December 14, 2009: Russian commercial aircraft manufacturer Irkut has selected an American engine (the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G) for its new twin engine MC-21 airliner. While Russia is competitive in building airframes, it still cannot yet match Western jet engine quality. This is critical, because Western engines use less fuel and are cheaper to maintain. These are decisive factors in the airline business. Russia continues to work at catching up in the high-end jet engine business. For military engines, you can sacrifice some fuel efficiency and reliability, to achieve equal performance. But this still makes your air force inferior (aircraft are unavailable more often for engine changes and maintenance, and have shorter ranges because of poor fuel economy). China is in a similar position, but is a decade or more behind Russia. These qualitative factors extend to many other areas of military technology. This has long been the case, which is why Russian military planners like to point out that "Quantity has a quality all its own." But Russian can no longer afford larger quantities of lower quality weapons.
The current negotiations to renew Cold War era nuclear weapons restrictions treaties, have also included secret (until recently) discussions of another treaty to cover cooperation in dealing with Cyber War matters. The U.S. has been after Russia for years to help out in fighting Internet based crime. In the last few years, Russia has begun to crack down on the criminal gangs that have set up shop in Russia (where police either ignored cyber crime, or could be bribed to do so.) The Russian anti-corruption effort of the last eight years has uncovered widespread criminal activity, much of it international, using the Internet. The U.S. has convinced the Russians that many of the techniques used by these criminals, could also be employed as weapons of war, and that it was in both countries interests to work together to avoid any one country, or criminal group, from being able to do large scale damage via the Internet. Currently, China is the major source of government backed Cyber War activity, especially for stealing secrets. Both Russia and the United States have suffered from these thefts.
December 13, 2009: A natural gas pipeline in Ingushetia was shut down for a bit while police removed a bomb. It was believed that Islamic terrorists were trying to cut the supply of Russian natural gas to Armenia with the bomb. Armenia also receives gas from neighboring Azerbaijan, so even if the attack were successful, the impact would have been minimal. Terrorist attacks were up this year, although many of them were not by Islamic radicals, but by locals upset by the corruption of government officials (especially those appointed by the Russian federal government) and the poor economy.
December 12, 2009: Elections were held in Abkhazia, and, to no ones surprise, a pro-Russian president was re-elected. In nearby South Ossetia, people were told that their passports were good throughout Russia. Earlier this year, Russia took over border security in South Ossetia (population 50,000) and Abkhazia (population 200,000), two areas formerly part of Georgia. In the last year, these two ethnic separatist areas have declared themselves independent. Georgia has a population of 4.6 million, and a hostile relationship (going back centuries) with Russia. Now Georgia has to live with the fact that Russia annexed six percent of its population and territory, and no one can do anything about it. This annoys the UN, as Russia has, in effect, taken two provinces from neighboring Georgia, and gotten away with it. Russia has been doing this sort of thing for centuries, and considers it necessary to its national defense, and perfectly all right. This plays well inside Russia, not so well elsewhere. Only Venezuela and Nicaragua recognize the "independence" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. While technically independent nations, the two areas are, for all practical purposes, now part of Russia.
December 11, 2009: The battle against corruption continues. President Dmitry Medvedev has dismissed the head of prisons in Moscow, and 19 other police and judicial officials, for participating in the imprisonment and murder of a lawyer who exposed the theft of over $300 million in government funds by government officials. The anti-corruption investigations are reaching higher into officialdom, and most Russians wonder how high the dismissals and prosecutions will actually go. Currently, Russia is 146 out of 180 nations ranked as to how uncorrupt they are. Western nations tend to be the most uncorrupt, which most world leaders accept as a major reason for the economic success of the West (and nations elsewhere that have also prospered in the last half century).
December 9, 2009: The 13th test of the new Bulava, submarine launched ballistic missile, failed. This makes seven failures, a record that would normally cause a program to be cancelled. But Bulava (a submarine version of the successful Topol M ICBM) is itself a replacement of an earlier failed effort to develop a new SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile) for the new Borei class subs. These ballistic missile nuclear subs (SSBN, or “boomers”) will replace the current Delta IV class SSBNs. The Delta IVs are getting old, and have only about a decade of useful service left. Currently, it appears that the navy will get at least eight Boreis, although they are asking for twelve. But these new SSBNs are useless without a new SLBM. One Borei is in service and two more are under construction. In another decade, there might be six Boreis in service, and apparently the navy is going to get Bulava into service no matter what (like a high percentage of missiles likely to fail if used.)
December 7, 2009: India has agreed to buy four (and possibly 12) more Russian nuclear power plants, and import nuclear fuel from Russia for them. Very attractive terms were offered, apparently to get a foothold in the growing market before an Indian-American agreement went into effect allowing U.S. firms to sell nuclear power plants in India. Since 1974, American companies have not been allowed to do this, because of Indian nuclear weapons tests in the early 1970s. Western nuclear power plants are seen as superior, if more expensive, because of the Russian reputation for shoddy quality and a poor safety record. The 1974 American ban kept Western power plant manufacturers out, for the most part. But India now has 17 nuclear power plants, with another six under construction. There is a huge demand for nuclear power, because of chronic, and growing, electricity shortages all over the country.
December 5, 2009: For the last eight years, the government has been identifying and prosecuting members of extremist groups that advocate violence against foreigners, and Russians who are not Slavs (the only "real Russians" according to the extremists.) Last year, these groups killed at least 70 people with their racist and anti-foreigner violence. The years before, 105 were killed. Seven years ago, before a precise count of the deaths was even compiled, it was believed that several hundred people a year were being killed by the nearly 100,000 members of ultra-nationalist and fascist groups that had formed after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. There was always a racist tendency in Russian culture. Jews, East Asians people from the Caucasus got the worst of it. During the 70 years of communist rule, these attitudes were officially banned. But visitors, and especially college students, from Africa and East Asia would, after returning from the Soviet Union, report hostile behavior towards them on the streets, and even occasional violence. Those attitudes grew more public, and deadly, during the 1990s, as politicians found that these street thugs could prove useful. No longer, and the Russian government is again trying to suppress this aspect of Russian life.
December 4, 2009: The government once more pressed Israel to allow the Russian gift of fifty wheeled armored vehicles, be delivered to the Palestinian government in the West Bank. Russia offered the vehicles to the Palestinians in 2005. Despite two Israeli prime ministers saying the vehicles would be allowed into the West Bank, this was always halted at the last minute by opposition from Israeli military and police commanders. The argument is usually that nearly all weapons given to Palestinian governments, eventually end up in the hands of Palestinian terrorists, and are used to attack Israelis.