The government continues to accuse NATO of seeking to threaten Russia. This seems absurd to most Westerners but appeals to many Russians. Paranoia about external (NATO and, less openly, China) and internal (corruption) threats is a popular pastime for many Russians. Media can always attract some attention with a story that features a novel twist on some ancient fear. The paranoia often backfires. For example, Russian efforts to recruit more volunteer soldiers (to handle tasks that require long training and lots of skill) continues to have problems. Most Russians fear military service, despite dramatic reforms in the last few years. Russian troops now live much better but most young Russian men don’t believe it and continue to avoid conscription or voluntary service. As a result, the government has announced that conscription is here to stay for the foreseeable future, but only for support troops, especially jobs that require little training. Conscription is very unpopular and service has been reduced to 12 months. Efforts to curb draft dodging have had little effect, so the government is considering giving those who have done their military service (as a conscript or volunteer) a major edge in getting government jobs. This would be an unpopular law, and most Russians believe it’s just a ploy by bureaucrats to create a new source of bribes.
The endemic corruption is proving to be a major obstacle to economic growth. Domestic and foreign businesses are not investing in Russia largely because of the corruption. The government is trying to reduce the corruption but that has proved very difficult. There has always been a lot of corruption in Russia, even during the 70 years of communist rule. During that period corruption officially didn’t exist and could not be openly discussed or officially addressed. Since the communists lost power in 1991, the corruption got worse (because the hated secret police were gone) but so did public discussion. Now the government had to make convincing efforts to curb corruption. There’s been some progress but the government still frequently ignores its own laws and foreigners are increasingly reluctant to do business in Russia because of the lack of enforceable rules. The government will have to solve this problem and keep it solved for several years before most foreigners, and a lot of Russians, return to investing in Russia.
The new rules forcing government employees to reveal all sources of income has led, for the first six months of the year, to at least 200 civil servants (including eight senior officials) getting fired for not being able to explain all their non-government income. Auditors checked declarations from 130,000 people and 3,000 of those faced some form of punishment for irregularities. Many of the most corrupt officials bribed their way out of any trouble.
The navy admitted that because of a Bulava (also known as R-30 3M30 and SS-NX-30) SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile) test failure earlier this year the two new Borei class SSBNs (ballistic missile nuclear subs or "boomers") will not enter service until next year at the earliest. The Defense Ministry is waiting for five more Bulava tests and only allows the two new Boreis go to sea for training that does not involve its SLBMs.
Over the last month there have been a growing number of incidents where Turkish F-16s are sent up to escort Russian military aircraft that are coming too close to Turkish air space. This is apparently part of the Russian effort to support the Assad government in Syria. The Turks continue to provide support for the anti-Assad rebels and are not particularly bothered by Russian pressure.
A more concrete measure of Russian success in supporting the Assad government is the change in the exchange rate for the Syrian pound. It is currently 115-120 pounds to the dollar. That’s up from 220 two months ago and a peak of 300 three months ago. The exchange rate was 50 pounds to the dollar before the rebellion began in 2011. The change in exchange rates also reflects the failure of the rebels to make much progress in the last few months. Aid from Russia and Iran has kept the Assad government and armed forces going. Russian banks are also risking retaliation from the U.S. by helping the Syrian government get around sanctions, and this has a lot to do with the recent strength of the Syrian currency.
Russians are losing patience with the ethnic and separatist violence in the Caucasus. Recent opinion surveys show declining support for spending any more money, or lives, to keep the peace and support the population there. A growing (almost half) percentage of Russians no longer consider the Caucasus part of Russia. Worse, while 44 percent would consider other Slavs (like Ukrainians or Byelorussians) capable of becoming “Russians” if they lived in Russia for a few years and switched their loyalty to Russia, only 8 percent thought peoples from the Caucasus were capable of that. There is more violence against Caucasian Moslems living outside the Caucasus.
India is seeking to lease another Russian nuclear submarine. This was prompted by the recent loss of a Russian made Kilo sub to an accidental explosion and continuing delays in building new diesel-electric and nuclear subs in India. India has offered to supply the cash to complete an Akula class nuclear sub that Russia halted work on in the 1990s because of money shortages. Once completed (in about four years), the sub would enter Indian service. All this would cost India about a billion dollars. This would be the third time India leased a Russian nuclear sub.
November 11, 2013: The Russian missile cruiser Varyag visited Egypt, the first such visit since the Cold War ended in 1991. The Varyag will leave on the 16th.
November 4, 2013: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) Islamic terrorists shot dead a judge. Elsewhere in Dagestan police shot dead three Islamic terrorists.
November 2, 2013: Russian and Japanese officials met in Japan and agreed to build military ties between the two countries. This is in spite of an ongoing dispute over some islands between the two nations and Russia’s official alliances with China. Both Russia and Japan realize that North Korea and China are a threat to both of them and Russia is risking annoying China by seeking regional allies.
November 1, 2013: The government is prosecuting officers responsible for safety at an army training area, after six paratroopers were killed (and wounded two others) by an old artillery shell exploding at a training range in northwest Russia on October 22nd. The paratroopers were engaged in night training and were returning to their base in total darkness when one of the soldiers tripped on an old artillery shell that had not gone off after hitting the ground years ago. Such shells are often unstable and will often detonate years later if disturbed.
October 30, 2013: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) Islamic terrorists bombed two liquor stores, killing one and wounding eight civilians.
October 29, 2013: In the Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria) a battle with Islamic terrorists left two of them dead along with one policeman.
October 28, 2013: Security forces in the Caucasus carried out 48 raids over the last week. This resulted in the death of four Islamic terrorists and the arrest of twelve more.
Two Russian Tu-160 bombers flew 13 hours and over 10,000 kilometers to Venezuela as part of a training exercise. Russian Tu-160s did this once before, in 2008, flying the same route from northern Russia to northern Venezuela. These flights are publicity stunts that serve little military purpose (except to give Norwegian and British fighters some practice intercepting Cold War vintage aircraft as they head for the high seas). The Cold War era Russian maritime air patrols were marginally useful back then but are pure PR these days. The Tu-160 flights are basically the same, although Tu-160s can carry more weapons, including cruise missiles.
Jordan has selected a Russian firm to build Jordan’s first nuclear power plant (for about $10 billion).