Russian President Vladimir Putin said 40,000 police and special services officers have been deployed to ensure security at the 2014 Winter Olympics as Islamic militants renewed threats to strike the games in Sochi.
Russia is “using many forces and means” in the Black Sea resort where the games will kick off Feb. 7, limiting the movement of people and goods in the region starting on Jan. 7, Putin said in an interview with foreign and domestic media recorded in Sochi Jan. 17 and televised yesterday. Russia is spending about 1.5 trillion rubles ($45.4 billion) to stage the games, making them the costliest Winter Olympics on record.
Security has been stepped up across Russia since two suicide bombings killed more than 30 people last month in the southern city of Volgograd, less than 700 kilometers (430 miles) from Sochi and about 430 kilometers from the border with the war-wracked region of Dagestan. An Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for the explosions in a video released two days ago and threatened new attacks against the games and its visitors.
“We will protect our air and sea space, as well as the mountain cluster,” Putin said in the interview. “I hope that it will be arranged so that it will not be evident and, as I have already said, will not depress the participants in the Olympic Games.”
Russian security services are maintaining contact with their counterparts abroad and have set up a round-the-clock operation to manage the work of law-enforcement agencies, according to Putin. Police said Jan. 18 they were searching the city for Razmena Ibragimova, a woman they said may attempt a suicide bombing.
In the 49-minute video posted on YouTube on Jan. 18, which also appeared on the website of the militant group Vilayat Dagestan, two Russian-speaking men are shown holding Kalashnikov rifles against the background of black banners with Arabic inscriptions. The men, identified as Abdurakhman and Suleiman, threaten to avenge Muslim suffering with more attacks.
“If you hold these Olympics, we’ll deliver a present for the innocent Muslim blood that’s being spilled around the world, whether in Afghanistan, Somalia or Syria,” the men said in the video, addressing Putin. “For the tourists, there will also be a present.”
The FSB security service declined to comment on the video, which has been removed from YouTube. Laura Seal, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, had no comment on the threat. The agency has issued a travel alert for Americans planning to travel to Sochi for the Olympics and Paralympic Games in February and March.
Sochi lies to the west of the Caucasus mountains, which stretch about 1,200 kilometers across Chechnya to Dagestan on the Caspian Sea, one of Russia’s most economically distressed regions. Russian forces have been responding to almost daily attacks in the Caucasus by Muslim extremists since the two separatist wars that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Three suspected insurgents were shot dead by security forces today during an operation in the Dagestan regional capital of Makhachkala, Interfax reported, citing the National Anti-Terrorist Committee. Another seven militants, including one woman, were killed on the outskirts of Makhachkala two days ago, according to the news service.
Doku Umarov, a militant who claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in Russia and threatened to target the Olympics in Sochi, was “eliminated” during an anti-terror operation, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Jan. 17.
Russia will do “whatever it takes” to prevent a terrorist attack at the Olympics, Putin said in an interview broadcast yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” program.
“We have adequate means available to us” including the Russian intelligence service and the military, he said. “If necessary, all those tools will be activated.”
Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on the ABC “This Week” program that any possible attacks would be most likely against “soft targets” such as transportation systems outside the perimeter of the games.
Cooperation between Russia and the U.S. on security for the Olympics “could be a lot better” and the U.S. has offered military assistance, McCaul said.
Echoing the concern about inadequate cooperation on security were Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, and Michael Morrell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, both appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Responding to a question about allegations of graft involving the Olympic sites, Putin denied that there has been “big, large-scale instances of corruption” in their construction.