Special Report | Russia: Extensive Security Operation to Mitigate FIFA World Cup™ Threats

Special Report | Russia: Extensive Security Operation to Mitigate FIFA World Cup™ Threats

Executive Summary

Visitors attending the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ soccer tournament, which is slated to take place in Russia June 14-July 15, will face latent threats from criminal violence related to sports fan hooliganism and Islamist-inspired terrorism, but robust security measures at event venues, transportation hubs, and other strategic assets are likely to prevent a major incident. A strong security force presence will also likely deter petty criminals, as well as large demonstrations by opposition, civil rights, and labor activist groups. The matches are slated to take place at 12 stadiums in 11 cities nationwide. FIFA has so far sold more than 1.5 million tickets globally, and Russian officials estimate that an additional 500,000 tourists will visit during the FIFA World Cup™. The high numbers of tourists and spectators are expected to lead to an increased threat from petty crime, politically motivated harassment, and terrorism; however, security-related disruptions are likely to be the key impact on foreign visitors up to and during the tournament.

Key Judgements

  • Russian security forces have previously demonstrated their ability to mitigate threats to large-scale sporting events and safeguard attendees. Security measures, including heavy surveillance, will be extremely robust throughout the tournament.
  • Petty crime around the stadiums, city centers, transportation hubs, and on public transport will be the most significant threat to foreign travelers. Low-level harassment of foreigners may also occur.
  • Isolated violence relating to organized hooligan groups, both Russian and some from outside Russia, are possible near match venues, and in other urban centers throughout the tournament. 

Security Force Preparations and Capabilities

Security forces, in coordination with private security contractors, will implement robust security measures to ensure spectator safety during the FIFA World Cup™. Organizers will coordinate with local law enforcement and international counterparts. Thousands of personnel from a variety of agencies are expected to deploy to stadiums, FIFA event venues, and city centers. Security personnel will search stadiums ahead of events, as well as all people and vehicles entering the inner and outer security perimeters around the stadiums. Authorities will look for weapons, alcohol, and drugs, as well as potentially inflammatory or racist banners.
 
Similar to security preparations ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, authorities are installing additional CCTV in commercial areas and metal detectors at hotel entrances in host cities. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and private security agencies are carrying out thorough security audits at international hotels.
 
National intelligence, border, and customs services are also taking measures to prevent known or potential criminals, hooligans, and terrorists from entering the country or accessing FIFA World Cup™ venues. In the months leading up to the tournament, reports of arrests following to police and counterterrorism raids are likely to increase. Security measures, such as no-fly zones and increased checks at maritime borders, could lead to minor transport disruptions or congestion at border checkpoints and transport hubs.
 

Soccer Hooliganism and Targeted Violence

 
Organized and spontaneous violence associated with soccer hooliganism, either within or outside stadium venues, will be a considerable threat. Authorities will likely prevent large-scale disturbances around official FIFA venues and in cities hosting matches, though the possibility of isolated violence in urban centers around the country cannot be ruled out. Most such incidents are spontaneous and often involve verbal harassment that has escalated into clashes between rival supporters. Such incidents are more likely when participants are under the influence of alcohol. Generally, hooliganism occurs immediately before or after a match; incidents are unlikely to be limited to the immediate location of the stadium, and will be possible in and near spectator areas in other cities.
 
Organized hooligan gangs (also known as "firms") attached to national teams are likely to seek to target rival fans. Some gangs ostentatiously travel in groups, chanting and wearing conspicuous attire; others are deliberately less conspicuous to avoid detection by the police. Specific groups such as the "Russian Ultras" and hooligan firms associated with "Spartak Moscow," embrace nationalism and far-right, racist ideology. Such gangs could attempt to instigate brawls, which have the potential to result in serious injuries and cause transport disruptions in city centers and around match venues areas, as seen during the UEFA Euro 2016 soccer tournament when Russian gangs attacked England fans in Marseille. Russian firms have threatened supporters of England's national team and have reportedly claimed to have allied with groups from other countries, such as the Argentinian Barras Bravas, to target fans from England. In addition, Polish and Russian football fans have routinely engaged in brawls surrounding sports tournaments in Russia or elsewhere in Europe.
 
In collaboration with other governments, Russian authorities have blacklisted hooligan leaders and thousands of gang members from attending the tournament. The FSB has also raided the homes of known domestic hooligans who have previously incited violence. Russian hooligan groups currently appear to lack leadership, and are unlikely to be capable of overwhelming the security forces to stage a large-scale attack on rival supporters. Any targeted violence that does occur will likely take place away from official FIFA venues, such as near entertainment or commercial districts in host cities, or near transportation points such as stations or parking lots
 
Targeted harassment of Western nationals is possible in the context of recent diplomatic tensions between the Russian, UK, and US governments. Racial slurs, confrontational attire, and sometimes violence has targeted those of African or Asian descent. Anti-LGBTQ harassment is systematic in Russia, though is more prevalent outside large metropolitan areas. Nationalist activists could stage rallies against certain teams or nationalities represented in the competition. Participants at similar demonstrations during the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia shouted racially abusive statements, though there were no major incidents of violence.
 

