MOSCOW — Russia’s interior minister said today that 37,000 police officers have been deployed to protect the 2014 Winter Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, repeating official assurances to make the Olympics safe despite the threat of an Islamist insurgency in the region.
Vladimir Kolokoltsev said on state Rossiya 24 television that a multi-layer security system in Sochi is fully compatible with demands of the International Olympic Committee. He added that it has proven its efficiency in test events there.
While Russia has pledged to make the games “the safest Olympics in history,” security experts warn the Islamist insurgency that has spread across Russia’s North Caucasus after two separatist wars in Chechnya poses daunting threats to President Vladimir Putin’s pet project.
Earlier this week, a top Chechen rebel warlord called on militants to disrupt the Sochi Games, which he described as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors.” The statement by Doku Umarov marked a reversal of his last year’s order to his fighters to avoid hitting civilian targets because Russians in Moscow were taking to the streets en masse to protest against Putin.
Dagestan, which lies about 500 kilometers (300 miles) east of Sochi, has become the center of the epicenter of violence with Islamist rebels targeting police and other officials in near-daily shootings and bombings.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two ethnic Chechen brothers who are accused of staging the Boston Marathon bombings, spent six months last year in Dagestan. Russian investigators have been trying to determine whether he had contact with local Islamic militants.
Kolokoltsev didn’t refer to Umarov’s statement or talk about the Islamist insurgency in his televised comments, but he vowed that the Sochi Games will be better protected than the Boston Marathon.
“As for the sad experience with the Boston event, I think our efforts and readiness can’t be compared to that,” he said. “We are getting ready at the maximum level.”
The Interior Ministry’s branch in southern Russia said that one of its officers was killed and another three were wounded Thursday in southern Chechnya when they stepped on landmines left by the militants whom they were trying to pursue in southern Chechnya. It said that additional forces were sent to the area to continue the search.
On Thursday, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s presidential Security Council, said that special services of several other nations will closely cooperate with Russian security agencies to protect the Sochi Games.