September 29, 2009: Using intimidation and violence (17 murdered journalists), the state controlled mass media has returned after a decade of a (largely) free press. That has meant the return of the vibrant Soviet period rumor networks, seeking to find the truth that the state controlled press hides. The Internet makes it easier to find the truth, although the government is putting a lot of effort into limiting what news gets into (or around) Russia via the web. The government also wants to prevent Russians from getting the truth about Russian history. The government is rewriting the history books, an effort that plays down (or ignores) the mass murders and state sponsored terror of the Soviet period. During the seven decades of communist rule, Russia had a third of its population killed off. The Soviet government killed more Russians than German armies and Nazi death camps. The current Russian government wants to keep that knowledge buried, along with all of Stalin's victims. The new government is basically a dictatorship of the politicians and secret policemen (many of them Soviet era vets), very much like the old Soviet one, but without the communist theology. The current dictators preach democracy, and believe in it about as much as their predecessors believed in Marx and Lenin. The downside of this is a business climate that lacks the rule of law, which is keeping a lot of foreign companies out, and making it difficult for Russian firms to innovate and be competitive in an international market. This, in many respects, the Russians are back in the USSR.
September 27, 2009: Two government officials were murdered in Dagestan, another neighbor of Chechnya that is suffering more terrorist violence. The largely Moslem population of Russian controlled Caucasus has always been the scene of disorder and violence.
September 20, 2009: In Chechnya, Islamic terrorists shot dead two policemen and a moderate Moslem cleric, in two separate attacks. Most of the violence, however, has been next door, in Ingushetia, where over 250 have died from terrorist violence so far this year, compared to 96 last year. Many of the killers are Chechen militants, driven across the border by harsh counter-terrorist operations. Ingushetia suffers from poor government (corruption, incompetence) and a divided population (of about 460,000).
September 19, 2009: In a dramatic break from 70 years of "building your own," the government is negotiating with France to purchase a French designed and built Mistral amphibious ship. The deal would involve licensed production of two or three more in Russia. Before World War I, Russia often bought French naval technology, and much other military technology. But once the communists took over in the early 1920s, that all stopped. Russia is currently looking beyond its own failing defense industries for new equipment, and ideas. The French navy received the first (the Mistral) of these 21,500 ton ships in 2006, with the second one arriving in 2007. The two Mistrals are also equipped to serve as command vessels for amphibious operations. The Mistrals are similar in design to the U.S. LPD 17 (San Antonio) class. Both classes are about 620 feet long, but the LPD 17s displace 25,000 tons. The French ships are more highly automated, requiring a crew of only 180, versus 396 on the LPD 17. The Russians would improve their ship building capabilities considerably by building some Mistrals, with French assistance, in Russian shipyards. This is apparently the main objective of this deal.
September 18, 2009: The U.S., bowing to Russian pressure, agreed to scrap its plan for an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic (to defend Europe against Iranian missiles.) This greatly demoralized East European nations, who had been looking to the U.S. for help in keeping the Russians away. Russia then said it would not install 60 Iskander ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad (weapons designed to destroy anti-missile missiles). Russia feared that the anti-missile system would interfere with Russian ballistic missiles aimed at Europe. The cancellation of the American anti-missile effort was so popular in Russia, that Iran was criticized, and Russia said that it might even back harsher sanctions against Iran (for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program). This was meaningless, as China also has a veto in the UN, which is enough to stop any sanction effort.
September 16, 2009: In Chechnya, a female suicide car bomber detonated her explosives in the middle of Grozny, the capital. Several people were injured, but only the bomber died. Suicide bombings have returned to Chechnya, after having been absent for several years. That's because Islamic radicals are again active in Chechnya. It's thought that some Chechen rebels who had fled the region for Iraq or Pakistan, have returned, determined to die in their homeland, and take some of their enemies with them.
In Belarus, fifty people gathered in the capital to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the disappearance of reform politicians. Police attacked the demonstrators, beat them, and arrested 30 of them. Belarus never stopped, even after becoming independent when the Soviet Union collapsed, being run like a police state.
September 13, 2009: Russia has provided Venezuela with $2.2 billion in credit to purchase Russian weapons. Venezuela is looking for S-300 air defense systems, Iskander ballistic missiles and T-90 tanks. Russia has also agreed to help Venezuela find uranium, and build a nuclear power plant (which would enable Venezuela to create fuel for nuclear weapons.)