WASHINGTON — Days before the opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics, tensions have risen between Moscow and insurgents in the North Caucasus, a region filled with instability, a panel of experts said Monday, heightening fears of a terrorist incident at the Olympic Games in Sochi.
“We don’t know the degree to which the Olympics are a target,” said panelist Charles King, a professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown University. He said an attack also could occur at another Russian city as attention and security focuses on Sochi.
King said increased media coverage of the North Caucasus will not help the situation. Russian officials have charged that insurgents are guilty of human rights abuses. King said the goals and principles of the terrorist factions in the region are unclear, and he said he does not think the groups will unite.
Although Sochi is not in the North Caucasus region, the extra police forces Russia hired have been sweeping the area for potential terrorist subjects and “rounding people up,” said panelist Thomas de Waal, a senior associate for the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This tactic could incentivize young people in the region to join insurgent groups such as the Caucasus Emirates, de Waal said.
After the Sochi Games, Russia will face economic pressure, said Kenneth Yalowitz, former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Belarus and of Georgia. Polls indicate people’s fears of a “cloudy economic future.” After spending more than on any Olympic Games to date, Russia will have trouble “buying people off” through financial incentives to to support Russia’s membership in the European Union, Yalowitz said.
“After Sochi is over, we will see pressure on Georgia and Moldova to sign agreements,” Yalowitz said. “The economic forecast in Russia is not very good.”