Russia: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

March 12, 2008: Despite all the dire predictions, Russia did not mobilize troops and threaten violence when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Russia did warn that this would lead to more separatist problems in Eurasia, as several other separatist regions use Kosovo as an inspiration to more action and violence. Meanwhile, Russia makes Western Europe nervous as Russia gas supplies are again use as a political weapon, to get Ukraine to act in a more pro-Russian manner. Western Europe is now dependent on those gas shipments from Russia, and always feared that Russia would use the gas as a weapon if there were ever a serious dispute with Russia.

Russia is investing much money and effort into building up its military equipment industries. It's naval shipyards are among the busiest in the world, turning out inexpensive, but heavily armed warships for nations unwilling to pay higher prices for Western warships. Russia also got another $1.2 billion out of India for refurbishing a Cold War era aircraft carrier. India will now pay $2.7 billion for the refurbished carrier.

Russia is consolidating many different aircraft manufacturers into one major firm, investing billions of dollars, and aiming to grab 15 percent of the world market for military and commercial aviation in the next decade. Currently, Russia has less than five percent, and that is less than half of what it had during the Cold War (when Russia and Eastern Europe were captive markets). Russia plans to develop aircraft that are almost as efficient as Western models, but will sell for 25 percent less.

Russia continues to ignore complaints, from foreigners, about Internet criminals operating openly in Russia. The most blatant of these crooks is the Russian Business Network (RBN), which operates an extortion racket against foreign web sites (among many other shady deals). RBN apparently has friends in the government, as it has been protected from foreign prosecution for years. Meanwhile, Russia is increasing its own Internet defenses by entering into a deal with IBM and several East European computer manufacturers, to market inexpensive PCs using Linux, rather than the more expensive, and vulnerable (to Internet hacking) Microsoft operating systems.

Russia will supply transport helicopters for the European Union peacekeeping force on the Chad-Sudan border. The lack of such helicopters was holding back the deployment of these peacekeepers. Five years ago, Russia provided air transports to support UN peacekeepers in Congo.

As expected, president Vladimir Putin's chosen successor, Dmitry Medvedev, won the presidential elections. Putin could not run again because he had already served two terms. That in itself is something new in Russian history. But at the same time, Putin has rebuilt the autocratic Russian government of old. Power has been recentralized, along with most media and economic assets coming under state control. Then again, the armed forces have not been reformed. Improved a bit, but not reformed, and as inept as ever. One step forward, two steps back.

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