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Russia: Counterfeiting, Corruption and the Caucasus
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February 5, 2007: Without much fanfare, the government is making some progress eliminating corruption. Payoffs to get into college, a hospital, or to stay out of the army, have been staples of Russian life for generations. Even in the time of the czars, a century ago, bribes were a problem. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the corruption became more common than at any other time in Russian history. Someone demanding bribes to do their job was no longer an occasional risk, it was now expected. Those demanding bribes were delighted, as they were getting rich. Most Russians were furious, thus the current government campaign to root out the problem is very popular. There are more pragmatic reasons. In the military, for example, officers, NCOs and older troops have long exploited new conscripts. It has gone beyond shakedowns and beatings to cases where the parents of the new troops are told to send lots of cash, or their boy will get hurt real bad. No wonder so many other parents bribe conscription officials to keep their sons out of uniform in the first place. But many Russians still serve for patriotic reasons, and are appalled at the corruption in conscription, and the way the military is run. Military bases are still full of officers and NCOs who will make all sorts of deals, if you are willing to pay enough. Russia will never have a first class military as long as all this corruption is rampant. The government is rounding up the usual suspects, and trying to scare the majority of corrupt officials straight. This works, to a point. Then you have to come back and root out the hard core crooks. It will take several years to see if the government has the gumption to battle its own officials for that long. 

February 4, 2007: In Dagestan, a Caucasus province next to Chechnya, someone tried to murder a top police official, as well as police on their way to another incident involving a police detective. It's unclear if this was the work of Islamic terrorists, or local gangsters. Both groups use similar terror tactics. 

February 3, 2007: Police in  Ingushetia located, attacked and killed a group of five Islamic militants. This crew had been operating in the area for at least three years. 

February 2, 2007: In Chechnya, local police continue to identify and capture or (more usually) kill Islamic radicals. Most of the Chechen rebels who have not made deals with the government (usually to join the counter-terror forces and police), have fled. Some have shown up in Iraq and Afghanistan, but most are in areas just across the Chechen border. 

February 1, 2007: Russia is still counting the income from 2006 arms sales. The total is somewhere north of $6 billion. Russia now has only one firm authorized to export weapons; Rosoboronexport . This is more efficient and, as the Russians like to point out, makes it more difficult for rogue exporters to ship weapons to people who should not be getting them. Rosoboronexport, as a government agency, also coordinates diplomatic efforts to make sales, and provides financing and other support (like intel from the FSB and military intelligence, training or mercenaries to operate complex systems).   

January 31, 2007:  Someone attempted to murder the head Islamic cleric in Ingushetia, which is a neighbor of Chechnya. Islamic radicals, driven out of Chechnya, are suspected. But the cause could also be some local feud.  

January 27, 2007:  While China wins first place when it comes to stealing technology and producing counterfeit goods, Russia is solidly in second place, turning out about a third as many counterfeit goods as China. Together, they have about 80 percent of the market. Russia feels put upon because many military items that Chinese manufacturers counterfeit are of Russian design. Western nations would like to get both Russia and China to crack down on the counterfeiting. That won't be easy. In both countries, the counterfeiting is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, run by guys who know how to bribe the right politicians. The counterfeiters have another incentive to keep the prosecutors at bay; counterfeiting kills. Phony medicines and aircraft engine parts have both been linked to deaths in Africa and Asia, where the imitation goods are often sold.

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