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Russia Launches Sochi Clampdown One Month Before Olympics

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) listens to the head of the Sochi 2014 Olympic preparatory commission, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, during a January 3 visit to one of the 2014 Winter Olympics venues.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) listens to the head of the Sochi 2014 Olympic preparatory commission, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, during a January 3 visit to one of the 2014 Winter Olympics venues.

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By RFE/RL
Russia has launched what is being described as one of the largest security operations in Olympic history with one month to go before the start of the winter games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said that starting on January 7, "All divisions responsible for ensuring the guests' security at the games are being put on combat alert."

He added: "Every facility will be put under protection and a space-based monitoring system will be launched."

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Army soldiers manning armored vehicles and navy officers patrolling the Black Sea will join more than 30,000 police and troops overseeing the February 7-23 event.

Vehicles not registered locally and which do not have special accreditation will be banned from Sochi.

Access to areas around Olympic venues will be limited to people with tickets and proof of identity.

Additional measures to be deployed down the line include the monitoring of mobile-phone and e-mail traffic by the Federal Security Service.

According to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist, security expert, and editor in chief of the online news site Agentura.ru, the security procedures being put in place in Sochi are reminiscent of the Soviet era.

"It appears that Russian special services put their bets on a combination of old Soviet type of administrative measures with modern monitoring and surveillance technologies," he said.

"An example of this could be the screening of [Olympic] spectators. In order to be able to buy a ticket [to a sports venue], one needs to fill out a questionnaire and be issued a so-called 'sport fan's passport.' Then there are preventive measures like the screening of everybody coming [into the Sochi Olympics zone] by special services. Then there are blacklists. Information surfaced a couple of weeks ago that local police [in Sochi] are now tasked with creating a database of people inclined to terrorism. All of it, of course, has an aftertaste of Soviet practices."

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President Vladimir Putin ordered further security measures and personally inspected Olympic sites after 34 people died in two suicide bombings in Volgograd last month.

Investigators strongly suspect Islamist militants from the North Caucasus carried out those attacks.

Soldatov said that Russian authorities can't rely on passive security measures to protect the games from militants who truly desire to cause harm.

"All of the surveillance technologies -- from unmanned drones to sonars that are supposed to identify enemy submarines -- may bring some results, but they are still passive security measures," he said.

"In dealing with a lone wolf or small groups of fighters that may be planning [terror] operations, the main work must involve something very different -- namely, active measures, the active work of [antiterrorism agencies] to uncover such plans. This is exactly the area of expertise that constitutes a weak spot of the Russian special services."

Putin responded to mounting diplomatic pressure on January 4 by easing a ban on demonstrations in Sochi. The decree says rallies not related to the Olympics can be held in the city if approved by the local authorities.

There also have been calls for boycotting the Olympics because of a law passed in 2013 banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" among minors. However, Putin insists gay and lesbian athletes will feel at ease during the games.

With reporting by AFP, the BBC, and RFE/RL's Russian Service

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