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Sochi Watch: Everything You Need to Know about Russia’s Massive Olympic Security Operation

Sochi Watch: Everything You Need to Know about Russia’s Massive Olympic Security Operation

Just five weeks before the 2014 Winter Olympics kick off in Sochi, two bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd have highlighted security concerns in the volatile region, and drawn attention to the massive security apparatus emerging around the Olympic games. Part of the problem is location: Sochi lies near the North Caucasus, an area engaged in civil conflict for 20 years, and a reputed terrorist hotbed. In June, Doku Umarov, the leader of a Chechen terrorist group, released a video charging his followers to disrupt the Olympic games using "maximum force." The sprawling layout of the Olympic games could pose a security challenge, too. The venues are divided into two clusters: mountain and coastal, which are separated by 30 miles, and connected by nine transit hubs — each a potential target.

In spite of these challenges, Russia’s government is maintaining that the event will carry on without a hitch. To that end, participants and spectators will be carefully screened, monitored, and surveilled by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), the country’s primary counterterrorism and security agency — formerly known as the KGB. The first measure of security for foreign visitors are spectator passes — a special form of identification that will give FSB a chance to perform background checks on all ticketholders. (You’ll also need one to begin the complicated process of applying for a tourist visa.) From there, Sochi’s security apparatus only intensifies. Here’s a rundown:

You will be watched:

  • All Internet traffic by Sochi residents, visitors, and journalists will be monitored by SORM, a surveillance system used by the FSB to track telephone and Internet communications.
  • Authorities will also rely on "drones, reconnaissance robots, sonar systems and high-speed patrol boats" to monitor activity in Sochi 24 hours-a-day.

You will be policed:

  • 100,000 security personnel overseen by the FSB will be assigned to Sochi
  • 40,000 (allegedly tri-lingual) police officers (twice the number used in the 2012 Olympics) will work the Games
  • 30,000 armed forces troops will be deployed throughout the Sochi area
  • 10,000 additional troops will secure the Olympic Mountain cluster, supervised by a Russian military team called "Operations Group Sochi"
  • The 58th Army will secure the Russia-Georgia border, to the south

You will show ID (often):

Restricted security zones, as well as special "controlled zones" will cover a wide swath of the Sochi area. Spectators moving through the following areas will need to present both a ticket and a spectator pass, or Olympic accreditation. They may also have to pass through metal detectors and x-ray machines. Restricted areas include:

  • The Olympic Park, Olympic Villages, Olympic Mountain Cluster, and Olympic Coastal Cluster
  • Sochi’s national park, airport, seaport, and railroad terminal
  • The internal border of Karachay-Cherkessia, 200 miles east of Sochi, and the external border between Russia’s Krasnodar Krai area and the Georgian territory of Abkhazia

Visitors moving through the "controlled zones" — areas around the Olympic Park as well as all checkpoints along the Sochi and Adler coast — will also have to submit to police inspections.

Sochi’s massive security infrastructure is a mighty show of force by President Vladimir Putin, who regards the Winter Games as his pet project (it’s already the most expensive Olympics in history). The obvious question, now, is: What happens to the rest of Russia when all its cops are stuck in one place?