North Caucasus Residents Increasingly Feel the Heat of the Approaching Olympics

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 162

Construction of central stadium, seen through window of derelict home in Sochi (Source: AFP)

Six months prior to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which will be the most expensive games in the history of the Olympics, Russia has started to make arrangements to prevent terrorist attacks. It is estimated that the Sochi Olympics will cost over $54 billion (http://ria.ru/sport/20130904/960603898.html) and will take place in the subtropical climate zone of southern Russia from February 7 to February 28, 2014. On September 1, a decree signed by President Vladimir Putin came into effect, titled “On the Specifics of the Application of Heightened Security Measures During the Period of the 22nd Olympic Winter Games of 2014 in Sochi” (http://stadium.ru/News/Region/70?Alias=24-08-2013-prezident-rossii-vladimir-putin-podpisal-ukaz-o-merakh-bezopasnosti-v-sochi).

The decree outlines the list of security zones and maps the boundaries of the no-go zones. These zones are supposed to prevent the appearance of unwanted individuals near the Olympics sites–meaning adherents of the Caucasus Emirate. It is unclear, however, how the security services will find out who the radicals are. Those individuals on the wanted list will not travel to Sochi. The jamaats will dispatch people who will not raise the suspicions of the Federal Security Service (FSB). This is especially doable now, given that the time when only North Caucasians belonged to the Caucasus Emirate have passed: nowadays, ethnic Russians are fairly often found among the radicals (http://kavpolit.com/podryvnik-russkogo-dzhamaata/), which makes the Russian security services’ job far more difficult than it was two or three years ago.

At the same time, in order to fend off public protests by foreign visitors against rights abuses targeting certain categories of Russia’s population, all public gatherings and marches are banned under presidential decree. So, in the best traditions of the Soviet regime, any form of dissent will be suppressed.

Undoubtedly, this decree is just the tip of the iceberg. In practice, the interior ministry and the FSB will take drastic measures to limit the access all non-locals have to the security zones.

The organizers of the Olympics in Sochi face multiple hurdles (http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/nemtsov_boris/1029646-echo/), but the threat from the militants is the primary irritation for the Russian government. Even when somebody simply writes about it, it annoys top Russian officials. On September 9, President Putin presided over a Russian Security Council meeting in Moscow. The situation in the North Caucasus was one of the topics publicly discussed at the meeting. Putin touched on the issue of regional elections in the North Caucasus, but he especially emphatically addressed information policies. The Russian president stated that the government should not overlook “biased accusations” of human rights breaches in the North Caucasus made by foreign media and organizations against the Russian authorities (http://www.kp.ru/daily/26130.5/3022093/).

Thus, Russia is likely to bar individuals who have made “biased accusations” against the Russian government from entering the country. Such people will include all individuals who break the information blockade about human rights abuses in the Russian Federation. This is a warning to all people who write about Russia. Since the government has deprived of foreign funding all domestic non-governmental organizations (NGO) working on human rights, the time has come to prevent even writing about human rights in Russia. All those who continue to do so will be accused of fueling separatism in the country.

The Russian government’s actions will reduce the flow of independent information from the North Caucasus, but in the era of the Internet, a complete ban will not be feasible. These moves will only cause people in the North Caucasus to lose trust in the authorities and their local puppets. Foreign journalists who reside in Moscow on a permanent basis will feel the consequences of both the presidential decree and the Security Council meeting.

In order to share responsibility for possible holes in the security net, at least to some degree, the FSB reached an agreement with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and European security services on joint efforts to thwart terrorist acts during the Olympics in Sochi (http://fedpress.ru/news/polit_vlast/news_polit/1378279656-putin-spetssluzhby-smogut-obespechit-bezopasnost-igr-v-sochi).

Arguably, the best news for Putin in this regard would be the killing of Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov, who earlier this year threatened to disrupt the Sochi Olympics (http://www.svoboda.org/content/article/25035050.html). Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya, hastily responded, stating that he would kill Umarov prior to the Sochi games (http://www.kommersant.ru/news/2225675). It is unclear what is stopping Kadyrov and the Russian security services from neutralizing Umarov now, prior to the Olympics.

There is also another concern for the Russian government. Having fueled anti-Caucasian sentiment in Moscow, the authorities are now encountering a new situation, in which the slogan “Stop Feeding the Caucasus!” is spinning out of control (http://mapax.ru/question/116). Many Russians increasingly think that ridding Russia of the North Caucasus is the solution to the country’s problems. For the first time since the occupation of the North Caucasus in the 19th century, Russians are indicating a desire to part with this region, viewing it as too heavy a burden on Russia’s resources, even though the region’s financial dependence differs somewhat from that described by Russian nationalists (http://businessmsk.livejournal.com/286270.html).

Therefore, the September 9 Security Council meeting was also a message to the nationalists, encouraging them to change their discourse. The authorities probably did not suspect that the confrontation between ethnic Russians and non-Russians would ensue so quickly. According to polls, one-third of Russians see Ukraine as part of Russia, while only 7 percent consider Chechens to be Russian citizens (Rossiyane) (http://podrobnosti.ua/society/2013/09/10/929258.html).

Thus, the Russian authorities are gearing up for a crackdown on rights activists under the pretext of preparing for the Olympics. The move against human rights activists who annoy the Russian government is going to be disguised as a step against terrorism, which will force Washington and European countries not to make an issue of it in their relations with Moscow.