Vladimir Putin has signed a decree imposing a “forbidden zone” and banning public gatherings around the city of Sochi ahead of the Winter Olympics in January and February.
The decree establishes strict controls on who can enter and move around the Black Sea resort, with vehicle searches and specially equipped checkpoints, as part of a ring of steel the Russian authorities hope will prevent the attacks threatened by insurgents waging an independence struggle in the nearby North Caucasus republics.
The decree, published in the government’s official newspaper Rossisskaya Gazeta on Friday, follows calls from the country’s most wanted Islamist terrorist for his followers to hit the Games.
Doku Umarov, the self-proclaimed Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, released a video in July in which he cancelled a ceasefire against Russian civilians and called for “maximum force” to be used to halt the Sochi Olympics.
Umarov, a veteran of both Chechen wars who has managed to elude Russian attempts to capture or kill him for over a decade, is believed to have been behind suicide bombings on the Moscow Metro in 2010 and Domodedovo airport in 2011.
While Sochi itself is a relatively quiet resort town, critics have questioned the decision to hold the Olympics in an area so close to the turbulent North Caucasus republics, where suicide bombings and shootouts between rebels and Russian security forces continue on a near daily basis.
The “forbidden zone” – closed to anyone for whom it is not “absolutely necessary” – creates an arc around the coastal resort from Russia’s border with the breakaway republic of Abkhazia in the South and extending up into the densely wooded mountains behind Sochi where the downhill sports, including skiing and bob-sleigh, will take place.
Any demonstrations, pickets or public meetings “not connected with the Olympic games” will be banned in the city between January 7 and March 21.
No vehicles without local registration except emergency services and those with special dispensation will be allowed to enter the city limits or move around within it, and sales of weapons and other restricted items will be banned for the same period.