Putin warns of growing terror risks as Kremlin arrests opposition leader
Putin says Russia faces real security threats in coming years as it hosts the World Cup and Olympics, but may also be conflating opposition leaders like Sergei Udaltsov with terrorists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his security services yesterday that they will have to redouble their efforts to prevent terrorists and extremists from disrupting an upcoming string of high-profile sports events to be hosted by Russia, including the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.Skip to next paragraph
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But the Kremlin, which announced today they would be charging prominent left-wing opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov with "organizing disorder," also appears to be moving to conflate terrorists with the largely peaceful opposition movement.
"In the coming years, a whole series of very important political and sporting events will be taking place in Russia, and it should be a matter of honor for law enforcement officials and special forces to ensure that these events take place in a normal, businesslike and festive atmosphere," Mr. Putin told security officials, according to the independent Interfax news agency.
"We have many tense and conflict-ridden hot spots here, but we also have enough strength, skills, and means to deal with possible threats," he added.
Security experts say that multiple threats exist, and that time may be running out to create a safer atmosphere. In recent months, Putin has launched a sweeping reorganization of law enforcement agencies by downgrading the state security service, replacing virtually the entire upper echelons of the Interior Ministry – which oversees Russia's police forces and maintains huge internal paramilitary forces – and by making the Interior Ministry the main agency for coordinating all domestic security operations.
At the same time, critics add, the Kremlin is moving to place all kinds of security challenges, including street protests, under the heading of extremism, on par with terrorism. Today prosecutors confirmed that they would be charging veteran left-wing street activist Sergei Udaltsov with "organizing a mass disorder" – which carries a potential 10-year prison sentence – citing as evidence accusations made in an inflammatory "documentary" broadcast by the state-run NTV network.
The Kremlin's powerful Investigative Committee has indicated it may soon lay charges against 17 other activists for alleged "mass disorders" that took place during a mostly-peaceful opposition rally in Moscow on May 6, the day before Putin's inauguration for a third term as Russia's president. Some of them also face potential 10-year sentences.
"Putin's aim is to create the impression that all opponents represent the same danger," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
"There are various kinds of extremism, and they represent differing sorts of threats. But anything that disrupts the outward calm, and seems to undermine Putin's position, is apparently going to be handled by the same methods. In some ways, it looks like he regards street protesters as a bigger threat than terrorists," he adds.