Civil Unrest 

Opposition and other activists are likely to hold demonstrations leading up to and during the games; however, these are unlikely to pose major security concerns to spectators. Anti-government protests led by prominent opposition activists such as Alexey Navalny could plan demonstrations in central areas of cities like Moscow to tarnish President Putin's image internationally during the FIFA World Cup™. Such protests will likely attract several hundred participants, a small number compared to the thousands of spectators present at the games. Other groups, including LGBTQ, environmental, and animal rights activists, could hold rallies to gain media attention during the competition. However, any such protests are unlikely to be disruptive, as activists are required to seek permission before any demonstration, and authorities often prevent protests in central areas or at near-to-large events or high-traffic areas. Police are likely to disperse any unauthorized gatherings quickly, and they routinely use force. While opposition and civil rights protesters are unlikely to target foreign nationals, any clashes between police and protesters would pose an indirect threat to bystanders.
 

Terrorism 

There is a latent threat from Islamist-inspired terrorism during the FIFA World Cup™, though the likelihood of a significant attack is low due to militants' apparent lack of training and resources, and the FSB's enhanced counterterrorism abilities. However, North Caucasian separatist and transnational Islamist extremists retain the ability to carry out isolated attacks, and in recent years have notably done so in the republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria, as well as in larger cities like Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Volgograd.

In addition, the Kremlin's ongoing military campaign against Islamic State (IS) in Syria will continue to inspire transnational militants, as well as dissenting Russian citizens in the Muslim-dominated North Caucasus and elsewhere. The motivation to stage an attack and exploit the heightened media attention on Russia as it hosts the World Cup will likely be high. Ahead of the competition, militants are liable to try to carry out attacks, though these attempts will likely lack sophistication and involve crude bombs, knives, firearms, or vehicles. Stadiums themselves are likely to have stringent security measures in place, especially around gathering-places and transit points near venues in large metropolitan areas, such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and in cities bordering North Caucasus regions such as Rostov-on-Don and Volgograd.
 
In recent months, dozens of hoax telephone bomb threats have prompted evacuations at businesses, schools, and train stations in cities nationwide, though security forces have not found any explosives. FSB officials have reportedly traced the calls to a number of countries worldwide and claim that Islamist militants are likely responsible.
 

Crime

Petty crime will likely be the most significant threat to visitors during the FIFA World Cup™. The presence of large numbers of foreign nationals will increase the threat of opportunistic crimes such as pickpocketing or theft from vehicles or accommodations in city centers and at transportation hubs. Telephone and dating scams, and credit card and ATM fraud also pose an ever-present threat in Russia. Scammers typically target foreigners due to a perception that they are wealthy or their lack of familiarity with the area. These criminals attempt to obtain personal information by offering accommodation, transport, or other seemingly useful services for visitors. Criminals have also reportedly installed fake ATMs on the streets of tourist districts. Most crimes, petty and violent, will be more likely to escalate at night or in environments where there is heavy alcohol consumption, such as bars, nightclubs, or miscellaneous post-game events.

Conclusion

Major incidents are unlikely during the FIFA World Cup™ given the strong capabilities of Russian security forces to prevent organized terrorist attacks and criminal violence. Russian forces have a proven capability at effective security preparations and have prevented major incidents at previous sports competitions attracting teams and spectators worldwide, such as the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2017 Confederations Cup. Petty crime and low-level harassment are the most common issues for foreign travelers. However, sporadic incidents of violence or security disturbances cannot be ruled out. Russian security personnel remain vigilant for a possible, low-level terrorist incident. Increased security could also result in frequent raids, operations, or drills in city centers or nearby FIFA event venues in the weeks leading up to the start of the games. Security operations could lead to localized transport and short-term business disruptions near transport hubs or city centers.
 

Advice

 
General precautions and suggested preparations include the following: 
 
Pre-Trip:
 
  • Submit all necessary visa applications as early as possible.
  • Photocopy the contents of your wallet, including credit cards, insurance information, travel documents, etc. Email this information to yourself.
  • Identify a friend or family member as a support person for your trip. Provide that individual with your itinerary and copies of your passport and visas. Save electronic copies of these documents that can reside on your phone, not in cloud storage or a computing service.
  • Program into your phone contact information for your host, members of your party, nearest diplomatic mission, and other trusted local contacts. Print and carry a paper copy.
  • Have your transportation contact email you a picture of your driver, the vehicle to be used, and the license plate. Select hotels that have been vetted by a reputable travel security company.
  • When booking hotels, request a room near the stairs or fire exit away from the street or entrance; ideally, your room should be between the second and seventh floor.
  • If available, enroll in diplomatic mission travel security programs (e.g., STEP Program). At a minimum, register your trip with your diplomatic mission and include your contact information and itinerary.
  • Print, carry, and learn to read maps of the cities/areas you will visit. Plan your routes.
  • Visit a travel medicine provider at least eight weeks in advance of planned travel to obtain any necessary vaccinations.

