By Brian Michael Jenkins, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Brian Michael Jenkins is senior adviser to the RAND president and the author of Al Qaeda in Its Third Decade: Irreversible Decline or Imminent Victory? The views expressed are his own.
The investment Russia has made in security to protect athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympics in Sochi is unprecedented – but so is the threat.
Doku Umarov, the leader of a shadowy group responsible for a number of recent terrorist bombings in Russia, has vowed to attack the Olympics – no holds barred. He has described the games as a “satanic dance on the bones of our ancestors.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is staking a vast amount of political capital on a successful Olympics, has vowed to surround Sochi with a protective “ring of steel.”
Behind the public terrorist threats and visible security measures, though, lies a secretive contest that pits Russian counterterrorism strategists against a determined terrorist foe. The world can only guess at what capabilities or plans the terrorists may already have in place. Equally invisible are the dark strategizing and intelligence efforts of Russian counterterrorism authorities, who already may have penetrated terrorist plots.
With just days until the lighting of the Olympic flame, Russian authorities have vowed to make the Sochi Games the most secure ever. They have established a wide perimeter around the city and the venues, manned by an overwhelming force of tens of thousands of police and military. Vehicles from outside Sochi are banned. Police are going door to door searching for terrorist suspects. For the first time in Olympic history, spectators are being vetted and credentialed. Equally important, though less visible, is the intelligence gathering and analysis, the plots uncovered and arrests made. This is where Sochi security will rise or fall.
By Kenneth Yalowitz and Matthew Rojansky, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kenneth Yalowitz is former U.S. Ambassador to Belarus and Georgia and Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Matthew Rojansky is director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The views expressed are their own.
As international attention focuses on the Sochi Winter Olympics, the big question is whether security will hold, even with Russia's draconian response, which has included bringing in more than 30,000 additional troops and police, sealing off the city and closing nearby international border crossings to try to counter Islamist insurgents’ threats to attack the games themselves. Yet whatever happens in February, Sochi will have longer term implications for Russian politics, society and its economic fortunes.
President Vladimir Putin has been unabashed in connecting his own personal prestige with the efforts to make Russia's first post-Soviet Olympics a success. And if the games proceed without incident, and the newly built infrastructure works, Putin will have another major accomplishment to add to his list of recent wins in Syria and Ukraine. A successful Olympics might also bolster support among ordinary Russians and non-Western observers for the Kremlin's "managed democracy."
But if major flaws and failures steal the show in Sochi, Putin will find it difficult to sidestep responsibility, and he may be faced with deepening cracks in Russia's political and economic system.
By Andrey Kostin, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Andrey Kostin is CEO of Russia’s VTB Bank. The views expressed are his own. This is the latest in a series of articles ahead of a special GPS show from Davos this Sunday.
Interconnectedness is part of everyday modern life. We think nothing of, for example, an American company designing its products in California, assembling them in China, and launching sales simultaneously in 100 countries or more. Russia has benefited from the increased integration of national economies and markets that has made all of this global cooperation possible – and essential. And like other major global economies, Russia – the world’s eighth largest – will continue to deepen its integration into these global processes.
Yet while the idea of globalization as a force for good is apparently widely accepted in the economics and business spheres – not least in my own area of expertise, banking and finance – it sometimes seems that politicians of countries that ought to have much in common are at risk of drifting further and further apart.
It has long been a Russian complaint that relations with the West – particularly the United States and the European Union – more often resemble a teacher lecturing a disobedient pupil than a serious dialogue, especially when the talk turns to topics of mutual sensitivity. This lies at the heart of what President Vladimir Putin, in his New York Times editorial last year, termed the “insufficient communication” between our societies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that gays “can feel safe” at the Sochi Winter Olympics next month. His comments were aimed at easing international concern over the treatment of the LGBT community in Russia following the introduction of a law banning “gay propaganda” and reports of an uptick in attacks against gays there.
But what is the situation really like for gay people in Russia? And are things really getting worse? Milene Larsson, contributor to HBO show VICE, has recently returned from Russia where she filmed the documentary “Young and Gay,” and she’ll be answering GPS readers’ questions on the issue.
Please leave your questions for her in the comment section below.
