February 23, 2009: The U.S. has been allowed to use the same railroad route through Russia, from the Baltic to the Afghan border, to move cargo containers of military supplies, that other NATO nations have been using for several months. No weapons or munitions, but these two items are usually flown in to Afghanistan anyway. The U.S. and NATO want an alternate supply route to the current one through Pakistan. The costs for the Pakistani route keep going up because of security expenses and bribes.
The Army officer corps has stalemated the massive Defense Ministry reforms. This has delayed the forced retirement of thousands of senior officers. The officer corps wants to retain the 19th century "mobilization army" system. This requires conscription of most of the male population, and maintaining those men in reserve units (which are commanded by thousands of well paid senior officers). Russian leader Vladimir Putin sees this system as unworkable. Too many young men evade the draft and the country cannot afford to equip up to a hundred reserve divisions. Moreover, Russian nuclear weapons protect the country from invasion, and what the country needs is a smaller armed forces manned by professionals. But the officer corps is having none of it, and are digging in their heels, and calling in political favors.
Meanwhile, Russian industrial production plummeted 20 percent from December to January, and the government has cut its budget another 15 percent. This includes 15 percent cuts in military spending. Procurement of new army equipment is expected to take a disproportionate share of the cuts. The already government cut its 2009 spending plans by 15 percent last December.
Last year, Russia sold a record $8.35 billion in weapons. The bad news is that sales were expected to be over $10 billion for 2008. But problems with quality control and Chinese pirating of Russian technology have caused difficulties with the two largest customers; India and China. India is buying more from the West, and Indian producers. China is simply copying Russian weapons and producing them locally. Nevertheless, Russian arms manufacturers have a backlog of over $20 billion in orders. About half this is aircraft, mostly Su-27/30 type fighters. In the last decade, foreign air forces have bought far more Russian het fighters than the Russian air force. But many countries see the Russia stuff as a cheap alternative to the more potent, but more expensive, Western weapons.
Some major defense firms (particularly MiG) are having financial problems. So the government is guaranteeing $416 million in loans to defense firms, to get them through their current (often recession related) financial problems.
Iran is pressuring Russia to quit screwing around and deliver the long range (over 200 kilometers) S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems that Iran ordered and paid for several years ago. International pressure has caused Russia to delay delivery. Now Iran fears that Russia is negotiating a deal where the U.S. will withdraw its anti-missile systems from Eastern Europe, in return for Russia never sending S-300 missile systems to Iran. The anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe are to protect Europe from Iranian ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Iran is expected to have this capability in 5-10 years. But for now, most Europeans are not concerned about that, and Russia has depicted the anti-missile systems as intended to weaken any Russian missile threat Europe. The Europeans aren't too concerned about this, either, but the Russians are.
Iran actually wants a wide variety of weapons (ships, tanks, artillery, aircraft) from Russia. But Iran is under UN arms sanctions, and Russian would take a major diplomatic hit if they made the sale. Then again, the current Russian economic problems (oil and other raw materials are a major export, and prices and shipments are way down because of the global recession) may force Russia to take the money and ship the weapons anyway.
February 21, 2009: In Dagestan (which is adjacent to Chechnya), police cornered and killed four Islamic terrorists.
The Defense Ministry announced that the armed forces suffered 350 casualties during the August 8-24 operations in Georgia last year. This included 64 dead and three missing.
February 15, 2009: Off the Pacific coast, a coast guard patrol boat pumped over 500 30mm shells into a Chinese coastal freighter, that was trying to escape police custody in a nearby port. Eight of 16 sailors on the freighter died in rough seas before the coast guard could pick them up. Russia first reported the Chinese freighter as just sinking in rough weather. When the real story came out a week later, China was furious. But Russian border forces have always (as in for centuries) been quick on the trigger. Late in the Cold War, two jet airliners were shot down after they strayed into Russian air space. It's something of a tradition.
February 13, 2009: In the Gulf of Aden, north of Somalia, the nuclear powered battle-cruiser, Peter the Great, captured ten Somali pirates and turned them over to Yemeni police. Peter the Great is on an extended good will tour, and has already visited Venezuela and Cuba, after cruising across the Atlantic from its Arctic Ocean base east of northern Norway.
February 12, 2009: A Russian space satellite that shut down fifteen years ago, collided with an active American communications 800 kilometers over Siberia. Meanwhile, in the Caucasus, five Islamic radicals died in a shootout with police, which also left four policemen dead. The Islamic radicals were planning a suicide bomb attacks against the local government. In India, Russia delivered the first four of twelve MiG-29KUB aircraft, modified for aircraft carrier operation. The 300 older Mig-29s in Russian service are still grounded because of suspected structural problems.
February 10, 2009: Police in North Ossetia arrested 30 men for the murder of a mayor and ex-mayor last November. Some of those arrested belonged to criminal and Islamic terrorist groups in neighboring Ingushetia. The Ossetians are Christian, while those in nearby Ingushetia and Chechnya are Moslem. The two groups do not get along, and never have.