cossacks patrolling the streets around Sochi, the Russian government is determined to deliver on its promise that the Winter Olympics, opening in the Black Sea city in February, will be “the safest games ever,” according to Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi organizing committee.
But securing Sochi, which sits in the southern Krasnodar region next to the most active insurgency in Europe, is only possible through a monumental deployment of force that has already impacted the North Caucasus, where conflict with ethnic and religious minorities has flared for years.
This week, two bomb attacks in two days — on a bus and at a railway station — rocked the city of Volgograd, 420 miles northeast of Sochi, killing more than 30 people and injuring more than a hundred. While no group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, authorities believe them to be related and a warning sign as the games approach.
Moscow has geared up for the Olympics by running a repressive campaign in parts of the Caucasus region, particularly in Dagestan, leaving many to fear an escalation in the aftermath of the games.
“The perception of people on the ground is that they are waiting until the Olympics are over and then they’ll completely unleash some kind of a horrible campaign against everyone who is even remotely suspected of anything,” said Valeriy Dzutsev, a scholar of the region, who said the technology and manpower displayed at Sochi are there to stay.
Preparations for Sochi, where foreign laborers worked on most Olympic construction, also highlighted a separate set of problems: Russia’s treatment of immigrants and recent surges in nationalism and xenophobia.
While the issues differ in context and scale, the government has used similar tactics — including raids and arrests — to deal with both Russian minorities in the North Caucasus and foreigners.