Russia: The Mystery In The Forest

March 7, 2010: The army insists that the 200 T-72 and T-80 tanks found in the woods next to a railroad station in the Urals last week, was part of a normal movement of military equipment, and the vehicles were under guard. But a week ago, people living in village of Elanskaya (outside the city of Yekaterinburg) noted the vehicles, unguarded, and unlocked, but without ammo or ignition keys. Local kids began crawling in and out of the tanks. Videos of all this began showing up on local, then national, web news programs. The government controlled national media tried to ignore it at first. Eventually the troops showed up, and then the tanks began disappearing, as trains with flat cars came by at night to pick them up. The situation raised, once more, the issue of the military wasting resources by trying to retain obsolete equipment. This may have made sense at one time, when military technology didn't change as rapidly as it has for the last few decades. Keeping over 20,000 tanks in service, when only 6,000 are needed, is seen as a waste of resources. The army responds that it had 50,000 tanks at the end of the Cold War, and has already sent most of them to the smelters. But as the recent episode demonstrated, the military is still spending a lot of money on tanks it doesn't need. The army would not comment on why those late model tanks were temporarily dumped in the woods next to the Trans-Siberian railroad. But one can surmise that Russia was building up its tank strength out east.

Major reforms in the military are into their third year, and the military is shrinking (losing nearly 200,000 officers it did not need) and getting cleaned up (several major corruption investigations have cut theft of cash and equipment). But morale remains low (still lots of suicides and accidental deaths). There's a long way to go yet.

Russian attempts to replace Iran's aging AirBus and Boeing airliner fleet with Russia aircraft has apparently failed. Iran has ordered dozens of Russian pilots (for the Russian airliners Iran does use) to leave the country within two months. Iran is angry that Russia has again said it would deliver the S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems Iran has bought and paid for, and then said that, no, the missile systems would not be shipped.  Russia has become alarmed at Irans nuclear weapons program, and the aggressiveness and instability of Iranian leadership.

Georgia, and the Baltic States (particularly Estonia) are asking West European nations not to sell Russia amphibious assault ships. Russia has approached France and Spain about buying such ships, and Georgia and the Baltic States see themselves as the most likely targets for such vessels.

The Russian space program is suffering from a shortage of high quality volunteers to be astronauts (or Cosmonauts, in Russian). There are only forty trained Cosmonauts, and the training facilities are decades old and dilapidated. There are much better paying (and safer) jobs available to Russians who can meet the mental and physical standards for being a Cosmonaut, so the quality of recent applicants has been plummeting.

One reason Russia has been more helpful to NATO forces in Afghanistan, is that all that heroin coming out of Afghanistan has created over two million heroin addicts in Russia. Each year, 30,000 Russians die from heroin use. Russia would like NATO to crippled Afghan heroin production as soon as possible.

March 4, 2010: Prime minister Putin ordered the air force to begin planning development of a new heavy bomber. Such a project would cost billions of dollars, just to get started. The air force now has to come up with a convincing design, that will justify spending over $20 billion. The army and navy would love to have that money, and the air force will have a hard time holding on to it. The last heavy bomber, the Tu-160, was developed over two decades ago, entered service in 1987, and only 35 were built before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The aircraft is similar to the U.S. B-1, as the Russians never got to try and build something similar to American B-2.

The navy successfully tested its Sineva SLBM (sea launched ballistic missile). This liquid fueled missile is used in existing Delta IV class missile subs.

March 3, 2010: In Ingushetia, police raided a Chechen rebel hideout. The men trapped inside refused to surrender, and in the subsequent gun battle, eight of the rebels were killed (including wanted leader Alexander Tikhomirov), and ten others captured. Also seized were weapons, documents and bomb making materials which linked this group to bombing attacks on Russian railroads in 2007 and 2009.  

March 2, 2010: Russia put three more GLONASS navigation satellites in orbit. That makes 19 active ones, with 24 needed to make this GPS system complete and active worldwide.

March 1, 2010:  Per an agreement last year, the border between Russia and Georgia was reopened (at only one crossing). The border had been closed since July, 2006.

February 27, 2010: Russia has agreed to supply Lebanon with armed helicopters (ten Mi-24s), instead of ten MiG-29s. Lebanon doesn't have pilots who could match Israeli pilots in their F-16s.

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