A quick and rather technical update to my last and broader post given that, in the latest lurch deeper into a self-sustaining spiral of bitterness and violence, the Ukrainian government has invoked an “anti-terrorism operation” as the cover for its activities in Kiev. This means, in effect, that it takes to itself the right to apply a low-level form of martial law. This could mean that it deploys the army, but we should be cautious and not assume that it necessarily will. (Not least as there are reasons not to, as I suggest in my last post.)
All posts by Mark Galeotti
Posted by Mark Galeotti on February 19, 2014
Kiev is burning, both literally and metaphorically, as this revolution-counterrevolution-in-fits-and-starts hit one of its flash points last night. As the opposition radicalizes further and the security forces turn increasingly to lethal force, although I’m not a specialist on Ukrainian politics, I would want to make some observations about some of the aspects of the current crisis about which I do know something.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on February 19, 2014
Much has been made of the fact that Sochi Olympic security was put under the overall operational command of Oleg Vladimirovich Syromolotov, deputy director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and head of its Counter-Espionage Service (SKR), rather than a counter-terrorism specialist. Somehow, this has been taken to be a mistake or else a sign of some kind of retrograde thinking, that Moscow really thinks the threat to Sochi comes from foreign espionage agencies or even that it wants primarily to use the Games for its own nefarious purposes. Let me disagree.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on February 14, 2014
Anna Arutunyan’s The Putin Mystique (Skyscraper, 2014) has appeared in a variety of languages before being released in English—a good call on a small publisher’s part to pick this title up—and is a fascinating exegesis of power in Russia. It is also a very Russian book. Indeed, about the only way it could be any more Russian would be if it were written on birch bark by a balalaika-strumming bear wearing a fur hat, drunk on vodka. What does this actually mean? For a start, the prose style weaves seamlessly between political reportage, literary and historical discursion and absurdity (she opens the book “I want the President of the Russian Federation to decree what I should think, what religion to profess, where to live, the number of children to bear, how to live, and when to die.” [p. 9]) in a way subtly distinct from the more clearly compartmentalized writing of the Anglo-Saxon non-fiction tradition. The product is a book that is as entertaining and readable as it is informative, very deserving of a place on every Russia-wonk’s shelves.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on February 10, 2014
Terror threats, exploding toothpaste, siamese toilets and dog-hunting death squads not enough for you? It’s worth noting that the security-oriented implications of the Sochi Games stretch rather further, and range from ecological challenges to the near-certainty that intrusive new electronic security measures will end up being deployed against anti-government activists in Moscow and beyond.
Here’s something I’ve just had published by the International Security Network (ISN) at EthZ:
Global TV news coverage of the buildup to the Winter Olympics in Sochi has been dominated by terrorism, footage of the Volgograd station and trolley-bus suicide bombs, breathless and often alarmist speculation as to the likelihood of attacks, the safety of athletes and spectators. These are legitimate concerns given that the Games are being held only a few hundred kilometers from the North Caucasus, a region still torn by nationalist and jihadist insurgency and terrorism. Then there’s the Islamists’ open determination to disrupt an event into which President Putin has placed so much political capital. No public event can ever be wholly secured and Sochi is no exception. It is certainly possible that there could be some kind of attack, even if just to the outer perimeter of the much-vaunted “ring of steel” around the security zone. Nonetheless, the sheer scale of the Russian operation—25,000 police, up to 20,000 regular military and Interior Ministry troops, drones, divers and the full panoply of modern security—means that the risk is as minimal as is reasonably possible.
On the other hand, watch the news in Russia and the Winter Olympic narrative is a triumphalist tale of plucky athletes and their gilt dreams, sparkling facilities being opened and glitzy Sochi-themed adverts. Of course, the terrorist attacks were covered, but there is a determined resistance to letting them overshadow the event. Indeed, when Western concerns are noted, it is, if anything, with a not-unjustified irritation about the alarmist tone of many of the reports about what they would rather portray as “merry sporting events.”
Both of these narratives, though, ignore a range of other security-related issues raised or demonstrated by the Games.
Read the article here.
Не только о терроризме: “Другые Вопросы безопасности Сочи”
Posted by Mark Galeotti on February 7, 2014
Not really about Sochi, for a change. I’ve just published a piece in Russia! about the emerging threat of Islamic extremist and terrorist groups in parts of the country outside the North Caucasus — and the recruitment of Slavic Russian converts into a new (if still very rare) kind of jihadist terrorism.
Of late I’ve felt I ought to be on retainer from the Sochi Olympic administration, given the effort I’ve been putting into trying to address some of the more lurid and hysterical accounts of the “terrorist threat.” For the record, my view is that Sochi is, thanks to the massive security operation, as safe as such an event going to be, in such a location, facing a near(ish)-by jihadist insurgency. That is not to say that Russia is safe from terrorism, by any means, as the events as Volgograd and Pyatigorsk have shown; indeed, I’d be surprised if the next month didn’t see some kind of incident(s) outside the North Caucasus themselves (where they are, sadly, a regular occurrence). One of the more alarming long-term trends is the apparent rise of jihadism outside the North Caucasus, among both the scattered Caucasus and Central Asian communities of Russia but also—doubly alarming for a security apparatus all-too-often dependent on clumsy racial profiling—amongst ethnic Russian converts.
Read the rest here. (And in case you’re wondering about the crime angle, a group currently on trial, the so-called “Novosibirsk Jamaat”, staged armed robberies to raise funds for the insurgency.)
“Новосибирск Джамаат», рост российского джихада, и сочетание преступностью и терроризмом
Posted by Mark Galeotti on January 29, 2014