More bombings likely in Russia ahead of Sochi Olympics

The two bombings in Russia over the last two days highlight the potential insecurity at the Sochi Olympics. Photo: Second Russian bombing/ AP

WASHINGTON, December 30, 2013 — Two bomb blasts rocked Russia over the last two days, raising new concerns about security at the Sochi Olympics.

At least 14 people were killed today when a female suicide bomber detonated an explosion on a bus in Volgograd during rush hour. Yesterday, another bombing at Volgograd’s main train station killed 17 people.

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Volgograd is 650 kilometers or about 403 miles from Sochi.  It is an important transportation hub, with railway lines going from Volgograd in five directions across Russia.

The bombings are the deadliest terrorist attacks in Russia since the 2011 suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport which killed 35 and injured more than 180. A Chechen separatist group, the Caucasus Emirate, led by Doku Umarov, claimed responsibility for that attack and promised further bombings.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for the most recent attacks, Russian officials have suggested Chechen separatists are the likely perpetrators. A U.S. intelligence officer who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the bombings said, “The attacks match what we have seen from Chechen separatists in the past. There is certainly strong reason to believe they are responsible.”

Last July, Doku Umarov released a video urging Russian Islamist fighters to use “maximum force” to stop the Olympics. Umarov compared holding the Olympics in Sochi to performing “Satanic dances” on the graves of Muslims who died fighting the Russian Army in Sochi in the 1800s.

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Russia expert Matthew Clements of IHS says the jihadist militant groups are based primarily in the North Caucasus republics of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Although they loosely fall under the leadership of Umarov and the Caucasus Emirate, most groups operate independently. The goal of the Caucasus Emirate is the removal of the “occupying” Russian authorities from the Caucasus and the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate across the North Caucasus.

Analysts have warned that terrorist attacks are likely to increase ahead of the Olympics, scheduled to begin in February, as a way to bring attention to their cause and strike at Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin almost certainly will raise security around Sochi and will redouble intelligence efforts against separatists in the next several weeks in hopes of avoiding future attacks. Putin has launched a major public relations campaign ahead of the games. Last week, Putin released several high profile political prisoners, including former billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, members of the punk band Pussy Riot, and Greenpeace activists.

Clements note that the attack demonstrates the ability of militants to strike soft targets outside their usual area of operations, the North Caucasus. He explains that security measures around the Olympic venues are “very extensive”  including “a tight security net around the main venues and associated infrastructure such as the Olympic village, as well as a “security zone” which has been established across much of Krasnodar territory.”

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According to Clements, “The high levels of security will make it difficult for any militant to gain access to the main venues and undertake an attack.”

However, other targets are far less secure. Says Clements, “There is certainly a threat to softer targets, such as transport infrastructure and areas with a high density of civilians, in and around Sochi.”

Any attacks in Russia during the Olympics would seriously dent Putin’s credibility.

Clements explains, “Firstly, Putin and his government have staked a lot on holding a successful Olympics as part of their efforts to present Russia as a modern and powerful country. Any attacks, either at the games or even at other locations in Russia, during the Olympics will cast a cloud over the games and undermine perceptions of them having been successful.”

The second threat to Putin involves his promise to end the insurgent threat from  the North Caucasus. Notes Clements, “Arguing that this threat is declining will be very difficult if a successful attack is undertaken during the Games.”


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Lisa M. Ruth

Lisa M. Ruth started her career at the CIA, where she won several distinguished awards for her service and analysis.  After leaving the government, she joined a private intelligence firm in South Florida as President, where she oversaw all research, analysis and reporting.

Lisa joined CDN as a journalist in 2009 and writes extensively on intelligence, world affairs, and breaking news. She also provides investigative reporting and news analysis. Lisa continues to write both for her own columns and as a guest writer on a wide variety of subjects, and is now Executive Editor for CDN and edits the Global, Family and Health sections.  She is also a regular contributor to Newsmax and other publications.

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