During trip: 

  • Carry proper identification, such as passports, at all times.
  • Allow additional time to clear security at airports, railway stations, and border crossings.
  • Maintain contact with other members of your party; call and text them upon arrival.
  • Know the room numbers of all your colleagues. 
  • Keep children close at hand at all times. 
  • Maintain a low profile; avoid dress, including clothing with logos, and behavior identifying you as an obvious foreigner.
  • Trust your instincts. Avoid people who appear suspicious or act differently than the crowd. Avoid using luggage tags identifying you as an obvious foreigner. Luggage tags should be covered to protect your contact information and address.
  • Maintain situational awareness; always be prepared to run or hide from a threat.
  • Note sudden increases in security presence/activities in already crowded areas.
  • Refuse unexpected packages or visits from unknown people, businesses, or organizations; have all packages and correspondence delivered to the reception desk. 
  • Only eat and drink at respected establishments. Never accept drinks from strangers.
  • Arrive at matches early to allow time for bag searches and screening areas, as well as traffic.

In case of fan violence or civil unrest: 

  • Avoid streets in which a disturbance is taking place.
  • Avoid any location where police action is in progress.
  • If you are wearing any form of supporter's regalia, remove it and conceal it from view.
  • If objects are being thrown or fighting breaks out in the stadium, drop to the floor and protect yourself between the seats. Cover your head and face if attacked.
  • Do not engage in conversation with the aggressors, and avoid eye contact with them. If challenged, be polite and agreeable and do not offer any threat or criticism.
  • As soon as you feel it is safe to do so, get up and establish where the unruly mob is located and in which direction they are moving. Look in the opposite direction for the closest exit, and begin to make your way toward it.
  • If you are caught up in a moving crowd, move with it. Trying to stand still or go against the flow may result in you falling and suffering injury from being trampled or crushed.
  • If traveling in a motor vehicle, turn around and carefully drive away. If you are too close to the crowd and cannot turn your vehicle around, maneuver your car to the side of the road and park it. Get out of your car and, without panic or undue haste, move as far as possible off the road or to the end of your car away from the crowd.
  • If the crowd starts to bounce the vehicle, do not interfere. Interference will make the crowd continue more vigorously and divert new anger toward you. 

In the event of a terrorist incident 

  • Remain calm by breathing in for four seconds, holding for four seconds and exhaling for four seconds several times after an attack.
  • Silence your phone.
  • If possible, contact your nearest diplomatic mission, and ask for guidance.
  • If there is a disturbance outside your hotel, keep your drapes closed, and stay away from the windows. Extinguish all lights. If you must have some light, turn on the bathroom light and crack the door. Assemble your traveling companions in one room.
  • If you hear an explosion, resist the urge to look out the window. Seek shelter in your bathroom or, if possible, an interior stairwell.
  • If gunfire occurs, get down as low as possible and try to shield yourself behind or under a solid object, such as a heavy piece of furniture.
  • Follow all instructions and orders from security forces.
  • Remain sheltered in a secure location until you are certain the danger has passed.
  • Do not attempt to help emergency responders, and do not resist terrorist demands.
Countries Participating in the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Argentina
Australia
Belgium
Brazil
Colombia
Costa Rica
Croatia
Denmark
Egypt
England
France
Japan
Germany
Iceland
Iran
Mexico
Morocco
Nigeria
Panama
Peru
Poland
Portugal
Russia
Saudi Arabia
Senegal
Serbia
South Korea
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
Tunisia
Uruguay
 
 
2018 FIFA World Cup Stadiums
Stadium Location
Luzhniki Stadium Luzhniki, Moscow
Yekaterinburg Arena Ulitsa Repina, Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast
Fisht Stadium Olympic Avenue, Adler, Krasnodar Kray
Saint Petersburg Stadium Futbol'naya Alleya, Saint Petersburg
Kazan Arena Prospekt Khusaina Yamasheva, Kazan, Tatarstan Republic
Mordovia Arena Volgogradskaya Ulitsa, Saransk, Mordovia Republic
Otkritie Arena Volokolamskoye Shosse, Moscow
Kaliningrad Stadium Solnechnyy Bul'var, Kaliningrad, Kaliningrad Oblast
Rostov Arena Rostov-on-Don, Rostov Oblast
Samara Arena Ulitsa Dal'nyaya, Samara, Samara Oblast
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium Ulitsa Dolzhanskaya, Nizhny Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast
Volgograd Arena Prospekt V.I. Lenin, Volgograd, Volgograd Oblast

 

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