By Mark Galeotti, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mark Galeotti is professor of global affairs at New York University’s SCPS Center for Global Affairs. You can follow him @MarkGaleotti or on his blog, ‘In Moscow’s Shadows.’ The views expressed are his own.
News potential female terrorists – so-called “black widows” – may be loose inside or around the Sochi Winter Olympics security zone has inevitably stirred up fresh concerns about the Games. Athletes and prospective visitors are wondering if they will be safe. The United States is preparing plans in case its citizens need to be evacuated. The more the conversation about Sochi is about the threat, though, the more the terrorists have won – and a cheap victory at that.
The Games have become a symbolic test for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and what matters to Putin gets top priority. The security effort is unprecedented. There will be up to 40,000 police and security officers there, including Interior Ministry troops, and an anti-terrorist commando force: that’s the equivalent of one for every nine inhabitants of the town of Sochi, and more than were on duty at peak times during the much larger London Olympics in 2012. There will also be regular soldiers on duty, including divers will also be divers watching the Black Sea coast and surface-to-air missile batteries that could claw a 747 out of the skies. And those skies will also be patrolled by drones, while elite Spetsnaz commandos scour the surrounding mountains, just in case terrorists try to get into the zone cross-country.
By Anna Borshchevskaya, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anna Borshchevskaya is a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. The views expressed are her own.
Russian President Vladimir Putin achieved perhaps his most desired goal in 2013: He successfully positioned Russia as indispensable to resolving key international problems. And nowhere has his success been more visible than in the Syrian conflict and Iranian nuclear negotiations. The Moscow-brokered deal to put Syria’s chemical arsenal under control of international inspectors helped avoid military strikes against the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, Russia also emerged as a strong voice in the P5+1 group, allowing Iran to avoid tougher sanction against its nuclear program upon reaching an interim deal in Geneva in December 2013.
But behind the scenes, Russia is playing an even more significant role, and is an increasingly assertive player throughout the broader Middle East. It’s a trend the West cannot ignore.
According to Russian press reports, the Kremlin struck a $2 billion weapons agreement with Egypt last month, the culmination of years of quiet Kremlin efforts to revive Russia’s Cold War relationships in the region.
By Matthew Rojansky, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Matthew Rojansky is the director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
There are plenty of reasons to be cynical about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motivation in announcing an amnesty last month for more than 20,000 prisoners, including the dissident punk rockers Pussy Riot, detained Greenpeace activists, some leaders of last year’s Bolotnaya Square protests, and most surprisingly, oligarch turned anti-Kremlin icon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has languished in prison for more than a decade. Putin is following the old Soviet and tsarist tradition of amnesties to mark major anniversaries – in this case the 20th anniversary of Russia’s 1993 constitution – but he is also surely considering the impact on Russia’s image in advance of the February Sochi Olympics.
Russia’s human rights record still falls far short of European and international standards, and it would be naïve to assume that this amnesty represents any kind of transformation in Putin’s thinking about human rights and democracy. Yet at this moment, one vital fact should not be overlooked: real progress has now been made on one of the most persistently contentious items on the Russia-West agenda.
By Andrew C. Kuchins, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Andrew C. Kuchins is a senior fellow and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. The views expressed are his own. This is the second in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.
The eyes of the world will be trained on Russia when the Sochi Winter Olympics open on February 7. The Olympic Games have already attracted tremendous controversy over concerns about discriminating Russian LGBT legislation and massive corruption in preparing the games (which at an estimated cost of more than $50 billion are already the most expensive in history). In addition, there are political and security concerns about the site itself, which borders Georgian sovereign territory of Abkhazia, which Russia has recognized as independent since its five-day war with Georgia in 2008, and also borders the volatile North Caucasian republics of Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin views the Games as reflecting Russia’s return as a great power since he first took office on December 31, 1999. But although he could possibly remain Russian leader for another ten years, until 2024, it is hard not to look at these Olympics in terms of his legacy.
For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Global Public Square staff
Take a look at the extraordinary images from Ukraine in the video. Protesters in Kiev knocking down a giant statue of the Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians cheering them on as they hack the fallen statue with hammers. The incident last Sunday was one of the most symbolic moments of the protests underway in Ukraine.
