Sochi's Soft Underbelly

The main terror threat to the Winter Games might not actually be at the Winter Games:

Russia is promising extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. But as two deadly bombings in southern Russia have made clear, protecting people as they travel to the games could pose a much tougher challenge.

Suicide bombers on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 killed more than 30 people at a train station and on a trolley in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. “The attack demonstrates the militants’ capability to strike at soft targets such as transport infrastructure,” says Matthew Clements, a security expert at IHS (IHS) in London. Although Russian authorities may be able to protect Sochi itself, “there is a greater risk to transport targets around cities in southern Russia, and even Moscow itself.”


Sochi is on the lovely Black Sea coast, but other than that it’s in the middle of pretty much nowhere. Stavropol is nearly half a day away by train, Sebastopol and Volgograd even farther. And being in the Caucasus, many of the locals aren’t exactly known for their strict lawfulness. You’d really want to fly in, but it’s not like Sochi hosts a major international airport capable of handling thousands of athletes, thousands more coaches and support staff, plus jillions of media and attendees.

Wikipedia says about $3 billion has been spent on upgrading the region’s tourist and transport infrastructure, but it’s a safe guess that a big chunk of that wound up greasing palms rather than paving roads.

This is going to be a real nail-biter getting everybody in and out of there without getting blown up.


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