Russia: The Usual Suspects

June 20, 2009: The global economic recession is hitting Russia hard (because it is so dependent on raw materials exports, especially oil and gas.) The GPD was down 9.5 percent in the first quarter, and industrial output shrank 17 percent last month. The government now expects GDP to shrink 6-8 percent for the year. But current budgets are based on a 2.2 percent drop. So more cuts in spending are mandatory, and the defense budget will not be immune.

Counter-terrorism operations in the Caucasus have left over a hundred people dead, wounded or under arrest so far this month. The violence down there is partly due to Islamic terrorism, but most of it is caused by the fact that the Caucasus has always been full of troublesome people. Russia took over the area in the 19th century as part of an effort to stop the raiding into southern Russia. The usual suspects are still at it.

Several retired officers have come forward and pointed out that, despite the installation of new, S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems around Moscow, the city's air defenses have basically fallen apart since the 1990s. The government made a big deal about installing the S-400s, but nothing was said about all the support gear (radars, communications) needed to provide an integrated air-defense system. These items have not been updated for two decades, and effectiveness has suffered.

June 17, 2009: Another Su-24 all-weather bomber crashed. Despite many earlier problems with this aircraft type, the air force did not ground all Su-24s until the cause of the recent crash could be determined.

June 16, 2009: Russia used its veto in the UN Security Council to block the continuation of  the UN monitoring team that has been patrolling the border between Georgia and the separatist province of Abkhazia (which was recently annexed by Russia.)

June 10, 2009: In Ingushetia, a senior judge was killed by Islamic militants, while she was taking her children to school. The judge, Aza Gazgireyeva, had been investigating earlier attacks. Killing judges and senior police officials is a favorite tactic in the region, as it often discourages prosecution of criminals.

June 9, 2009: A series of raids and search operations along the Chechnya-Ingushetia border are believed to have led to the death of Islamic terrorist leader Doku Umarov. He replaced the former head of the "Caucasus Emirate", Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, who was killed three years ago. It later turned out that the dead man was not Doku Umarov (who has been fighting the Russians since 1994).

June 5, 2009: The interior minister of Dagestan (Lieutenant General Adilgerei Magomedtagirov), while leaving a wedding reception,  was assassinated by a sniper. This was the fourth attempt to kill him in the last four years. Police are not sure if the killers were Islamic militants, political rivals or gangsters. All three groups were out to get Magomedtagirov.

June 1, 2009: Police charged two Ingush men with building the bomb used in a 2007 train bombing that injured 30 people. The incident occurred on the rail line between Moscow and St Petersburg. Police are still searching for the man who placed the bomb.

May 29, 2009: The government told the UN that it will veto any attempt to impose more sanctions on North Korea, the wake of the recent North Korea nuclear weapons test. Russia wants to try and talk North Korea down from its increasingly dire positions (politically and economically). Meanwhile, 1,600 kilometers east of the capital, a chemical munitions destruction plant (built with American technical and financial assistance) was opened. The plant will destroy over two million artillery shells filled with nerve gas.

May 28, 2009: In the southern (Caucasus) province of Kabardino-Balkaria, police killed three Islamic terrorists, one of them a leader (of a 2005 attack that killed 130 people), Anzor Astemirov. Elsewhere, police arrested several dozen active and retired military officers, who had been stealing and smuggling  millions of dollars worth of anti-aircraft missile parts out of the country each year. Police seized 22 tons of such parts. The gang also had members in Belarus and Ukraine. Such scams actually date back to the Soviet period, and grew more ambitious in the 1980s, just before the Soviet Union collapsed.

May 26, 2009:  In Dagestan, which borders Chechnya, an assassin killed a senior Moslem cleric, who had been outspoken in his opposition to Islamic radicalism.

May 24, 2009: Ingushetia, in the Caucasus, and neighboring Chechnya, was the scene of several clashes between police and various armed groups (political, or just gangsters) in the last week. Nothing unusual in this part of Russia, especially when you consider that the political corruption here is pretty bad. There aren't many people involved in making these attacks, which include roadside bombs, assassinations and ambushes, and more police are being assigned to hunt down the terrorists.

May 21, 2009: A military communications satellite was launched from the Plesetsk space center (some 800 kilometers north of the capital, near the port of Archangel). In the last few years,  Russia has been rebuilding its satellite fleet, which had deteriorated in the 1990s, when there was no money to replace satellites that had worn out (most have useful lives of less than ten years.) The Russian satellite fleet is much smaller than the Soviet one, but uses higher quality birds, since there is now access to more Western technology.

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