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Russia: The Threat
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October 27, 2007: The current government, led by former KGB official Vladimir Putin, is very popular. Former KGB officers predominate, and they are well educated and capable. The KGB was always the place to be, in the old Soviet Union, if you were bright, ambitious and not troubled with an overactive conscience. Putin's people have got the economy going (at six percent, Russia has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe), cracked down (but certainly not eliminated) on the lawlessness and corruption, and played to the popular affection for "restoring Russia's place in the world" (becoming a superpower again.)

Russia can't become a superpower again because it's population is shrinking (low birth rate, like the rest of Russia), and all those nuclear weapons are great for defending the country, but you need non-nuclear forces to throw your weight around. Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, Russia has lost over 90 percent of its combat power. It was disarmament by starvation (massive cuts in the defense budget) and neglect (the military leadership tried to hold on to more equipment than they could afford to maintain or operate, making the situation worse.) Digging out of the hole is going to cost a few hundred billion dollars and over a decade of effort. The government has increased the annual defense budget to $38 billion, and promised to spend $222 billion over the next eight years to rebuild the conventional forces. It takes time to rebuild fleets and armies.

The quickest things to fix are aircraft, and long range bombers, especially the Tu-95s, are being refurbished, upgraded, and kept in the air over international waters a lot. This is mainly a PR exercise for domestic consumption. What also plays to the crowd is "resisting NATO." The Cold War enemy is seen as surrounding Russia. The American anti-missile systems being built in Eastern Europe, to block Iranian missiles from blackmailing Europe, are depicted as an attempt to stop Russian missiles. This appears absurd in the West, but makes perfect sense to most Russians. "They" are out to get us, is what most Russians think. Decades of Soviet propaganda about foreign plots to destroy Russia, enhanced by the widespread destruction of World War II, have left their mark.

What worries the West the most is that Russian democracy has been modified to suit local tastes. That means a concentration of power. This scares most other democracies, because it makes it easier for the supreme leader to do something rash. Without a separation of powers (executive, legislature and courts balancing each other), the top guy can easily start trouble the country cannot afford. But most Russians prefer this concentration of power. Old customs die hard.

Russians see themselves as victims, having been swindled out of their former wealth, glory and real estate by foreign plotters and exploiters. All this seems irrational to Westerners, but it means something to many Russians, although often at a subconscious level. This leads to an "anything goes" attitude towards foreigners. That explains Russian refusal to crack down on Russian hackers who are plundering Western businesses via the Internet. It also explains Russia's casual use of energy embargoes against countries (usually weaker ones that cannot retaliate economically). Europe is a major customer for Russian natural gas, and gets this message loud and clear.

Meanwhile, there's still a war at home. Islamic terrorists continue to stir things up in the Caucasus. A few days ago, a female suicide bomber blew herself up in a bus in Dagestan, killing herself and wounding five others. That indicates a poorly constructed bomb vest, and the fact that the most capable Islamic radicals have been killed or captured. But the spirit is still alive, especially in areas adjacent to Chechnya. Russia is using a carrot and stick approach to this. Security forces have been increased in the Caucasus, and much support has been given to Iran. Selling weapons and nuclear energy technology to Iran is important, and vigorously supporting Iran's right to be well armed and in possession of nuclear technology, insures that Iran does not support Islamic terrorism inside Russia. Iran is a major player in providing that support, although Iran is very discreet about it. But not so discreet that the Russians haven't noticed.

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andyf    supreme leader doing something rash?   10/27/2007 12:44:12 PM
like invading iraq?
how many of our lads dead for the sake of weapons of mass destuction  and involvement in 9-11 the oil prices
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CJH       10/27/2007 12:51:02 PM
Isn't Russia exporting a lot of petroleum? Won't oil revenues help with a rebuild of the military?
One thing the old regime had in its favor was that the people were generally ignorant about conditions in the world outside the USSR. I doubt that the Russian people are so ignorant now.
Solzhenitsyn wrote a lot in his first Gulag Archipelago about how Stalin imprisoned Soviets who had been repatriated from Europe at the end of WWII. Stalin did so apparently to prevent them from exposing how greatly the Soviet government had misled the people concerning western society.
Also, it was reported in the seventies or eighties that people in the East Block countries were being shown film footage of 1930s US labor violence which footage was misrepresented as of events then taking place.
The current Russian government's effort to scare its people with the threat of western aggression must be relatively limited by the accomplishments of the information age.
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Dave_in_Pa       10/27/2007 1:52:58 PM
Andy F, same old tired, illogical argument.

