Russia has implemented a host of new security measures in Sochi, a month ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Following twin suicide bombings in Volgograd, a 'forbidden zone' has been established around Sochi.
The new "forbidden zone" around Sochi will block highways into the city and prevent even local residents from using the roads leading to Olympic venues without special permits. The largest security operation in Olympic history will be enforced by tens of thousands of police officers and army troops.
"From January 7, all divisions responsible for ensuring the security of guests and participants at the games are being put on combat alert," Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov told the Itar-Tass news agency. "All security issues for the Winter Olympics are being dealt with at the highest international level."
The games, which run from February 7 until February 23, were explicitly threatened by Chechen insurgent leader Doku Umarov, who in July urged Islamic militants to use "maximum force" to prevent them going ahead. At least 34 people were killed in twin suicide bombings on December 29 and 30 in Volgograd. No group has yet claimed responsibility, but Russian investigators have said they believe the bombings were linked.
The build-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics - costing around $50 billion (37 billion euros) - has also been marred by complaints over Russia's approach to gay and human rights, while Sochi locals have been left upset about the new security measures.
Russian media reports say that, under the decree issued by President Vladimir Putin, only car and truck drivers with special accreditation are being let through police checkpoints on highways leading into the city. In Sochi, specially marked 'Olympic lanes' can only be used by certain vehicles.
Drivers without permits to enter Sochi can only do so by leaving their vehicles in car parks at least 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, taking the train instead. More than 200 locals protested on Sunday, holding a banner that read: 'Natives of Sochi own the games, not the visitors.'
Officials have asked Sochi residents to avoid making unnecessary car trips and also moved to assure them the city would not be short on supplies: "There will be no lack of food, that is our main task: food and medications and consumer goods," Shushpannikov, an official on the Olympic transport committee, told local television station Vesti Sochi.
"All the shops, markets and wholesale stores will be working normally."
ph/msh (Reuters, AFP)