Tips & Resources

Intrepid 24/7 Security Analysis—XXII Olympic Games in Sochi

By the Intrepid 24/7 Security Analysis Team (Last updated January 15, 2014)

With the XXII Winter Olympic Games scheduled to begin in less than a month (February 7–23, 2014), Russian domestic terror groups appear determined to ramp up their efforts to disrupt the Games and publicize their cause. Suicide bombings occurred on two consecutive days in Volgograd, Russia.

The first took place in the central rail station of Volgograd (December 29, 2013), resulting in a death toll of at least 17 people. Russian security authorities have indicated that this attack was allegedly carried out by so-called "black widow" Oksana Aslanova, 26. She was reported as having been married to an Islamic militant leader killed by Russian forces in the North Caucasus. 

The second attack (December 30, 2013) occurred when a bomb detonated on a crowded trolleybus in Volgograd, killing at least 14 people. Although Russian authorities initially indicated that the bomb had been left in a satchel aboard the trolleybus, they later altered the report to indicate that a suicide bomber had been responsible for the second attack as well. Authorities reported that both bombs were of similar design and confirmed the attacks were linked.

Related: TRAVEL ALERT: Russia 2014 Olympics

Experts are linking both attacks to Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov, who called for new attacks against civilian targets at the Sochi Games as recently as July 2013. Umarov has urged his followers to "do their utmost to derail" the Sochi Olympics. Umarov previously claimed responsibility for twin bombings on the Moscow subway in March 2010, where female suicide bombers killed 40 people and wounded more than 120. He was also responsible for a suicide bombing in January 2011 at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport that killed 37 people and injured at least 172.

Russian authorities are quick to point out that the first attack occurred outside of the secure area, which can only be accessed by metal detectors. Many have said that the carnage could have been worse had the security measures not been in place. A few months ago, authorities introduced a requirement for intercity bus passengers to produce ID when buying tickets, like rail or air passengers, but enforcement of this procedure has remained lax.

The security zone created around Sochi stretches approximately 60 miles along the Black Sea Coast and up to 25 miles inland. (The city of Volgograd is 685 km NE of Sochi.) Russian special forces will patrol the forested mountains near the resort, while drones are said to keep constant watch over Olympic facilities and speedboats will patrol the coast. The security plan includes a ban on cars from outside the zone starting from mid-January, lasting until a month after the end of the Games.

The recent attacks underline the fact that Umarov’s group can strike outside of the main area of the Olympic Games and achieve a level of international attention. Terror attacks are generally understood to have the goal of bringing attention to a cause and, from that standpoint, the terrorists’ efforts have already borne fruit: On Tuesday, December 31, 2013, the president of the Australian Olympic Committee stated that Australian athletes would face limitations on their travel in Russia: they may only travel by air and they may not travel outside Sochi. This alone could spur terrorists to attempt more attacks.

Related: Avoiding Terrorism while Travelling

Moscow will be one of the major transit hubs for athletes and spectators travelling to the Games. Some experts theorize that strikes in Moscow might be easier to organize and execute, yet will be as effective as attacks on the actual venues within the “secure area” of Sochi.

Sochi 2014 is being advertised as “the most compact Winter Games” in the history of the Olympic Movement, with only 48 km separating the Coastal and Mountain clusters. Each cluster will contain its own Olympic Village and clusters will be accessible via the new rail line. A coordinated attack on the rail line, or en route from the airport in Adler (the airport serving the Sochi Games) to either of the venues, would be catastrophic for Russia’s international reputation and may therefore prove too tempting for Umarov to let pass.

And, as Russian security forces attempt to flush out potential terrorists ahead of the Olympic Games, dangerous events continue to occur: during a “special operation” in southern Russia on January 15, 2014, four gunmen were killed in a shootout that also claimed three members of the Russian special forces and injured five more.

Based on the current level of security preparedness in Russia, and the vast geographic scale of the threat, the Intrepid 24/7 security group recommends avoiding the XXII Olympic Games in Sochi. Clients who are unable to change their plans should undergo an in-depth security briefing in advance of their departure. For more security tips, contact the team at Intrepid 24/7.