Policy Alert: Rising Powers Respond to Security Concerns at Upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics
A series of suicide bombings last month in the southern Russian city of Volgograd raised questions about the security of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics, exposing the challenges the country faces in the upcoming Olympic Games. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from Russia, China, India, Japan, and Brazil on security concerns and preparations for the Olympic Games.
Russian officials have expressed completed confidence in the security measures being taken in the lead up to the Olympics.
- In an interview with Russian and foreign journalists, Russian president Vladimir Putin said Russia has a clear understanding of the security threat at the Olympic Games and knows how to combat it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed Putin’s confidence in Russia’s security preparations.
- Addressing those calling to boycott the Games, President Putin deemed such behavior as a “remnant of the old way of thinking.”
- “Terrorism is a global threat, and for terrorism there are no boundaries, no territories, but here in Sochi from the very beginning of the construction phase the state authorities did their utmost to prepare special measures, starting from the screening of raw materials…and preparing far-reaching security measures to provide the safest ever environment,” said Dmitry Chernyshenko, Chairman of the Sochi Organizing Committee.
- Nikolai Petrov, a professor of political science at the Higher School of Economics predicted that Moscow will employ a “firm hand” to restore order in the North Caucasus after the Olympics when Russia is out of the global spotlight.
Criticizing the West for being “unfair on Sochi security,” several Chinese editorials voiced confidence in Russia’s Olympic security preparations.
- “We believe that the Russian side can ensure the security and make the Winter Olympics agreat success,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily news briefing.
- In a show of support for Russia and in reciprocation of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s attendance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced that he will attend the Sochi opening ceremonies. Xi’s upcoming trip “underscores the importance China attaches to the development of Sino-Russia ties,” wrote Xinhua editor Zhu Ningzhu.
Indian newspapers, while sharing concerns about the security of the Olympic Games in light of the recent terrorist attacks, were at odds with how to address the terrorist threats.
- The Hindu characterized the Sochi Winter Olympics, which were meant to be “a showpiece for Russia’s pacification of the Chechen jihadist movement,” as a demonstration of “how hard it can be to stamp out terrorism.” “[T]he Russian case shows states that unleashing maximum force against terrorists don’t necessarily succeed in stamping out their problems. Nor do efforts to buy out discontent through development or expedient political deals.”
- Sudhir Hindwan, a Chandigarh-based professor of political science and an expert on strategic affairs, argued that the Russian government “must recognize the unrest in Chechnya.” “[N]either the withdrawal of security forces from Chechnya nor its complete occupation is tenable. A continuing military operation is unsustainable. It is high time Russia recognizes the seriousness of the problem.”
- The New Indian Express demanded a more aggressive counterterrorism measure, calling for “a united global response” to eliminate terrorist havens in Russia’s neighborhood, including Chechnya and Dagestan. “Calling off the Games [because of terrorist attacks], which the western world may be contemplating, would not be a solution. It will only encourage the perpetrators.”
Japanese media outlets voiced concern about the security of the Olympic Games, while remaining skeptical of the Russian government’s repressive approach to terrorism.
- The Yomiuri Shimbun, while urging the Russian government to “absolutely ensure the security of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games,” questioned President Putin’s “high-handed political stance” against Islamic extremists and other minorities. “[I]t is difficult for force alone to end terrorism and solve the fundamental problem.”
- The Sankei Shimbun agreed, claiming that “it is undeniable that terrorism resulted from the Russian government’s coercive stance against Muslims and its lack of measures against human rights and poverty. Oppression alone cannot maintain order.”
Meanwhile, Japanese leaders saw the international sports event as a chance to improve Russia-Japan relations.
- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe withdrew his initial decision to pass on joining the opening ceremony, changing his mind in hopes of strengthening his personal relationship with President Putin and making progress on the Northern Territories dispute.
Security concerns have kept some would be attendees from traveling to Russia for the upcoming Games.
- Folha de Sao Paulo reported that some of Brazil’s competing athletes are deciding to leave family members behind due to security concerns. In particular, athletes expressed concerns about the areas outside of the Olympic village and are avoiding any unnecessary travel beyond these high security areas.
- Globo TV network also reported that recent terrorists attacks and threats were creating a “climate of tension” surrounding the games.