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.
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The first big event that's triggering the Kremlin's anxieties is the 2013 Summer Universiade, now less than a year away. The huge sporting event, which involves almost 14,000 student athletes from 170 countries, is to be held in Kazan, the capital of Russia's mainly-Muslim Volga republic of Tatarstan. Until last summer, oil-rich Tatarstan seemed a model of peace and tranquility, where a tolerant and secular, officially-sponsored "Euro-Islam," appeared to be taking root. But last July Islamist extremists struck in Kazan, killing one of "Euro-Islam's" top theologians and seriously injuring another.Skip to next paragraph
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The next event is the much anticipated 2014 Sochi Winter Games, which the Russian government has spent upwards of $35 billion to prepare for, and which experts say is closely connected with Putin's personal prestige. But Sochi, a beautiful old Soviet resort city on the shores of the Black Sea, abuts the turbulent north Caucasus region, where a violent Islamist insurgency rages on. Sochi is also just minutes away from the border with Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia.
In 2018, Russia will also host soccer's World Cup, another event that brings enormous prestige for Russia, and for Putin personally, but also presents a mass of potentially explosive headaches for Russia's security forces.
"Nowadays the Olympic Games, besides being a field of struggle for sportsmen, has also become a battlefield for different extremist forces against law enforcement," says Oleg Nechiporenko, a reserve KGB colonel and chief analyst of the National Anti-Criminal and Anti-Terrorist Foundation in Moscow.
"I was entrusted with the security of [the Soviet] team in the Olympic Games in Mexico and in the Moscow 1980 Olympics. The difference between the situation then and now is enormous. Now, besides being a big sports event, it's also large-scale operation of many different types of armed forces being prepared as well," he says.
"No wonder Putin is speaking out about this now, because time is running out. The concentration of so many people in one place, and the attention of the whole world, might serve as a bait for radical forces.... International terrorism is changing its classic character. They do not make public their demands but simply strike. After a terrorist action there is nobody to take responsibility for it but gives enough material to the forces that are speculating with it to destabilize the situation," he adds.
Putin told law enforcement officers that their work was improving, but they were going to have to try much harder.
"In the past several months, 479 militants were detained, and 313 terrorists, who refused to surrender, were killed, including 43 leaders," Putin said, referring mainly to ongoing counter-insurgency operations in the troubled north Caucasus.
"Our security agencies have started to work more effectively. At the same time we pay a high price for every mistake, therefore we must work relentlessly and decisively, a step ahead [of terrorists], and, when necessary, even boldly," he added.