MOSCOW : Moscow’s two main international airports Wednesday announced a flat ban on all carry-on liquids as part of a mass security clampdown ahead of next month’s Sochi Winter Games.
Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo airports handle the vast majority of Russia’s international air traffic and will receive the bulk of foreign fans arriving for the February 7-23 Olympic festivities on the shores of the Black Sea.
Extending even to some prescribed medication and cosmetics, the unexpected ban - the latest in a string of tough security moves leading up to the Games - sparked a furious online debate among Russians. Russia this week launched the largest security operation in Olympic history aimed at warding off the threat of Islamist violence following last month’s twin suicide strikes in the southern hub of Volgograd.
The December 29-30 bombings left 34 dead and sparked fears of a renewed terror campaign by militants from the nearby North Caucasus who have threatened attacks before and during the Games.
Sheremetyevo airport said on its website that the ban covers “all liquids, including personal hygiene items, cosmetics, medicines, liquids, sprays and gels in any amount.”
It also applies to “items used in arts and crafts such as paints, soil and glue.”
The restrictions - adopted by the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya) - will remain in force until March 21.
The two Moscow airports had previously let passengers take up to 100 millilitres (3.4 ounces) of liquids on board flights.
Security has been a major concern ever since President Vladimir Putin beat extreme odds in 2007 to bring Russia’s first post-Soviet Games to the Black Sea summer resort.
Sochi will also host the March 7-16 Paralympic Games and Putin has publicly forbidden security officials from taking vacations until the last foreign visitor leaves the country from that event.
Russia on Tuesday saw soldiers in armoured vehicles and navy officers on the Black Sea join a 37,000-strong contingent overseeing security in and around Sochi.
A Kremlin decree also establishes a so-called “forbidden zone” that blocks highways into the city and prevents residents from using roads leading to Olympic venues without special permits.
Russia’s postal service further announced that it has assumed checks of all mail and parcels sent to the Krasnodar region in and around Sochi “in order to ensure safety” at the Olympic events.
Security analysts argue that the tremendous attention devoted to the Sochi venues may leave the vast country exposed to attacks at other sites.
They add that draconian police measures may prove ineffective without serious efforts to infiltrate potential terror cells, notably through the use of modern technology.
“Passive (police) measures are certainly more visible, but they are also much more expensive and wasteful,” independent security analyst Andrei Soldatov told Moscow Echo radio.
Russia’s latest restriction provoked an immediate chorus of complaints.
The flagship Aeroflot airline in particular sparked an outcry by warning that travellers will be stripped of their medication unless they can prove it needs to be used during flights.
“This is really inconvenient,” a man who identified himself as Yevgeny Koval complained on Aeroflot’s Twitter account.
The liquid restrictions came as other global airlines and governments relax tough guidelines first introduced in 2001 in response to the September 11 attacks in the United States.
The US Department of Homeland Security now allows travellers to take items such as baby formula and medicine “in reasonable quantities exceeding three ounces” as long as they are declared at check-in.
The European Union also allows up to a litre (33,8 ounces) of “drinks, toothpaste, cosmetic creams (and) gels” into aircraft cabins provided they are carried in transparent bags and split between smaller containers.