October 15, 2009: The government is very touchy about its nuclear weapons, apparently because it's only the nukes that can dissuade a foreign nation threatening invasion. The Russian armed forces can't do it, as it has shrunk 80 percent since the end of the Cold War in 1991, and fallen apart as well. Lack of money means that Russian military technology has not kept up. This includes the nuclear weapons. While Russia got the new Topol M ICBM into service since 1991, this was a Cold War era project, meant to replace the older, and much less effective and reliable ICBMs. But while Russia has several thousand nuclear warheads, most are undeliverable because of the post-Cold War military meltdown. In fact, they can launch only a few hundred warheads, with any assurance that these will land anywhere near where they are aimed. That's still a significant deterrent, but it is more vulnerable to anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) defenses (which are more complex and expensive than the missiles they defend against). Thus the great relief in Russian military circles when the U.S. agreed to cancel the anti-missile system planned for installation in Poland (to protect Europe from Iranian missiles). To Russia, this system threatened their much reduced ICBM attack force. It's one reason why Russian generals are now reminding everyone that Russia still considers itself willing to launch a first strike (with nuclear missiles) against a nation considered an immediate threat to Russia.
But the big nightmare is China getting ABM technology. The Chinese already know how much the Russian ICBM force has degenerated. It's one reason why China has not used the last two decades of growing affluence to build a larger ballistic missile force. They have enough, with a few dozen long range missiles, to threaten Russia. But the Russians no longer have enough usable nukes to guarantee the destruction of China, and the Chinese know it. The Balance Of Terror is still there, but tilted a bit in favor of the Chinese.
There are other worrisome relics of the Cold War in Russia. Like the long rumored "Doomsday Machine." This was a post-nuclear attack (on Russia) command and control system that would automatically launch an attack if the system detected a loss of communications with the Russian political and military leadership. The Russians have apparently never turned this system off, despite the threat of an accident setting off the Doomsday Machine (which is much less lethal these days, but still dangerous).
Russia continues to act aggressively, and threateningly against its neighbors, particularly those who used to be part of the Soviet Union (the Baltic States, Georgia and Ukraine). State controlled media report on the threatening military and diplomatic maneuvers, in an approving way. The nervous neighbors worry that this is all preparation for an attempt to invade and rebuild the old Soviet (actually Russian) empire.
In September, Russia broke a record, and pumped 10 million barrels of oil. Russia needs all the oil income it can get, as the current global recession has cut the GDP by over seven percent (three times the decline the U.S. is experiencing.) A recent UN report places Russia at 71, out of 182 nations in terms of living standards. While the urban population (which most foreigners see) lives quite well, there is still a large rural population with many of them living a 19th century life.
Courts are ruling against those who are sued by government officials, for criticizing those officials. The leader of Chechnya recently won such a case, and the grandson of Soviet era tyrant and mass murder Josef Stalin, is suing a newspaper that repeating well documented accounts of his grandfathers role in the deaths of over 20 million Russians. Many surviving Russians see Stalin as a hero, because he ruled when Russia was much larger, and more feared. Thus the popular support for the United Russia party, built by Vladimir Putin over the last decade. It runs the government, and is passing laws making it more difficult for opposition politicians to unseat what is again becoming a one-party state. The opposition is organizing for a battle, in which they are definitely the underdog.
Russia and China have agreed to allow Chinese companies to extend China's high speed (over 200 kilometers an hour) rail line into Russia. These rail lines, based on Japanese technology, are very popular in China, and would revolutionize travel in Russia's Far East.
October 13, 2009: The government revealed that it had halted a suicide bomber attack in Moscow last month. Five men from the Caucasus were arrested, and bomb material was seized. The announcement of the arrest was delayed because the five men had information that needed to be exploited first.
October 11, 2009: Ukraine did a dangerous thing, by proposing that many Soviet era memorials be destroyed, Some of these memorials honored Russians (especially secret policemen) who murdered lots of Ukrainians. Messing with these monuments will make Russian very angry.
October 9, 2009: In Chechnya, a land mine killed a policeman and wounded seven others.
October 8, 2009: In Dagestan, police caught a rebel warlord at a checkpoint, and killed him after a gun battle. Afghanistan and Russia have signed an agreement to cooperate in halting the heroin trade in Afghanistan. Many of the chemicals, needed to refine opium into heroin, are smuggled in from Russia. This new agreement will help cripple that. There will be increased efforts to also cripple the smuggling of heroin into Russia.
October 5, 2009: The senior officials of the Ingushetia government have been fired, and new leadership is being selected. Located next to Chechnya, Ingushetia has been cursed by bad government and Chechen rebels fleeing counter-terror operations across the border.
October 4, 2009: Israeli leaders came to Russia with a list of Russian scientists they believed were working on the Iranian nuclear weapons project. Russia considered this, and then denied that any Russians were helping Iran. Israel did not take this rejection well.
October 3, 2009: A report on the hydroelectric dam disaster last Summer, that left 75 dead, concluded that poor management was the cause. The turbines were installed in a shoddy fashion and management did not maintain a safe work place. This, for Russia, is rounding up the usual suspects, and is apparently quite accurate.
October 2, 2009: In Kazakhstan, 7,000 Russian and Central Asian troops carried out "rapid reaction" counter-terror exercises. This "Collective Rapid Reaction Force" was agreed on last June, and this is the first workout.