The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Officials wary of security threats, economic instability surrounding Sochi games

In only a few short weeks, the world’s top winter athletes will put on a major show in the Russian resort city of Sochi. But despite enthusiasm in some circles, concerns ranging from terrorism to economics have been voiced with especially increasing frequency over the past few weeks.

According to BBC News, the Russian government last week placed a high priority on finding suspected suicide bombers that are reported to have arrived in Sochi. Ruzanna Ibragimova, a 23-year-old widow of an Islamist insurgent, is believed to have made her way into the city. It is speculated that Ibragimova, from the neighboring Russian Dagestan Republic, could pose a significant threat.

In addition to Ibragimova, at least two other potential suicide bombers are thought to be in the region, BBC reported. The city has circulated wanted posters en masse across the city in response, hoping to draw attention to the suspects.

The nearby Dagestan and Chechnya regions pose some of the Olympics’ biggest challenges. An area of high Islamic insurgency, the region is noted as a breeding ground for terrorists. The majority of these recent threats come from those advocating an independent Islamic state in the Russian Caucasus, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I think the tensions in the region of Sochi are very real and tense,” Dick Farkas a political science professor at DePaul, said via email. “However, the Russian system is capable of creating the very tightest security cordon.”

And they are working to do just that. Russian officials will have 40,000 police forces on call in Sochi, as well as 100,000 security personnel and 30,000 members of the armed forces. Meanwhile, the United States has a plan in place to evacuate Americans if necessary. Two American warships will be placed in the Black Sea, and an undisclosed number of aircrafts will be in the region, the Los Angeles Times reported. The United States has also offered to assist Russian security forces.

During an interview for ABC’s “This Week,” U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said that as many as 15,000 Americans will be in Sochi. However, Farkas doesn’t see the need for these citizens or travelers from other parts of the world to be especially concerned.

“In my best judgment, based upon my decades of study of the region, I would say that those attending the Winter Olympics will be no more at risk than the prospect of being mugged in Chicago for your cell phone or being hit by a car in the city driven by a texting driver,” Farkas said.

Beyond the looming terror threats, many question how the area will deal with the economic pressure and impacts created by the hosting of the games. “The cost to the Russian Federation is immense and as such is a formidable gamble,” Farkas said.

When asked about the potential local economic impacts, Farkas said the local population would likely see a boost to their own incomes. He also said that the added infrastructure could make the city more attractive to visitors.

However, problems could ensue following the games in how the government chooses to maintain the facilities and infrastructure projects that the games required. Farkas also expressed some concern in leadership and policy once Moscow and the political elites turn their attention away from the city after the games.

“The only way for the games to create long-term positive impact on Sochi would be to create a market for hard-currency tourism to Sochi, and that is virtually impossible to anticipate given the political instability and insurgency in the region,” Farkas said. “Russian tourists will bring only soft-currency (Russian Rubles) to the local economy and that will not engender growth or prosperity. Simply put, on any economic or developmental calculus, Olympic-style games do not have significant yield.”

However, the Olympics do offer a chance to showcase Russian politics, and the new Russia, on the world stage.

“The only possibility is that, in terms of Putin’s visibility and prestige and in terms of what is often called ‘soft power’ in international affairs, the games will produce a positive vibe for the new Russia,” Farkas said.

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