Thursday, February 6, 2014
SECURING A SHAMBLES: SOCHI CLEARLY NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME
PUTIN ON THE DEFENSIVE
Construction work continues outside the
Gorki Plaza East hotel in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, on Sunday, Feb. 2
(Photo courtesy of AP)
TAGS: SOCHI WINTER OLYMPICS, OLYMPIC SECURITY, SOCHI NOT READY
FOR ATHLETES, MEDIA AND VISITORS, HORRENDOUS ACCOMMODATIONS,
OFF-SITE EVENT VENUES, RUSSIAN SECURITY CAPABILITY IN QUESTION,
WILD DOGS, CONSTRUCTION STILL UNDERWAY,
CIA, DIA, FBI, SCOTLAND YARD, INTERPOL, MOSSAD,
MI-15, US COOPERATION ON SECURITY
(Thursday February 6, 2014, Akhshtyr, Russia) This remote village of 70 resident 45 miles southeast of the site of the Winter Olympics Sochi, is just one of many places the benefits, if any, of hosting the Olympics may ultimately bring to this part of Russia. It’s once pristine woodlands and clean wells that supplied the citizens with clear, uncontaminated drinking water, are no longer. This area was used as a large scale waste site where contractors building the Olympic Village, infrastructure, hotels and shops dumped all manner of construction waste with impunity. In many ways the fact that the Olympics are being held just up the road from here has been an unmitigated disaster.
But no one will visit to see the environmental carnage that has left this small village in ruins with lives and livelihoods far worse for the wear. Making the approximately 50 minute drive from here to Sochi one cannot help but to be struck by the ravages to the landscape along the way and the sense that for all of the “newness” of the highways, byways and buildings there is a fundamental underlying poverty, almost a feeling of desolation pervasive throughout the area.
Sochi itself and the Olympic Village in particular for all intents and purposes should have “still under construction” signs posted at every intersection, in front of every hotel and along the various pathways connecting the various event venues. For each small group of athletes and journalist seen walking the barely set concrete walkways there remain small cluster of construction workers, masons, tradesmen and laborers of every kind still hard at work even after having seven years to complete these projects. The allegations contending that wide spread corruption, near slave labor-type conditions, bribery and horrendous working and living conditions for the army of laborers most of whom were foreign workers, would be a bit less believable if not for the conditions greeting the arriving guests today.
From the late 1940’s until the breakup of the toppling of the once formidable Iron Curtain, the USSR was considered our most threatening adversary; the only other global entity that had “Super Power” status on par with us. It was only after the demise of the USSR that we realized we had been preparing to defend and fight against what was a paper tiger. We, as in our multifaceted intelligence gathering and analysis agencies, had grossly overestimated the threat. The USSR spent all their national treasure on a nuclear and conventional military leaving the majority of their populace barely eking out a substance existence. They had so heavily invested in their military-industrial complex that the population lived under the oppressive hand of totalitarianism leaving them hungry, cold, depressed and severely weakened. There was no small amount of irony after the collapse of the USSR when we learned we had been recklessly, unnecessarily spending on our own military believing we had to stay in front of the USSR in the “arms race”.
What is becoming apparent today is that post-USSR Russia has many of the same endemic ailments that cut the USSR off at the knees. Despite the bravado of the Russian President Vladimir Putin, his country is now being exposed by the international audience and media as a dysfunctional rusting remnant of sovereignty incapable of providing some of the most basic needs to their citizens. Arriving in Sochi and witnessing the just how unprepared this place is on the very night of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies, one can only imagine just how bleak conditions must be across the immense sprawl of Russia and its former States many of which are actively engaged in terrorist activity against Putin’s Russia.
In advance of the full contingents of athletes arrivals journalists from around the world began arriving in Sochi over the past four days. From their initial reporting Sochi has given them the impression of a claptrap shanty town bedeviled by all sorts of problems ranging from minor inconveniences to profoundly inadequate accommodations. Everything from the poor quality of the drinking water to incomplete lodging conditions, the international press has been very underwhelmed if not concerned. With concerns about security having been prominent from the first day after Sochi was selected as the host site for these 2014 Winter Olympics right up to this present day, securing the Olympic Village, sporting venues and hotels, signs of vulnerability remain obvious and have not escaped the eyes of the media and United States security officials. “If there is still this much chaos here as far as accommodations are concerned, you can only imagine our heightened level of attention” commented one US State Department security officer. Security Services in many countries sending athletes to participate in the Games have also raised similar concerns.
Naturally, given the current state of the world and geopolitics especially in Russia regarding their relations with some of their former States, The Caucuses, Chechnya, Georgia and from minority ethnics within her own borders, the threat of terrorism is cause for urgent concern, vigilance and proactive counter-terrorism initiatives. Putin has assigned over 40,000 members of his “national police” to Sochi and, as a backup force has stationed units from the Russian military in the surrounding region. However, given the chaos evident in Sochi, establishing and defending security perimeters around each venue and the Olympic Village itself remains a work in progress. This is an ominous sign for many tasked with providing security for the United States Olympic Team, their families, supporters and fans.
