Cold Sochi Comfort

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are almost upon us, and it’s safe to say that the overwhelming feeling for outsiders is one of trepidation. That the Winter Games will take place in an area usually designated geographically as “sub-tropical” is but humorous; that they will be located within a region where Russia has been struggling since the fall of the Soviet Union with violent local independence movements is a much more serious proposition. And the violent groups that will want to disrupt the Olympics were clever in sowing such fear by their twin attacks around Christmas in the near-by (by Russian standards) city of Volgograd, which killed a combined total of 34 people.

The Dutch are no slouches when it comes to winter sports, so there will be a sizeable contingent from the Netherlands at the Sochi games, together with an official visit by King Willem Alexander and Queen Máxima, Premier Mark Rutte and other high officials. Will those representatives be safe there? The newspaper Trouw tries to set its readers’ fears at ease today with an article entitled The Netherlands will keep a close eye on Sochi security.

The author (uncredited; from the Dutch press agency ANP) hardly aids his/her own cause with a column-heading that reads “Possible attacks.” Still, what’s notable here is not what the Netherlands is doing, but the listing of some of the security provisions some other nations will be taking.

  • The Americans: They have posted two Navy ships just offshore in the Black Sea – the better to start evacuating American citizens should things start to go haywire onshore.
  • The French: They are actually sending special anti-terror police along to guard their athletes. And not just one variety, but two: the GIGN, “specialized in ending hostage situations” (OK, that’s a relief), and the RAID*, “an elite corps of the national police.”

Sadly, once you read about those steps the Americans and French are taking, the corresponding Dutch measures cannot help but strike you as rather inadequate. They include an official warning from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that everyone needs to be careful:

. . . it turns out that possible attacks in Russia, above all in city centers and South Russia, must be taken into account. You are advised when traveling in Russia to be extra-vigilant, above all at locations such as bus- and train stations, airfields or when traveling with public transport.

Oh, and if you do get into trouble, the Dutch Embassy will be open 24/7! Of course, that is way off in Moscow; but there will also be a “consular window” available at the Holland Heineken House there in Sochi.

Don’t worry, it goes on, “[c]alamity plans have been coordinated and scenarios worked out.” So if there is violence at the Winter Olympics, the Dutch government will at least be able rather easily to imagine what is happening!

The point? Is it that the Netherlands – and every other country sending substantial numbers of its athletes to the Games, for that matter – should emulate French or American practice and send along, in effect, para-military bodyguards? No, it’s that things have reached the point – resulting from the ill-considered (and almost certainly corrupt) decision to put the 2014 Winter Games here in the first place – that such worries are arising at all.

* A brilliant acronym, you’ll surely agree! It actually stands for Recherche, d’Assistance, d’Intervention et de Dissuasion – Investigation, Assistance, Intervention and Dissuasion.

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