As mourning turns into recrimination following Monday’s attack on Domodedovo Airport, fears will inevitably be voiced internationally questioning Russia’s abilities to safely host two major world events it has planned for the coming years: the Fifa World Cup in 2018, which Russia won the right to host in December, and the Winter Olympics in 2014.
The winter games will be held in Sochi, just a stone’s throw from the troubled North Caucasus. Militant groups have already promised on their websites that all athletes participating will be targets, and Russia will have to mount a huge security and intelligence operation to ensure that the event runs smoothly.
The IOC said in a statement this week that it had “no doubt” that security in 2014 would be adequate, while Fifa also said it was “confident” in the Russian authorities’ ability to prevent attacks during its flagship tournament in 2018.
Privately though, there will be worries. Most of the competitors and spectators in 2014 will transfer in Moscow to reach Sochi, and inevitably will use Domodedovo Airport. Cordoning off stadia and searching spectators at major events is one thing: stopping bombers who simply want to blow themselves up in a large crowd is much more problematic.
“I have no idea what the authorities are going to do to ensure the Olympics go off safely,” says Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch in Moscow, who specialises in the North Caucasus. “Sochi is right there by the Caucasus, and it’s going to be very hard to fully protect the games.” Of course every event has its problems – there were fears of widespread violence ahead of last summer’s South Africa tournament (which in the end largely proved unfounded), and the threat of terrorism at an English World Cup would hardly have been much lower than in Russia.
In addition to the terrorist threat though, there is also the menace of nationalist violence. Just a week after the Fifa vote, a massed nationalist rally in Moscow descended into brutal random attacks, as groups of aggressive young Russians picked out anyone foreign-looking and attacked them with fists and knives. Then there are the obstacles that Mother Nature could throw up – if peat bog fires cause Moscow to be engulfed in toxic smog again, like it was for a fortnight this summer, there is no way that any football will be played.
“On the eve of Davos, the attack appears designed to undermine Russia’s objective of becoming an international financial and cultural centre,” said the director of consultancy firm Eurasia Group, Cliff Kupchan, in a note to clients this week. “If the bombing did result from indigenous terror, this attack will cause reputational damage beyond the tragic loss of life.”