With weeks to go before the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, US and Russian media reported that female suicide bombers might be targeting the upcoming event. The police reportedly visited hotels and distributed leaflets with a description of the potential suicide bombers, including 22-year-old Rusanna Ibragimova. According to the police, Ibragimova promised revenge for her husband, who was killed in 2013. Media also reported the names of two other women who may attack the games in Sochi—26-year-old Zaira Alieva and 36-year-old Jannet Tsakhaeva. Ibragimova reportedly left Dagestan on January 11–12, headed for the Sochi area (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237040/).
A number of residents in Sochi confirmed on Internet forums that the police were actively looking for Ibragimova, but city officials remained silent about the possible threat. City residents contrasted the potential danger posed by the suicide bombers to the inexplicable calmness of government officials (http://www.blogsochi.ru/content/terroristka-smertnitsa-razyskivaetsya-v-olimpiiskom-sochi). A local website posted a scan of a letter from the Russian security services confirming the fact that they were looking for suspected suicide bomber Rusanna Ibragimova (http://www.blogsochi.ru/content/ob-otbytii-iz-dagestana-terroristki-smertnitsy-v-gorod-sochi).
Unlike major Western media outlets, the Russian mainstream media avoided spreading the news about the possible threat to the Olympics. The editor-in-chief of the local Sochi website that first broke the information about the police alerts about the suicide bombers was summoned by investigators for an alleged unauthorized disclosure of information pertaining to an investigation (http://www.blogsochi.ru/content/glavred-saita-aleksandr-valov-vyzvan-v-sledstvennyi-komitet-v-krasnodar-na-280114-goda).
The information about female suicide bombers was inconclusive and contradictory. Some sources alleged that one of the female suicide bombers had already been spotted in Sochi, while others said she might still be on her way to the city. Still other sources reported that Ibragimova had been identified as posing a threat as far back as last summer. The authorities feared Ibragimova could stage an attack either in her home city of Mozdok in North Ossetia or anywhere else in Russia. Ibragimova came from the large Kumyk village of Kizlyar, which is located in the northern part of North Ossetia (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237040/). If the police knew in the summer of 2013 that Ibragimova was a threat, it is unclear how they found out that she had left Dagestan on January 11–12, unless they were closely watching her.
In July 2013, Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov called on his followers to disrupt the Olympic Games in Sochi. Several National Olympic committees have received anonymous threats. In January, some insurgent websites started to publicize a new map of the North Caucasus that includes the Sochi area as part of one of the Caucasus Emirate’s administrative units—Vilayat Circassia. Ethnic Circassians oppose the Olympic Games in Sochi because they say it is the “land of genocide,” but Circassian activists say they are opposed to any form of violence. The Russian Empire expelled, killed and starved to death the majority of the Circassian population in the area in 19th century. Today the Russian government denies and ignores these events of the past century. While secular and peaceful Circassian activists have been unsuccessful in convincing Moscow to make even modest steps toward Circassians, the Circassian insurgents apparently launched their own campaign to win support among Circassians. After a group of Circassians civil activists were briefly detained by the Russian authorities in December on suspicion of ties to an obscure insurgent, they released a statement distancing themselves from the insurgency and any violent actions in general. The insurgency then decided to remind the Circassian activists that the insurgents were the “true” representatives of the people (http://djamaattakbir.blogspot.com/2014/01/blog-post_4935.html).
Following the bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd in December, as well as the less publicized murders and terrorist attacks in Stavropol region that same month and in January of this year, many people fear that the threat made by the Caucasus Emirate is quite real. Volgograd is relatively far away from Sochi, but Stavropol is the immediate neighbor of Krasnodar region, where the city of Sochi is located. President Vladimir Putin’s notorious spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, alleged that an international campaign is being waged against the Olympics in Sochi and provided the Russian government’s response to such concerns. “The West, let us say some countries, behave quite shamelessly and callously, trying to discredit our Olympiad in Sochi,” Peskov said in an interview with the Russian tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. “Every day [they] pour out buckets of dirt and our media, regretfully, cite various rants about that.” The most brazen accusation in the Western media, according to Peskov, is that “Russia is holding the Olympics in the area where Russian Tsars oppressed the poor Caucasian peoples” (http://www.kp.ru/daily/26184/3073444/).
The oppression of the non-Russian people of the Russian Empire, including the conquered population of the Caucasus, Volga region, Siberia, Jews and other minorities, is a well-documented historical fact. The horrors of the Russian conquest of the Northwest Caucasus, where the Olympics are being held, are also relatively well-known. The derogatory tone that Peskov used in reference to the citizens of his own country shows how far ethnic tensions and ethnic conflicts have gone in Russia. Even the country’s top officials permit themselves to talk publicly in divisive and spiteful language.
Security threats, unresolved domestic conflicts and uneasy relations between Russia and the West make the upcoming Olympics in Sochi a one-of-a-kind sports event in recent years. The nervousness surrounding the Olympics may well supersede any victories achieved by the athletes in the games.