December 30, 2013, 12:49 pm
White House willing to help Russia with Olympics security
By Jeremy Herb
The White House said Monday that it would welcome “closer cooperation” with Moscow to secure the 2014 Olympic Games in the wake of two suicide bombings in Russia.
The bombings in Volgograd, Russia, over the past two days raised fears that terrorists will attempt to attack the Olympics in Sochi, which are set to begin in six weeks.
The U.S. said it was offering Moscow any help it needs to ensure the Olympics are secure.
“The U.S. government has offered our full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games, and we would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators, and other participants,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
Relations between the United States and Russia have been icy over the past year amid a series of disputes over Syria, missile defense and NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in the country.
The chill has spilled into intelligence gathering, evidenced in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing when officials said potential red flags about the Tsarnaev brothers were missed.
“U.S.-Russian intelligence security cooperation was at a very high level after 9/11,” said Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “As the relationship has worsened over the past couple of years, the intelligence cooperation has diminished as well.”
Russia is spending $50 billion on the Sochi Games and has pledged they will be the "safest games ever," organizing committee president Dmitry Chernyshenko told USA Today last month.
President Vladimir Putin ordered tighter security across the country after the Volgograd bombings.
Putin has a lot riding on the success of the Sochi Olympics, which Russia hopes will show that the country has returned to its status as a top world power after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Russian president has made several public relations moves recently in the face of international criticism over a law critics say discriminates against gays and the jailing of dissidents. He pardoned members of the punk rock band bleep Riot and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The twin bombings in Volgograd come after Doku Umarov, the Russian Islamist leader, released a video in July threatening to inflict “maximum force” on targets in Russia ahead of the Sochi Games.
“They plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims buried on our land by the Black Sea,” Umarov said in the video, according to The Guardian. “We as mujahideen are required not to allow that, using any methods that Allah allows us."
Volgograd, which is 400 miles northeast of Sochi and 500 miles southeast of Moscow, is a major transportation hub, including routes into the North Caucasus region, which has long a hotbed for Chechen separatist groups.
“Never before has any Olympic Games taken place in such close proximity to a region like the Northern Caucasus, that is essentially a conflict zone, with a very significant simmering insurgency,” Kuchins said.
Kuchins said that the terrorists could be targeting Volgograd if they feel they cannot launch a successful attack in Sochi amid the security, but are still looking to “create a sense of terror and insecurity throughout Russia such that it’s going to have a very negative impact on the games itself.”
The International Olympics Committee said in a statement Monday that it was confident Russian authorities would keep the Olympics safe and secure.
“I have personally written to the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to express our condolences to the Russian people and our confidence in the Russian authorities to deliver safe and secure Games in Sochi,” IOC President Thomas Bach said.
“I am certain that everything will be done to ensure the security of the athletes and all the participants of the Olympic Games,” he said.
Lawmakers were also weighing in, warning against the potential for a terrorist attack at the Olympics to get swept under the rug.
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) alluded to last year’s attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.
“We cannot sweep these threats under the rug, like we did with Benghazi or the warnings from Russia on the Tsarnaev brother behind the Boston Marathon bombing,” Grimm said in a statement.
--This report was updated at 4:08 p.m.