MOSCOW (AP) — Terrorists, hooligans and anti-corruption protesters. Those are the main concerns for the Russian security forces ahead of the Confederations Cup.
A week which began with at least 1,750 people reported arrested in protests across the country on Monday will end with the first games of the World Cup’s main warm-up event. Russia is under pressure to showcase a safe host nation, but is facing numerous challenges.
Stadiums will have airport-style security, but there have been teething troubles. In a notable setback, a Russian league game last month was used to test Confederations Cup security, but instead stood out for the many fireworks smuggled in by fans.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has imposed a package of security measures, but faces criticism from observers who say his order could hamper ordinary Russians’ lives and stifle dissent.
The measures are based on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which had a single host city and sports facilities far from inhabited areas. The June 17-July 2 Confederations Cup has four host cities and next year’s World Cup will have 11.
“Sochi was easier,” argues Russian author Andrei Soldatov, an expert on the security services. “Now we’re talking about many cities. It’s an unusual and dangerous situation.”
Russian officials say the tournament is safe.
“No direct threats against participants or guests” have been uncovered, the senior Federal Security Service official in charge of tournament security, Alexei Lavrishchev, said last week. As for security measures, “law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about.”
For years, Russia’s security services focused heavily on Islamist groups from the restive North Caucasus, where Russian forces fought two wars in the 1990s and early 2000s.
A bombing on the St. Petersburg subway April 3 killed 14 and ended a three-year run for Russia without a major attack outside the North Caucasus region. The alleged attacker, however, came from Central Asia and had no apparent links to Caucasus groups. That indicates “the emergence of new players,” Soldatov says. “I’m not totally convinced that Russian law enforcement is ready to deal with this new kind of threat.”
Russia’s major train and subway stations are equipped with metal detectors as standard, but often only a few travelers are examined in detail, and sometimes the equipment is switched off altogether. Procedures have been tightened in the St. Petersburg subway following April’s bombing, and ahead of the tournament, but many Moscow subway stations seem largely unchanged.
Airport security is tight following bombings of two planes in 2004 and a Moscow airport in 2011. By law, passengers and baggage are scanned on entry to the terminal.
Racial profiling is common for Russian law enforcement in major cities, with people of Asian appearance routinely pulled over for document checks in subway stations. Foreign fans wearing team colors are less likely to be approached.
It’s been a year since Russian fans fought running battles with England supporters at the European Championship in France, and Russia is keen to avoid a repeat.
A repeat seems unlikely, given that few foreign fans are expected at the Confederations Cup and Russia has no rivalry with its group stage opponents New Zealand, Portugal and Mexico.
As they prepare for the World Cup, Russian authorities have compiled a blacklist of 191 fans banned from attending games. To attend a game, a ticket isn’t enough – you’ll need a “Fan ID” issued only after your personal information has been examined by Russian authorities.
There will be a heavy police presence, particularly at stadiums, and restricted alcohol sales nearby.
In a trial of security measures for the tournament, thousands of police staffed a May 17 game between Russian Premier League champion Spartak Moscow and Terek Grozny at Moscow’s Confederations Cup venue.
Police staffed security checkpoints around the stadium, examining bags, patting down fans and checking banners for offensive content. Colleagues in riot gear and on horseback, plus truncheon-wielding National Guard units, lined nearby roads.
The searches didn’t stop Spartak’s fans smuggling in dozens of banned flares and fireworks, as well as shipping flares, which can be used as weapons. At one point, there was so much smoke from pyrotechnics that the game was suspended for several minutes.
Getting official permission to host a protest in Russia is never easy, and the Confederations Cup makes it even harder.
Putin’s decree means the police must approve any public gatherings in or near host cities. Holding an unapproved event puts organizers and participants at risk of arrest. Monday’s protests were a mix of officially sanctioned and unsanctioned events in different cities, and no major opposition events are planned for the upcoming weeks.
The decree also stipulates foreign visitors must register with the authorities within 24 hours on arrival in a new city, while Russians have three days. Hotels will register guests, but those using room-rental services like Airbnb face more difficulties.
“This decree needs to be seen as proclaiming a state of emergency in a certain part of the country for a period of time,” said Russian human rights activist Pavel Chikov, who filed an unsuccessful Supreme Court appeal against a similar decree at the 2014 Olympics. “The main constitutional rights don’t apply, or they apply with certain limitations.”
Still, authorities may be reluctant to apply the law to the letter to avoid bad publicity, and mass arrests are unlikely. “There will be some kind of freedom,” Chikov says.
The Confederations Cup venues are comparatively straightforward to protect – Sochi’s Fisht stadium is in the heavily-guarded Olympic Park, far from the city center, while St. Petersburg’s stadium is on an otherwise largely-deserted island. The arenas in Moscow and Kazan are in more central locations.
The World Cup will be trickier.
Many of the 12 stadiums for next year’s tournament are in provincial locations with little experience of foreign crowds.
Those include Volgograd, targeted by three bombings in 2013. Nearby cities like Astrakhan, Grozny and Pyatigorsk have also been targeted in recent years – they won’t host World Cup games, but they will contain teams’ training bases.