Russia has launched the biggest security operation in the 118-year history of the modern Olympics a month before the start of the Winter Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
President Vladimir Putin, aware that the success or failure of the games will help shape his legacy, has boosted security following two recent suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd in which at least 34 people died.
Moscow’s most wanted man, the Chechen insurgent leader Doku Umarov, has urged militants – who want to carve out an Islamic state in Russia’s south – to use “maximum force” to prevent the games going ahead.
“From 7 January, all divisions responsible for ensuring the security of guests and participants at the games are being put on combat alert,” emergencies minister Vladimir Puchkov was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass news agency.
“Every facility will be put under protection and a space-based monitoring system will be launched. All security issues for the Winter Olympics are being dealt with at the highest international level.”
Additional measures will let the Federal Security Service monitor mobile phones and e-mails while requiring all foreign visitors to register online.
Tens of thousands of police and interior ministry troops are being deployed in Sochi, where athletes will compete for more than two weeks in the most expensive Olympics ever, costing more than €37 billion (£31bn) – in excess of three times the budget of the 2012 London Summer Games – from 7 to 23 February.
The cost includes long-term investment in roads, tunnels, railways and ski facilities. Everything has been built from scratch as Russia seeks to turn Sochi into a year-round tourist destination. The costs have soared above previous projections amid allegations of mismanagement, corruption and favours doled out to oligarchs and Mr Putin’s friends.
From yesterday, which was also the Russian Orthodox Christmas, access was being further curtailed into Sochi, where a new traffic scheme has come into operation to give priority to Olympic transport, officials said.
“The restrictions are to make it easy for spectators, athletes and members of the Olympic family to move around,” a transport directorate spokesman said.
The security measures have prompted complaints from locals, whose city has been transformed from a former Soviet-era seaside resort into a metal-and-steel metropolis. More than 200 people protested on Sunday against how Moscow has run the games so far, under the banner: “Natives of Sochi own the games, not the visitors.”
But Mr Putin, who on Saturday attended a rehearsal of the opening ceremony in Sochi, has eased curbs on demonstrations, allowing marches and gatherings at approved sites.
Campaigners, calling for everything from gay rights to political reform, have complained that the ban on rallies, imposed in August as part of earlier security measures, was unconstitutional.
Dmitry Chernyshenko, who heads the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, said everything was now ready with a month to go until the opening of the games.
“Every sport venue is fully prepared and has been thoroughly tested, new road and rail routes are ready to transport visitors and rehearsals for the opening ceremony are well under way,” he said.
He said athletes, coaches and the media have all received their accreditations and volunteers and staff were waiting to greet them with the “warmest of welcomes”. He added that “Sochi will be a truly memorable games that will amaze audiences across the world” and stressed that Sochi’s “new year-round resort” forms “part of the legacy of the games that will transform the region for generations”.