The presence of Russian police and military personnel intended to impart the sense of safety to these Olympic Games in some ways has proven inadequate. Given the just below the surface of instability that plagues this country, many experts have voiced their trepidation as to the composition of the security forces; in the past some of the most ‘successful’ terrorist strikes in Russia and The Caucuses have had perpetrators using official uniforms as disguises to breech established security measures undetected. Given the unrest in Russia and the out in the open hostility towards Russia from regional factions and forces, it is difficult to be certain that the rank and file of the police and military units assigned to Sochi are in fact loyal, reliable troops. All it would take for a small dedicated terrorist cell to inflict massive harm on The Games is to have the cooperation of insiders making whatever their attack might be enabled and perpetrated aided by those in a position to permit and “inside job”. There is no lack of such motivated cells operating within the borders of Russia and within The Caucuses and former Soviet States.
In the wake of the fall of the Iron Curtain it did not take long for the former Soviet states to revert back to their historical hostile postures where old enmities that had been stifled by the autocratic rule of the central government where once again free to grow. Before long some age old bad blood lead to open warfare. Croats fought Serbians as Yugoslavia melted bloodily away into yesterday and people from Estonia to the Ukraine demanded autonomy and were more than ready to fight for their cause. The terrorism that is in evidence today represents the pent up frustration by ethnic and regional minorities to finally free themselves of the shackles that were used with impunity by the USSR and have found new life under Putin’s tenure.
GOING TO THE DOGS
Russia like most of Eastern Europe and the Caucuses has a nasty stray dog problem. Dog packs roam the street of small hamlets and big cities foraging for food and often posing a threat to local populations. This problem has certainly not gone unnoticed by the international press corps. The presence of wild dog packs in and of itself is not particularly ominous but it is an apt metaphor for Russia. The dogs represent a degree of lack of control, a failure by government on all levels be it town, region or national to muster the resources to eliminate this problem. It is easy enough to hire “pest control” companies to shoot and dispose of as many dogs as they can in and around Sochi; it is an entirely different battle to improve the quality of life for the Russian people and those populations of the former Soviet Union.
Aside from the dogs roaming the streets of Sochi, and, as one journalist reported, a dog in his hotel room, the conditions in the newly constructed hotels and media center range from squalid to deplorable. In many cases construction continues even as guests are checking in. From incomplete walls to undrinkable water what Putin had envisioned as the golden opportunity to showcase his Russia to the world has been an abject failure. Given these troubling facts one is left to wonder about the robustness of the security measures in and around the Olympic Village, Sochi and sporting event venues beyond the confines of Sochi.
A WORLD WIDE AUDIENCE
Vladimir Putin is likely not getting much sleep these days. The initial reviews being filed by the media and visitors alike paint a disturbing picture of the facilities constructed for the Games. After all, this was intended to be a “coming out party” of a sort for the post-Soviet era Russia. Putin gambled big to get these Games to be hosted in his country and what the world is seeing and hearing about on the day of the Opening Ceremonies falls embarrassingly short of Putin’s grand vision.
It is no wonder that Putin has put a halt towards Russia’s re-engagement with the world, particularly with the West. He has established import and export arrangements with many countries the United States does not view as allies and some are openly hostile to America and American interests. It seems that every opportunity that presented itself where Putin could poke the United States in the eye he has done so gladly. There are some scenarios when Putin acted in such a way thinking he was hurting America even when it did not serve his best interest of that off his long suffering people.
For the next two weeks the eyes of the world will be focused on the Sochi Games. The global community will watch the various events with a certain amount of national pride as their athletes perform while simultaneously training a watchful eye on the success of failures of the myriad security measures implemented to keep the athletes and visitors within a protective bubble. The Olympics, as several intelligence agencies from our CIA and Department of State Security Service, Britain’s MI-15 and Scotland Yard, Israel’s Mossad and Interpol are most certainly extremely valued targets of Al Qaeda and all other terrorist groups with a global reach. The wild card is also a distinct possibility as in an attack similar to that which struck the 2013 Boston Marathon. Actually, Putin himself has cited that incident as a specific kind of threat his security forces are attuned to intercept.
Hopefully when the Games conclude the world can look back and see an Olympiad conducted without any nefarious activity. The challenges as they stand today are daunting and cannot be overestimated. Sochi is on the fringe of a bad neighborhood; a neighborhood where terror and lawlessness are often the stock in trade. The economic weakness of Russia with over 80% of her people living at or below the poverty line makes the rank and file police, security and military personnel assigned to Sochi susceptible to bribery. All it takes is to recruit one hungry disgruntled policeman to compromise the security of the entire endeavor.
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