Sochi Olympics security: Behind and beyond the ring of steel

There is a focus on the so called ring of steel in Sochi. We haven’t heard much e. g. about arresting some people ahead of the Olympics. So how would you shortly evaluate the Russian security tactics and strategy? Is the ring steel first of all a deterrence tool? Read few comments.

Mark Galeotti, Clinical Full Professor of Global Affairs, Center for Global Affairs, New York University

The “ring of steel” is to a degree an instrument of deterrence but as much as anything else it should be considered akin to a national border; the Sochi security zone is in effect a state-within-a-state, with its own border controls (after all, you need a special permit to enter), even its own armed forces. The Russian strategy is really based on four elements: control of the population within the area, including keeping out anyone they think might be a threat; regular and pervasive checks on everyone inside the area, from document controls to electronic surveillance; the deterrence of the image of this “ring of steel”; and, in the North Caucasus, a stepped-up campaign against the insurgents to keep them–hopefully–too busy to plan attacks. It’s not a subtle strategy, but it can work.

The challenge, of course, is in the tactics and the detail. Will the police, FSB and military coordinate properly? Will people at key moments take bribes to turn a blind eye? Is some local resident who has been cleared by the FSB actually secretly planning some terrorist attack? The problem for the Russians is that with no intelligence sources inside the insurgent groups they have to try and defend against every potential attack, and that’s hard.

Don Borelli, Senior Vice President, The Soufan Group, Former Assistant Special Agent in Charge in the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI

I think the Ring of Steel is a solid approach, but it should be one component of a comprehensive security strategy. Other critical components include robust intelligence collection, collaboration and intelligence sharing with international partners, and proper training and screening of workers at the various venues.

Will Jennings, Reader in Politics, University of Southampton

The use of ‘rings of steel’ is an increasingly popular method of securing large scale events such as the Olympics. These enable creation of hyper-secure, contained public spaces – isolating the event from the local environment. A side effect is that security threats can be dispersed to the periphery – to areas where security resources are not deployed, leaving local populations at risk. An additional issue associated with securing the Winter Olympics, unlike most other major events (such as downtown areas or large stadiums) is at the geography and terrain tend to be much more difficult to police and secure – because of the physical space and often rugged terrain.

In short, I would expect there to be very tight security around the main Olympic venues and sites, but even a country with the military power of Russia can’t guarantee absolute security outside these areas.

Victor Asal, Associate Professor of Political Science, Director of the Center for Policy Research, Co-Director of the Project on Violent Conflict, University at Albany

I think the Russians are following a varied approach. They are attacking militants to try and keep them away and weaken them before the game begins, they are creating a ring og steal as a deterrent but also and more importantly as a lock down measure. they are using an “all security all the time” approach to try and control all movements in such a way that access to Sochi will be near impossible for attackers. Whether this strategy is going to work we will find out.

Aaron MannesResearcher at Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics, University of Maryland

Certainly the Russians are throwing a high level of resources at the problem.

Broadly, counter-terror is the practical application of Murphy’s Law (which states what can go wrong will go wrong). A serious terrorist attack requires a lengthy series of successful actions. If some of those actions fail, the plot can be disrupted.

Deploying large numbers of security personnel, as the Russians have done increases the likelihood that a suspicious action will be noticed (assuming the security personnel are well-trained).


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