Rachel Marsden: Pre-Olympic partnerships offer security hope for Sochi
By Rachel Marsden
At the London 2012 Olympics, various media outlets probed the notion of the Olympic athletes’ village being a giant bed-hopping venue — a phenomenon that not only disgusted my mother every time she heard it mentioned (which was often) but also puzzled me as a former international-level swimmer who spent every night before a race hunkered down doing visualization exercises. What does make sense, though, is the kind of pre-Olympic bed-hopping that we’re currently seeing among nations in the run-up to the Sochi Games.
In 2012, Russian paratroopers visited Fort Carson, Colo., to take part in two weeks of training alongside members of the U.S. Special Forces. Steven Osterholzer, a spokesman for the 10th Special Forces Group, told the Associated Press that mutual understanding between the two nations’ military forces is essential in joint military and humanitarian operations such as antiterrorism measures and disaster relief.
Today, in light of the pre-Olympic bombings in Sochi, such collaboration makes all the pragmatic sense in the world.
Last March, Russia decided to reinstate its special operations combat forces command — known as Spetsnaz GRU and under military intelligence control during the Soviet years — which had been disbanded after the 2008 Georgian conflict. At the time, observers in Russia and abroad wondered why. Some figured it might be due to Europe’s missile defense system, or to counter America’s Special Forces activities abroad.
Keep in mind that, at the time, Russia and the U.S. were continuing to engage in military cooperation under a bilateral agreement. It would be naive to think that the two countries wouldn’t welcome an opportunity to sniff out each other’s capabilities under the guise of meet-and-greet sessions on military bases. But these are trained professionals who have spent their careers picking off Islamic terrorists — not each other. It’s hardly a stretch to imagine them working alongside each other to target the same terrorists both sides have been trained to fight, this time in the context of Olympic security.
What if the joint exercises between Russian and American troops were all about the possibility that U.S troops might be put in a position to have to potentially kill terrorists in the streets of a Russian city — to keep Americans and other Westerners safe in Sochi?
Speaking of which, France and Saudi Arabia need to get a room. The two countries have been playing footsie over everything from their common regime-change agenda in Syria to defense deals to, most recently, the Saudis giving Lebanon $3 billion to buy French weapons. Hollande was just in Riyadh last week, meeting with Saudi King Abdullah, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba.
The least Hollande could have done was toss the subject of the Sochi Games onto the table, too. Hollande is known for his pragmatism. If anyone with a non-ideological agenda is positioned to significantly influence the security of the Games, it’s Hollande. And if reports from earlier this year are to be believed, Olympic security runs through Saudi Arabia.
Granted, Russia has the Saudis’ noses out of joint at the moment. Russia competes with them for oil. Russia ruined their regime-change plans in Syria by making a deal with America to rid the country of weapons. Russia is also tight with Iran, whose state media, Al-Alam, reported this little nugget related to a purported meeting in Moscow last July between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan: “Bandar sought Russia’s cooperation on several Mideast concerns, including Syria, and told Putin, ‘I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.'”
If Hollande can score $3 billion from the Saudis, he certainly has the leverage to step up and take one for Team Antiterrorism.