BACKGROUND: On January 8, Russian law enforcement agencies in Stavropol region reported finding four cars with six murdered people in them. As the investigators tried to approach the crime scene, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded, but no one was hurt. Subsequently it was announced that each of the cars with killed people had an IED nearby. According to the specialists, the IEDs were similar to those used by insurgents in the North Caucasus.
The murder victims were found in two southern districts of Stavropol region, Predgorny and Kirovsky. Both districts border Kabardino-Balkaria to the south, while Stavropol region borders Krasnodar region, where Sochi is located, to the west. The authorities quickly announced the names of the four suspects, members of the armed Kabardino-Balkarian underground movement. On January 9, the government introduced a special counterterrorist operation regime in parts of the two districts that lasted for more than two days and yielded no tangible results.
Government sources appeared to be reticent about the details of the crime and even tried to play down its importance, asserting that it was a mere attempt of the insurgents to extract ransom payments from local cab drivers. The official version implied that this was a mere criminal incident that had corollary relationship with the activities of the insurgency, thereby reducing its importance for the nearby Olympics. Sources among cab drivers vehemently denied this allegation in interviews with the Caucasian Knot news agency. Moreover, they stated that the suspects did not kill people at random, but practically established an outpost on a highway in Stavropol region where they stopped cars, checked people's documents and let some go.
The latest violent events in Stavropol region took place after the government announced an increase in patrols in the region on January 1, seriously damaging the credibility of the government’s recent statements about introducing an "increased security regime" in the region. On December 27, 2013, an explosion took place near the headquarters of the road police in the city of Pyatigorsk. Three bystanders were killed in the attack, but the Investigative Committee in the region stated that “there were no grounds to assert that this was a terrorist attack.” The authorities later reversed their calming statements and introduced a counterterrorist operation regime in the Stavropol region's southern parts on January 9 and in its east on January 16.
The location of the attacks has certain significance. While the terrorist attacks in the city of Volgograd in December 2013 took place far away from the site of the Sochi Olympics, they were still linked to the Olympics. However, the recent attacks in Stavropol region, bordering Krasnodar region where the Olympics are held, amplify fears that the international sporting event may be affected by the ongoing violent campaign in the North Caucasus.
IMPLICATIONS: The awkward attempts by the authorities to cover up the dangers of terrorist attacks in Stavropol region and their inability to protect the public even after one attack took place certainly point to bureaucratic negligence. Also, while the Russian security forces display formidable skills in sealing off suspected individuals in their homes and killing everyone inside the building from a distance, they have been decidedly less successful in conducting more fine-grained activities, such as gathering reliable intelligence information.
The problem is not only the lack of skills among the Russian security services, although several reports have suggested that corruption has significantly reduced their preparedness. The civilian population that the security services are dealing with is another side of the issue that is often overlooked. After significant efforts of the Russian security services to instill peace and quiet in the North Caucasus in the run up to the Olympics in Sochi, attacks still occur and they even get closer to the location of the Olympics. This essentially means that the insurgency enjoys support among the civilian population, because without such support the government would have no difficulties in obtaining reliable intelligence from locals and preventing terrorist attacks.
The extraordinary security measures that the Russian government has undertaken may have protected the Sochi Olympics so far, but they have also put the Olympic principles at odds with the surrounding environment. Krasnodar region and Sochi have become heavily fortified areas that feature long lines of cars trying to get in. More importantly, ethnic North Caucasians, specifically ethnic Ingush, Chechens and Dagestanis, are virtually banned from visiting Krasnodar region until the Olympics are over.
According to a report of a former official in Ingushetia, Kaloy Akhilgov, residents of these regions must apply for visits to the Krasnodar region and be approved by the Krasnodar branch of the Russian security services. The authorities weakly denied these allegations. These discriminatory policies create divisions among North Caucasians, dividing them into “good” and "bad” peoples. The rules also create another barrier between the North Caucasus and the rest of the Russian Federation. Yet, most importantly, these exclusionary policies overshadow the Olympic Games themselves, turning them into a sport event that practically excludes entire ethnic groups and territories.
Since the government puts so much effort into protecting the Olympics from possible attacks, the potential attackers naturally also put an extra effort into trying to spoil what is increasingly seen as “ethnic Russians’ feast.” Given the government policies aimed at excluding North Caucasians from the grand sport event, they have low incentives to protect the Olympics.
A vicious cycle has emerged as the Russian government seeks to protect the Olympics by referring entire ethnic groups to the list of “dangerous people.” The latter then lose all interest in intercepting any possible threats from the insurgents, while the corresponding increased activities of the insurgents further convince Russian officials that they should not trust these ethnic groups. Thus, domestic Russian entanglements of quasi-colonial policies come into play in the Sochi Olympics and make the event perhaps one of the oddest Olympic games in decades.
CONCLUSIONS: Security concerns have led the Russian government to implement extraordinary measures to protect the Sochi Olympics. These, however, have not provided enough assurances to the public, as attacks continued in other regions of the Russian Federation, apart from Krasnodar. The latest attacks in Stavropol region cast further doubt on the effectiveness of government policies. At the same time, the harsh policies of the Russian government appear to undermine the very foundations of the Olympic movement that should foster peace and understanding among the nations. Instead of bringing peace to the war-torn North Caucasus, the Olympics implicitly bless the entire spectrum of the Russian government’s moves to crack down on everything that it considers to be a threat to the Olympics and to the regime in the Kremlin.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Valeriy Dzutsev is a Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation and Doctoral Student in Political Science at Arizona State University.