Overshadowed by safety threats against athletes and tourists, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, may seem to be more about security measures than winning gold medals.
Sochi, on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, isn’t far from the embattled North Caucasus region where many Islamist insurgent terrorists are located. A number of threats and instances of violence in the areas surrounding Sochi have raised red flags for the countries participating in the games.
According to CNN, warnings have been given to American athletes not to wear red, white and blue outside the “ring of steel,” Russia’s security perimeter around the Olympic venues. U.S. security officials will attend events with the athletes, providing an extra layer of safety.
At least two specific and publicized threats against athletes and tourists have been made within the last month: a video created by insurgents promising “a surprise” for tourists at the games, and a kidnap threat letter sent to two Austrian athletes on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
These threats from insurgents in the North Caucasus region have prompted the U.S. not only to warn its citizens, but also to station ships in the North Sea and standby C-17 transport aircraft in Germany, according to CNN. In the case of an emergency, helicopters and aircraft could arrive in Sochi in less than two hours.
Are these measures overkill or an affront to Russian security? Some, like security expert Matthew Clements, believe these measures aren’t necessarily practical, because it would be unrealistic to conduct a U.S. military evacuation in the midst of a terrorist attack. Not to mention, the implication that Russia can’t handle its own matters wouldn’t bode well with the 2014 Olympic hosts.
“Russia has mounted a massive security operation for the Olympics, deploying more than 50,000 police and soldiers amid threats from Muslim insurgents,” according to ABC News. The country continues to affirm that the games will be safe.
But the U.S. contingency plan is warranted. The threat of attacks, particularly bombings from “black widows” (widows of dead insurgents) and other suicide bombers, is real and shouldn’t be brushed off amidst the excitement of the games.
If an attack were to happen, and if American citizens were injured or killed, millions of people would demand to know why U.S. officials hadn’t developed a stronger strategy for preventing harm or for rescuing its citizens. Questions and accusations shouldn’t arise after the fact, and it’s better to be prepared than to cross fingers in hopes that bombs won’t be detonated.
In light of this potential for danger, it simply makes sense that the U.S. would station ships and aircraft in surrounding areas — even if it is just in case. The U.S. would make a mistake if it didn’t prepare to protect its own, no matter how tight Russian security may be.
It’s important to note that the U.S. walks on a tight rope when it comes to maintaining friendly relations with Russia. Having offered the Russian government military assistance (but receiving no requests for help), the U.S. government wants to protect its citizens without offending Russia and the security it provides. Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, cited Russian nationalistic pride as a source of tension, and U.S. action could step on Russian toes. But U.S. preparedness outside the Caucasus region doesn’t hurt.
When safety is on the line, a country’s national pride isn’t nearly as important as preventing attacks.
The U.S. should continue to monitor threats surrounding Sochi, preparing for the worst, but hoping for a successful run at the 2014 Winter Olympics.