At the heart of these protests is a widespread frustration not only with the government in Kiev, but more so with Russian interference. To some, the moment recalled another defining moment, from 1989. That was the year Communism fell across eastern Europe, leading to the end of the Soviet Union, and, of course, to Ukraine's independence.
But you need to go much further back in history to understand what's really going on in Ukraine.
By Matthew Rojansky and Blair Ruble, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Matthew Rojansky is the director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Blair Ruble is the director of the Global Sustainability and Resilience Program at the Wilson Center and a former director of the Kennan Institute. The views expressed are their own.
Last night’s attempt by Ukrainian security forces to clear Independence Square (the Maidan) in Kiev marks a troubling shift in Ukrainian politics. Up to now, a messy and informal dialogue had been underway among the government, activists on the street, opposition political figures, and foreign interlocutors. But the use of security forces now, even as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland are in the Ukrainian capital, sends a strong signal that President Viktor Yanukovych intends to resolve the current political showdown on his own terms.
The latest events have some superficial similarities to the Orange Revolution nine years ago. Those events – which played themselves out in the very same square in downtown Kiev – appeared at the time to have consolidated a hard struggle to secure a democratic and pluralistic Ukraine. The years since, however, have been difficult ones for the very institutions that are necessary for democracy to thrive. Nonetheless Ukrainian politicians competed in bumper car-style politics, colliding but bouncing off one another other more or less unharmed. The current escalating clashes between Yanukovych and the opposition could transform Ukrainian politics into a winner takes all demolition derby more commonly seen in Russia.
As former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma once famously observed, “Ukraine is not Russia.” Moreover, Ukraine has not transformed into Russia overnight. However, last night’s display of force could signal a troubling shift towards authoritarian tactics by the state. Given the presence of senior western officials in the city, the United States can hardly ignore the actions of the Yanukovych government, and a strongly worded statement from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry indicates Washington’s mounting outrage over the use of force against peaceful protestors.
By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own. This is the second article in a series on America’s identity and image since the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The world may have breathed a sigh of relief after President John F. Kennedy and the Soviet Union managed to avoid nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But America’s rise in the 50 years since President Kennedy was killed has been far from trouble-free – and America’s international standing since the fall of its great Cold War rival has reflected the ups, downs and uncertainties of the past five decades.
When the Cold War ended, U.S. strategic hegemony, and more broadly the American brand, appeared poised for prolonged preeminence. With the Soviet Union in shambles, followed soon thereafter with the implosion of Japan’s economic bubble, America’s standing in the world seemed unchallenged and unchallengeable. But in the ensuing quarter century, the U.S. image has been on a roller coaster ride. And China has emerged as a new rival in the eyes of the world.
There is little consistent, publicly available opinion data on global views of the United States prior to the first decade of the 21st century. In the early 1980s, a Newsweek poll found that most people surveyed believed America’s global influence was expanding. But that was not necessarily a positive sentiment. With a possible U.S.-Russian nuclear confrontation still very much on people’s minds, majorities in many countries said America’s strong military actually increased the chances for war. And just a quarter of the French approved of U.S. policies. The situation was only slightly better in Japan and Germany.
By Jeffrey D. Sachs, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jeffrey D. Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of To Move the World: JFK’s Quest for Peace. The views expressed are his own. This is the first article in a series on America’s identity and image since the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
We celebrate John F. Kennedy a half-century after his death for the confidence he gave us in meeting great challenges. “Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man,” he told us. And we believed him. At a moment when the U.S. government seems unable even to launch a website, we recall Kennedy’s boldest commitment: to launch a man to the moon and bring him back safely to Earth within the decade. That remarkable moment in American history, one that virtually defined my own childhood years, still inspires us to shake off our dour pessimism today.
While it’s all too easy to believe in government failure today – what with the failed Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, NSA spying, the Obamacare rollout, shutdowns, sequesters, and more – the public perception was nearly the opposite a half-century ago. The federal government was friend, not foe. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s government had organized the New Deal, steered democracy through the Great Depression, and then triumphed over fascism in World War II. The federal government had invented the nuclear age in the Manhattan Project, hardly the work of a technological slouch. Most importantly for most Americans in the 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. government was the bulwark against the aggressive designs of Stalin and the Soviet Union.