US and Russia at loggerheads over security

By Nicolas Revise

Mutual distrust simmers amid terrorism threats at Sochi Olympics.

The Sochi Winter Olympics have opened up a new front of distrust between the United States and Russia, with tensions simmering over security preparations amid fears the Games could be targeted by extremist militants.

Analysts say the former Cold War rivals are unlikely to risk a full-blown confrontation over security in Sochi. Nevertheless, some experts say the failure of the US and Russia to engage fully over a range of issues could ultimately compromise security at the Olympics.

Micah Zenko, an expert on national security at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, argued that the "safety and security of everyone ... is being put at further unnecessary risk because of the reciprocal distrust between Russia and US counterterrorism and intelligence agencies".

The White House has expressed "concern" about an uptick in reported threats by violent extremists relating to the Sochi Games.

Last night the BBC reported that British Government officials believed more terror attacks are "very likely to occur" before or during the Games.

A threat assessment document says that Sochi would be a much harder target for terrorists than the southern city of Volgograd because of Russian military operations. Russian has sent an extra 37,000 troops and police for Sochi security.

Security fears have been exacerbated by two suicide bombings in Volgograd last month that killed 34 people.

Other senior US officials meanwhile have complained that Russia has "not been forthcoming in sharing specific threat information".

The US Olympic Committee has advised athletes to avoid wearing their team uniforms or Team USA logos outside Olympic venues to avoid being targeted.

Temuri Yakobashvili, the former deputy prime minister of Georgia and ex-ambassador to the US, says the American concerns "are very legitimate".

In a video released this month, militants from the Caucasus region threatened to mount attacks on the Olympics, vowing to deliver a "present" to President Vladimir Putin as well as overseas tourists visiting the games.

"We have been talking to the Russians about the regional security concerns we have. These are longstanding concerns about the North Caucasus," a senior official in President Barack Obama's Administration said.

The official acknowledged the Administration's "frustration" over a level of intelligence sharing by Russia deemed to be insufficient.

Russia countered the criticism through Moscow's Ambassador to Washington, insisting the co-operation was satisfactory.

"It's good enough," Sergei Kislyak told CNN. "And you need to remember, it's Olympic Games that are being held in Russia. And we have pretty solid capabilities to deal with it on our own. I don't see any tension. I didn't feel any tension."

Nevertheless, Zenko said the US and Russia remain locked in a stand-off of mutual distrust.

"Russia does not want to provide information that could reveal the sources and methods of how it collects human and signals intelligence, while the US will not share jamming technology that could defeat radio-signal car bombs, because Russia could share or use that information to develop countermeasures that overcome those jammers."

Obama and Putin engaged in telephone diplomacy last week, while the Pentagon has said it is ready to deploy air and naval assets, including moving two warships into the Black Sea. Russia has rejected the offers.

- AFP

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