February 9, 2009: The global recession has hit Russia hard, so now the Russians are eager to have NATO and U.S. supplies (no explosives or weapons, though) shipped to Afghanistan via Russia. That means millions of dollars of much needed business for Russian railroads.
Another mutually beneficial financial deal with the West includes retiring more nuclear weapons. Russia wants to proceed with deals made in the last five years, that call for Russia and the U.S. dismantling most of their remaining nukes (each nation has about 6,000). Russia apparently wants the number reduced to a thousand, rather than the current 2,000. This would save hundreds of millions of dollars a year in maintenance and security costs.
The government has again warned neighboring countries (like Estonia and Ukraine) to stop being ungrateful for what Russia did for them during World War II. This is a long standing sore point. The Baltic Countries and Ukraine consider themselves forcibly made a part of the Soviet Union. All four nations contributed troops to the Nazi war effort against the Soviet Union. Although reviled in Russia and the West, these troops are local heroes, for having fought against the hated Russians (not for supporting the Nazis.) The Russians don't get it, ignoring the fact that Russian secret police and death camps killed millions of people from the Baltic States and Ukraine. Russia considers these dead to be criminals, while the countrymen of the victims consider Russians homicidal maniacs, with delusions of grandeur and selective memories.
Speaking of delusions, hundreds of Russian MiG-29 fighters remain grounded after one of these aircraft crashed last December 5th. The cause was structural failure (the tail separated, in flight, from the rest of the aircraft). The Russian Air Force has been investigating, but has not announced anything yet. It's believed that poor maintenance and a shortage of spare parts is the main cause.
It's gets worse. Russian arms exporters see sales to China falling up to 40 percent this year. The reason is partly the poor quality of Russian weapons, and partly Chinese theft of Russian technology to build their own versions of Russian weapons (complete with flaws, but the Chinese don't seem to mind as long as they save lots of money).
Russia is proposing a new treaty between itself and the West. The main idea is that the West would promise not to invade Russia, or mess with Russian internal affairs (which tend to get messy). Russia, in turn, would stop acting like a paranoid bully.
NATO has told Russia that it is not happy with the way Russia has absorbed two portions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) of neighboring Georgia, and is building a military base in Abkhazia. Russia ignored the criticism. Meanwhile, Russia continues to have problems governing some of its border areas, that would rather be independent. Mainly, it's the Caucasus provinces of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. Long unstable because of clan and ethnic differences, the situation has been made worse by Russian economic mismanagement, and the appointment of corrupt provincial officials. The national government has sent in special police units, but that has done nothing for the unemployment and corrupt officials that anger the locals the most. The violence (weekly assassinations and raids on police stations) is spreading to Moscow, where in one recent week, there were four Caucasus related murders. The northern Caucasus has been a headache like this, for centuries. No one has ever come up with a lasting solution.
Russia has restored aid to Cuba, but at only a tenth of the Soviet era largess (which amounted to over a billion dollars a year), which ended in the early 1990s (and had been declining through the 1980s). Russia is doing this mainly to annoy the United States.
January 28, 2009: A DDOS attack coming from Russia, temporarily shut down Internet access in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. This was apparently the Russian government using its unofficial Cyber War militia to help shut down critics of a new cooperation deal between Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Russia is paying Kyrgyzstan a bunch of money ($180 million in forgiven debts, a $150 million loan that doesn’t have to be paid back, and $2 billion that does) to follow the party (Russian) line, and shut down the American air base there.
January 27, 2009: A Coast Guard patrol boat seized a Japanese fishing boat off the Pacific coast, in disputed waters. The ten man crew was arrested. It's been three years since Russia has done this, although the last time they also shot a Japanese fisherman. This time, the boat and crew were held for 11 days and then freed.
January 23, 2009: The sharp drop in raw materials prices (especially oil) has hit the Russian economy hard. The global recession has further depressed demand for Russian raw materials. Thus unemployment shot up by a million, to six million, in December. This has caused dozens of public demonstrations, which the police declared illegal, and the state controlled mass media ignored. Many people were arrested. But the Internet is not state controlled (despite attempts) and the word got around that the economy is not well all over. People blame the government, because the government has been taking over everything in sight, and there doesn't appear to be anyone else to blame. It is the governments fault, if only because government policy has made it difficult to make needed reforms (like rebuilding Soviet era infrastructure and obsolete factories). Instead, the government spent billions of dollars trying to prop up the stock market (which lost over 70 percent of its value last year.)