Sochi May be Secure, but Mayhem May Still Reign in Russia

Terrorists may try to disrupt the upcoming Winter Olympics, steal attention away from Putin, a Duke expert says

While the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi will likely be secure, other parts of Russia may come under attack as rebels attempt to grab the global spotlight, a Duke University expert says.

Michael Newcity, deputy director of Duke's Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies, says he wouldn't be surprised to see another terror attack like the two recent bombings in Volgograd.

"Muslim separatists would like to draw attention away from the Olympics as well as demonstrate that their struggle continues and that they haven't been defeated," Newcity says. "Since the Olympic Games are very much a vanity project for Russian President Vladimir Putin, it wouldn't surprise me to see more bombings -- perhaps not at the Olympics, since security will be so tight -- but more likely in other parts of Russia."

The two recent bombings are believed to be the work of Chechen separatist groups hailing from the North Caucasus region, an amalgamation of cultures where anti-government sentiment runs high. 

"The North Caucuses are, ethnically and culturally, one of the most diverse regions of the world," Newcity says. "While the Chechens have been involved in the most well-known and violent conflict over the last couple of decades, other Muslim groups in the region bristle under Russian rule. It is an extraordinarily complex area in terms of ethnicities, languages, religions and cultures, and, as a result, is extremely volatile."

The recent bombings are one of several story lines underpinning the upcoming Olympics, which run from Feb. 7-23. The games were expected to be Putin's grand moment on the international stage, but the run-up to the games has been embroiled in bad publicity for Russia, most notably due to the nation's adoption last year of anti-gay legislation.The new law shines a light on a Russian society whose beliefs may run contrary to those of many in the United States and elsewhere, says Newcity, a scholar of Russia's legal system.

"People have to recognize that simply because the United States has come 180 degrees in the last 10 years on gay rights, the rest of the world hasn't moved at the same pace," Newcity says. "Russia, on some of these issues, is far more conservative than much of American and western European society. It wasn't that long ago that homosexuality was a crime there."

Robin Kirk, co-chair of the Duke Human Rights Center, says Russia must be held to the highest international standards because the Olympics are meant to highlight what is best about human achievement.

"Hosts must be held to standards that reflect this quest for excellence, in particular in the arena of human rights. A backdrop of rights abuse poisons what should be a celebration of the best our athletes can achieve," Kirk says. "Russia's anti-gay agenda is particularly objectionable, since it discriminates based on qualities that are inherent to a person's being. The International Olympic Committee must ensure that future hosts adhere to high human rights standards and reflect those standards not only for athletes, but for all of their citizens."