2014 Winter Olympics: U.S. & Russia Cooperating After Security Heightened as the Sochi Games Approach
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With political relations tense in the fallout of the handling of Syria's internal conflict and the temporary immunity handed to Edward Snowden, Russian and American military officials opened discussions regarding cooperation in securing next month's 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Russian security officials are considering using American electronic equipment to help secure the Sochi games after phone discussions held between Pres. Barack Obama and Russian Pres. Vladimir V. Putin on Tuesday. U.S. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, in their first face-to-face meeting to discuss a variety of issues including security plans for the upcoming Winter Games, according to Reuters.
Gen. Dempsey said the U.S. Defense Department would provide Russia with electronic equipment designed to help detect a variety of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as disrupt cellphone and radio signals used by militants to detonate IEDs from a distance. Gen. Dempsey pointed at the U.S.' military experience in Afghanistan and Iraq handling IEDs. saying that it "something that we've become extraordinarily familiar with."
"I think we have an opportunity to advance the relationship on areas of common interest," said Gen. Dempsey.
Russian police are on the hunt for Ruzanna "Salima" Ibragimova, who is believed to be connected with the back-to-back December bombings in the city of Volgograd which killed 34 people. Ibragimova is suspected to have arrived in Sochi, with television and social media having flooded Sochi with photos of Ibragimova as well as fliers being handed out by police in local hotels, in hopes of tracking down "the Black Widow" before the start of the Winter Games.
Ibragimova is said to have earned her "Black Widow" nickname due to her association with Chechen separatist groups seeking independence in Russia's northern Caucasus. Ibragimova is accused of being a part of a group of wives whose husbands were insurgents that were killed by Russian government forces.
Chechens, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, regard northern Caucasus - particularly the area Chechnya and Dagestan (located 400 miles away from Sochi) area - as their ancient homeland, with Russia refusing to allow the creating of an independent Muslim-majority state close to their borders. The Chechen Islamic struggle goes back to the Joseph Stalin era when Chechens were forced to move to Siberia, according Bob Ayers, a retired international security analyst.
A video surfaced Sunday on well-known jihadi forums Web sites, recorded prior to the bombings in Volgograd, with two of the suicide bombers threatening more attacks to take place during the Winter Olympics.
"We've prepared a present for you and all tourists who'll come over," the video says. "If you will hold the Olympics, you'll get a present from us for the Muslim blood that's been spilled."
Pres. Putin made note of other previous events that Russia has hosted, including the G8 and the G20 summit, to ease the minds of tourists and athletes heading to Sochi for the February 7 Opening Ceremony, noting that the country can handle providing a safe environment throughout the Olympics.
The Russian government has deployed 40,000 police offices and military reinforcements to the area, banned vehicles that are not registered in the region, doing home-to-home searches including screening residents, and required Russian citizens who visit Sochi to register with authorities within three days, as foreigners are required to do.
"We will try to make certain that the security measures are not intrusive or too conspicuous, so they are not too noticeable for the athletes, the Olympics' guests or journalists. But at the same time, we will do our utmost to ensure that they are effective," said Pres. Putin, according to an interview transcript on the Kremlin Webs site. "Of course, we will draw on the experience acquired during similar events held in other regions of the world and in other countries. It means that we will protect our air and sea space, as well as the mountain cluster."
The meeting between Gen. Dempsey and Gen. Gerasimov comes on the heels of the Pentagon's announcement that two U.S. Navy warships would be deployed to the Black Sea during the Olympic Games in case of an emergency. Several C-17 transport aircraft, based in Germany, will also be on standby as part of a contingency plan if the need arises to evacuate American officials and athletes.
"Air and naval assets, to include two Navy ships in the Black Sea, will be available if requested for all manner of contingencies in support of and in consultation with the Russian government," said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the lead Pentagon spokesman.
CNN reports that U.S. law enforcement agents have also been conducting informal interviews of people residing in the United States with ties to Dagestan and Chechnya in recent weeks, with officials emphasizing that the "knock and talk" interviews do not mean there are particular threats under investigation and are used to gather information.
The cooperation between Russia and the U.S. comes at a time when relations have been uneasy over the last year, with disagreements on how to handle Syria's chemical weapon stockpile and the Russian government handing temporary asylum to Edward Snowden - who leaked information regarding the American's National Security Agency's (NSA) electronic surveillance program and is facing felony charges for stealing government property and disclosing classified information.
Despite Russia's and the U.S.'s difference on a variety of political issues, both countries are working together to keep the Olympic athletes and tourists attending the Sochi Games safe from any terrorists attacks. Gen. Dempsey reiterated that his Russian counterparts feel prepared to handle any security issue that may arise at the Olympics.
"He believes they have in place the intelligence apparatus, as well as the response apparatus, to deal with the threats as they know them this year in Sochi," said Gen. Dempsey.
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