Moscow’s three international airports Wednesday announced a flat ban on all carry-on liquids — including medicines — as part of a mass security clampdown ahead of next month’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
The huge hubs handle the vast majority of Russia’s oversees air traffic and will receive the bulk of foreigners arriving for the February 7-23 Olympics on the shores of the Black Sea.
The unexpected decision — the latest in a string of restrictions leading up to the Games — sparked immediate protests because it covers prescribed medication and baby food.
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 city of Volgograd.
The December 29-30 railway station and trolleybus bombings killed 34 and fanned 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 new guidelines — adopted by the Federal Air Transport Agency — will remain in force through March 21 and also be applied at Moscow’s Vnukovo and Domodedovo terminals.
The government’s official Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said the restrictions will additionally extend to “some regional airports, including those in the south of Russia”.
Existing rules allowed passengers travelling across Russia to take up to 100 millilitres (3.4 ounces) of liquids on board flights.
Security has been of paramount concern ever since President Vladimir Putin beat extreme odds in 2007 to bring Russia’s first post-Soviet Games to the Black Sea resort.
Sochi will also host the March 7-16 Paralympic Games and Putin has publicly forbidden officials from taking vacations until the last foreign visitor leaves the country from that event.
Sochi mail inspections
Russia on Tuesday saw soldiers in armoured vehicles and navy officers on the Black Sea join a 37,000-strong contingent of riot and other police 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 was carrying out 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 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.
“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 ban comes just 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. AFP