by Anna Borshchevskaya
After Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to host the Olympic games in Sochi— a town approximately 400 miles southwest of Volgograd, leading Chechen rebel Doku Umarov released a video in July 2013, calling on Islamist militants in Russia’s conflict-ridden North Caucasus, where al-Qaeda has been gaining a stronghold in recent years, to disrupt the games through violence.
Although many details about the Volgograd bombings are still unconfirmed, experts strongly suspect Umarov’s hand in the attacks, if not direct involvement.
The February Olympics, Putin’s pet project on which he reportedly spent already as much as $50 billion, are more about display of Russia’s power than true sportsmanship. Putin chose Sochi for a reason. This Black Sea coastal resort town borders the volatile North Caucasus. Sochi is right next to Abkhazia—a cause of tensions between Russia and Georgia since Russia’s 2008 invasion of the country. Sochi is also historic homeland to Circassians forcefully driven out of their land by the Russian czar in the 1800s. As I wrote before, even the hitherto quiet Tatarstan recently saw a rise in radical Islamist activity in this region. Choosing Sochi as a site for the Olympics in this context is a pretty clear statement. And it has allowed Putin a freer hand in cracking down on civil society in the name of security.
Perhaps then it should not be entirely shocking to learn that the U. S. State Department issued a condemnation of the Volgograd attacks and condolences to victims and their families of before Putin himself did. It does, nonetheless, reaffirm Putin’s lack of care for his people. If there are attacks during the Olympic Games, this approach may tragically reverberate in the West.
Anna Borshchevskaya is Communications Director at the American Islamic Congress