Russia has claimed it foiled a plot to attack the host city of Sochi both before and during the 2014 Winter Olympics, saying its agents discovered caches of weapons that included grenade launchers and surface-to-air missiles.
Government security officials blamed Chechen separatists and Georgia for the plot, although Georgian officials denied any links with the militants and called Thursday’s accusations a sign of Moscow’s “severe paranoia.”
However, experts on the Caucasus region added that the tiny breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia, just a few miles east of Sochi on the Black Sea, could pose a realistic threat to the security of the games — a pet project of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Caucasus region is plagued with near-daily violence linked to an Islamist insurgency that spread from the Russian province of Chechnya to neighboring areas in the 1990s.
The disclosure of the alleged plot against the 2014 Games came as officials held a ceremony in Greece to kindle the flame that will be carried to London and burn throughout the Summer Olympics, which begin on July 27.
Russia’s National Anti--Terrorist Committee said the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, discovered 10 caches of weapons and ammunition on May 4 and May 5 in Abkhazia. Among the items seized were portable surface-to-air missiles, grenade launchers, flamethrowers, grenades, rifles, explosives and maps, the security service said.
Authorities said the terrorists were planning to smuggle the explosives and arms into Sochi “between 2012 and 2014 to use them during the preparations and during the games.” They did not elaborate on how they reached this conclusion.
According to the committee, the FSB suspects the mastermind of the plot to be Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov, whom it alleges has close ties to Georgia’s secret service. The committee said Umarov had coordinated the delivery of the weapons and ammunition to Abkhazia, although it did not further specify his involvement.
Umarov has claimed responsibility for last year’s bombing in a Moscow airport that killed 35 people. The ailing Chechen separatist is widely seen as the nominal leader of fractured groups of Islamists and separatists in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region.
Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in a war in the early 1990s — and one of the warlords who helped drive out Georgian forces was Shamil Basayev, who later led Chechen separatists and was dubbed Russia’s most wanted terrorist.
Although Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia in 2008 and received large amounts of support from Russia, it remains roiled by political unrest and filled with weapons and ammunition left over from the war.
In February, Abkhazia’s leader, Alexander Ankvab, barely survived a sixth assassination attempt — apparently organized by a former interior minister who shot himself in the middle of last month after security officers tried to arrest him.
Akhmet Yarlykapov of the -Moscow-based Ethnology and Anthropology Institute said he doubted that Georgia was involved with Chechen militants.
Georgian authorities “can hardly side with separatists and organize diversions,” Yarlykapov said.
Georgian Interior Ministry chief of staff Shota Khizanishvili denied any links between Georgia and Umarov.
“I can only say that the National Anti-Terrorist Committee is staffed with people with peculiar fantasies,” Khizanishvili said. “They’re always trying to accuse Georgia and its secret services of everything in any situation and without any grounds. This is a sign of severe paranoia.”