Given that the US has spent a third of a TRILLION dollars in Iraq just so far, that works out to about 4.4 BILLION barrels of oil, at $75 average price. And THAT is more than the entire oil reserves of most oil-producing countries of the world, except for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq (when they get production back up), the UAE, Quatar, Venezuela, Mexico and Canada.  And since the US uses about 16 MILLION barrels of oil per day, that's not even a year's supply So, if it were about oil, it'd be far cheaper to just buy the oil. 

So, you can throw away your leftist conspiracy-minded newspapers and magazines and try doing some of your own objective research and thinking.

Now, back to Russia...

Russia's present and future sure look to be predictable by Russia's history. That's sad and a tragic waste and lost opportunity, for the Russian people and the rest of the world. A truly democratic Russia could be one of the great nations of the world, with much to contribute to humanity. All of that lost is the price of having Czar Vladimir Putin and his regime.

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00_Chem_AJB       10/27/2007 2:25:33 PM
Come 2008 Putin will step down, and even if it is a chosen successor put into power, successors can have a habit of not following the path that their predecessors wanted, Putin did the same to Yeltsin. But Putin has announced a bid to be the next Russian PM, a role which has no limit in office, unless he falls out with the President, so he can still keep a noose n things, how tight a noose however I do not know. Two thousand and eight brings another interesting question, how will the new face of US and Russian leadership interact with each other?
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KlubMarcus       10/28/2007 12:01:36 AM
Russia's birth rate is plummeting. She has half the US population living in more territory. That's a recipe for decline. I figure that the remnants or Russia will be carved up by Europe, the USA, china, and former Soviet republics. The Russians, what's left of them, will be living in a tiny pocket of their former size of immigrated elsewhere... probably to America!
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venucor    Demographics   10/28/2007 4:01:01 AM
Therefore,the day Russia becomes a population positive country, it automatically becomes Superpower material?
And has anybody tried to guess Germany's or Japan's population?
Only the
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CJH       10/28/2007 4:29:00 PM

Russia's birth rate is plummeting. She has half the US population living in more territory. That's a recipe for decline. I figure that the remnants or Russia will be carved up by Europe, the USA, china, and former Soviet republics. The Russians, what's left of them, will be living in a tiny pocket of their former size of immigrated elsewhere... probably to America!

If the Russian political class were smart, they would be thinking over Russia's population treand as a recipe for immigration of educated and or skilled people from the West. They would be thinking of ways to attract such people.
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zorgon       10/29/2007 8:36:08 AM
Wasn't it Lenin that said that the West would sell the rope that it is hung with.  I would like to take this moment to remind Russia that it is considered part of the West.
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Knjaz    CJH    10/29/2007 7:15:44 PM
The current Russian government's effort to scare its people with the threat of western aggression must be relatively limited by the accomplishments of the information age.
Actually, "accomplishments of the information age."  play against the West.
I belong to anti-western camp. U know why? There'a 2 special websites - and (the last 1, IMO, the best), and every day I'm reading translations of foreign press. (American, French, Italian, British, German, Polish, Belgian, Spanish, Czech etc....  sometimes Asian and Arabic)
And it makes me more anti-american\anti-western then ANY Kremlin's propaganda.
(btw, french, germans and italians are much more unbiassed then, say, americans or brits)
(All translations are correct, and have links to originals. So it's not hard to check if it was a falsification or a real article. And so far, all what I've read didn't differ from original)

P.S. After Litvinenko's death there was even conducted a research on amount of anti-russian rhetoric in various foreign  press  ; (all in russian, of course...)
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bad mood       10/29/2007 7:21:06 PM
Hold on. Let's think this one through.  Is a Czar Putin necessarily a bad thing?  The US and the Czars got along pretty cordially: They were supportive during our Civil War, long before the tide had turned in the Union's favor.  Too bad we didn't return the favor when they had a sucessionist region in Chechnya; the Russians might not be sleeping with Iran now had we acted differently.   

In fact, if the Russian people are indeed so sour against the USA isn't it better that there not be a democracy with which they could express their will?  Perhaps a clear eyed KGB man in charge, one who can brush off the prejudices of the people in favor of Russia's long term interests, is a better person to sit down with.  For Russia and the US have much to talk about, if the two sides could shut up long enough to see it.  Their Achilles heel is democraphics; ours is energy.  They have hungry and growing neighbors in Islam; they'll need help against them.  Why! Small world! These are our enemies too.

Please, if anybody who matters is reading this,  we need Russia and they need us.  Arrange a wedding.
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