The Russian city of Sochi will be hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics beginning Feb. 7. The Sochi Olympics offer Moscow a perfect stage for showcasing the strength of its security forces, but Russia will be working overtime to protect its athletes, spectators and visitors. This will potentially leave surrounding volatile regions in Russia more vulnerable to attack.
Having worked many high-profile special events (to include the Olympics) as a State Department special agent, legitimate protective security concerns exist. In preparation Russia has devoted a large number of security forces to the city, making it unlikely any attack will occur in Sochi. However, the nearby Northern Caucasus region is unstable. Any attack in the vicinity is likely to compromise Russia’s ability to show it can keep the country safe before and during the global event.
The recent suicide bombings in Volgograd — 600 miles (966 kilometers) north of Sochi — targeted a train station and commuter bus in December and resulted in over 30 dead and dozens injured. Although the attackers used very limited capabilities and simple materials, and targeted a city far from Sochi, the attack demonstrates Russia's challenges for protecting the Olympic Games.
Russia will implement extensive security measures on land, on the Black Sea and in the air in order to protect the games. The greatest threat will be an attack carried out by militants, lone wolves or grassroots jihadists outside of Sochi. One month before the Olympics are to begin, Russian security forces imposed long-planned security restrictions in Sochi expected to last roughly through March 16 — the end of the Paralympic Games.
Russia's Federal Security Service will control close to 100,000 security personnel during the games, which is four times the amount that were present at the 2012 London Olympics. On top of this, a multilayered security system will be in place in Sochi with extensive surveillance to include drones, reconnaissance robots for explosive detection, high-speed boats and submarines utilizing sonar for potential maritime threats.
It will be very difficult to conduct an attack at an Olympic venue or during any major event in Sochi, but even a small assault would resonate around the world and shine a light on the Olympic Games. As we have written about extensively at Stratfor, areas inside Sochi that remain most vulnerable to potential disruptions are venues containing large, concentrated numbers of participants such as the Olympic Park and the Adler/Sochi airport. Soft targets like transportation hubs, to include buses and trains, as well as hotels are the most likely targets not only inside Sochi, but also any surrounding regions in Russia and large cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg.
Hosting global events like the Olympics is an extraordinary task for any country. The extreme security apparatus being put in place in Sochi will go far in protecting the games against any attacks. However, a wide range of disruptions could occur not only in Sochi, but throughout Russia as Russian security forces will have their hands full in safeguarding Sochi and the rest of Russia during the games.