Russia: War With Georgia

August 8, 2008: A week of fighting in Georgia (on Russians southern border in the Caucasus) was apparently a Georgian attempt to finally defeat ethnic separatists in the breakaway area of South Ossetia (population 50,000). Georgia announced that it had liberated the separatist area. Russia has not yet announced if it will go to war to support the, apparently, defeated South Ossetian separatists.


There is a second such area; Abkhazia (population 200,000). Georgia has a population of 4.6 million, and a hostile relationship (going back centuries) with Russia. In response to this bad attitude, Russia has backed the rebels of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (which are on the Russian border) since the early 1990s. Georgia was part of the Soviet Union (and Russia) for over two centuries. Georgians tolerated this for a long time as the only way to keep the Moslem Turks out of Christian Georgia. But with the end of the Cold War, this was no longer an issue and the Georgians wanted the Russians gone. The Russians considered the Georgians ungrateful and unreliable (for allowing Chechen rebels to hide out in neighboring Georgian mountains.)


The fighting in South Ossetia and Abkhazia had stopped over a decade ago, because Georgia could not muster sufficient military force to regain control of the two breakaway border areas. Then a UN brokered peace deal brought in several thousand Russian peacekeepers. About ten days ago, there were were reports of gunfire and mortar shells exploding in South Ossetia. In the last few days, Georgian Su-25 ground attack aircraft were seen hitting targets in South Ossetia. Artillery shells were reported to have hit a Russian peace keeper barracks. Russia announced that it was sending more peacekeeping troops to South Ossetia. Russian aircraft were reported to have bombed targets just inside Georgia. Russia was unable to get the UN to pass a resolution demanding that Georgia cease efforts to get back control of its territory.


August 7, 2008: The government has been making a lot of noise about rebuilding the navy, with plans to build 5-6 aircraft carriers, and new classes of nuclear submarines. But this is, for the moment, mainly a PR exercise, as the announced plans don't start building anything for another five years. There's a practical reason for that, as many of the smaller suppliers of ship and weapons components did not survive the post Cold War collapse of the 1990s. New suppliers, either foreign or domestic, must be found or developed. A new generation of specialists and technicians has to be recruited, for the Cold War era people are now largely gone (either retired, or moved on to more lucrative work.) Moreover, the current Russian economic boom is driven largely by oil and gas exports (which account for 60 percent of all exports, and 20 percent of GDP.) By comparison, the more varied economy of neighboring Poland, with about a quarter of Russia's population, has 15 percent higher per-capita GDP. Russia still living off its past, especially when it comes to military affairs. A generation of military research and development was lost, along with the research facilities, suppliers and skilled people. The government is having a hard time convincing the new consumer-goods oriented economy to get behind military work. So new state owned weapons corporations are being formed, and these will likely be as inefficient as their Soviet predecessors. Right now, Russian arms exports are seen as a generation behind the West, but cheap and generally reliable. If your neighbors don't have Western stuff, the Russian weapons will do.


August 3, 2008: Russia is quietly preparing to deliver and install S-300 (similar to the U.S. Patriot) missile systems to Iran. For the past year, Iranian operators and technicians have been training in Russia, and some components of the missile systems have already been delivered. Russia has opposed greater economic sanctions on Iran (for its nuclear weapons program, which it says it doesn't have). The only other threat to the Iranian nuclear program (for which Russia is a major supplier) is an air raid by Israel. The S-300s are supposed to help prevent that. By the end of the year, or early next year, the S-300s will be in place.



August 1, 2008: It's been a scary Summer in the Caucasus. Small groups of Islamic terrorists appear to be following through on their threat to terrorize the police into submission. This is done by killing policemen. Sometimes it's an ambush on a rural road, but a recent attack had a lone gunman walk into a village cafe, shoot three policeman, and leave. Special counter-terror police are tracking down these groups, who are usually more into crime than religious extremism, although that is necessary just to keep the group going. There's been a reaction to this in many large Russian cities. Young nationalist thugs are attacking anyone who is not an ethnic (Slav) Russian. This is especially true of those from the Caucasus, Middle East, East Asia or Africa. In Moscow alone, there have been 10-20 such assaults (one or two of them murders) a month.


July 31, 2008: Russia pulled about 400 of 2,500 peacekeeping troops out of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia. Georgia resents this "peacekeeping" mission as it is see as supporting the rebels, and another Russian effort to punish independent minded Georgia.


July 23, 2008: Negotiations are underway with India to jointly develop a new tank, to replace the T-90 that India is building (under license) to become their main battle tank. India will eventually have 1,600 T-90s, with most of them built in India. At the moment, India has more T-90s than Russia, and unless the Russian army places some large orders, India will continue to be the largest user of the T-90 (which is an upgrade of the thirty year old T-72 design.) The new design is expected to be a major departure from the T-72 design, employing lots of new technology.


July 21, 2008: Russia and China have finally settled decades old disputes along their 4,300 kilometers of border. Some of these disagreements go back nearly a century, and the two countries fought several border skirmishes in the 1970s. A treaty was worked out with North Korea over less serious border issues, along a much shorter border.



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