May 15, 2011: Despite huge increases in the defense budget, and promises of nearly a trillion dollars more in the next decade, efforts to rebuild and reform the armed forces has not gone well. The main problem is with the officers, as too many of them cling to Soviet era practices that cause the problems. In short, there are too many officers and too many of them are incompetent. Efforts to get rid of a lot of these losers have been sabotaged. Corruption and inability to fix problems and innovate has been a constant with the officers, and the government is facing the fact that it will take a decade or more to flush the poison out of the officers corps. This involves things like changing primary and high school curriculum, to include more emphasis on honesty and public service, including military service. Meanwhile, the military will remain ineffective. For this reason, more emphasis is being put on nuclear weapons, which can provide a compelling threat against potential enemies.
Another troublesome leftover of the Soviet period (1921-91) was corruption and incompetence in defense industries. Even though most of these operations went bust during the 1990s, many of the survivors still produce substandard and overpriced products, and can't deliver on schedule. For these reasons, a major user of Russian weapons (India) is soliciting non-Russian firms to build spare parts for Russian weapons. There are already many non-Russian firms offering better (and often cheaper) spares, as well as popular upgrade services. It gets worse, as India also blames defective Russian rocket engine parts for the recent failure of an Indian satellite launcher.
Russia has taken sides in the current round of Arab rebellions. Seeking to protect huge weapons sales, and existing contracts in other areas, Russia is backing the dictators, particularly in Syria and Libya. Weapons exports have stalled in the last few years, because of problems with the two biggest customers (China and India). Without those export sales, more Russian defense firms will go out of business, and these Arab dictators are still big customers.
Old habits die hard, as shown by how Russia is tolerant of neighboring Belarus, the last real dictatorship in Europe, and one run by Soviet era politicians. Belarus is truly the last functioning (barely) remnant of the Soviet Union, complete with secret police, repression of all dissent and nostalgia for the good old days of the Soviet Union and the KGB (Soviet secret police.)
Four more police generals were dismissed, as part of a major anti-corruption effort. For over a year now, all members of the 1.28 million strong national police force have undergone evaluation (for incompetence and/or corruption). By the end of the year, 14 percent of current cops, who do worst in the evaluation will have been fired. This is going to be interesting. It's a bold move by Russia's president and his staff, and it's the sort of thing Russians expect from their leaders. But the bold moves don't always work, especially when it's believed that far more than 14 percent of cops are corrupt or incompetent. It's not just the police who are being evaluated and purged. It's happening to senior officials as well. There's no shortage of government officials who need to be replaced, or simply fired and not replaced.
The continuing violence in the Caucasus has caused many people to flee to other parts of Russia. There, the refugees from Caucasus violence run into ancient antagonism against outsiders, especially Moslems from the Caucasus. This is a growing source of crime and civil unrest in cities with growing immigrant populations.
The government is getting more involved in Afghanistan, mainly because the heroin coming out of Afghanistan is killing over 30,000 Russians a year, and causing the addiction of several million more. Police estimate that about 30 tons of heroin and opium are smuggled in via Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan each year, and that only about ten percent of this stuff is seized in transit. Russia also believes that little of the Afghan heroin entering Russia is moved on to Western Europe. Those countries are supplied by heroin smuggled out via Pakistan, and ships leaving the port of Karachi.
May 13, 2011: Police arrested two wanted Islamic radicals in the southern city of Astrakhan (which has a large Moslem population.) Such arrests are becoming more common. This is partly because Islamic radicalism is growing more popular among Russian Moslems, largely because of the poor economies and corruption in Moslem majority areas.
May 10, 2011: In Dagestan, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest when he encountered an army checkpoint. Two civilians were wounded. In nearby Kabardino-Balkaria, counter-terror forces killed four terrorists they had tracked to an apartment building, and found the dead men were defending a bomb making workshop.
May 9, 2011: The annual Victory (over Germany in 1945) Day parade was held in Moscow. It was the largest ever, featuring 20,000 troops and a growing array of new weapons. World War II (the Great Patriotic War in Russia) is still a very big deal. The conflict killed 18 percent of the population, a figure that was a state secret until the Cold War (and the Soviet Union) ended in 1991. Before that, the Soviet government downplayed their wartime losses, which were about twice what the Soviets would admit to. The war was a catastrophe for Russia, destroying much of the economy, in addition to causing widespread hunger and privation. It took decades to repair most of the damage, and the annual victory celebration was a reminder of all that. But things change. By the 1970s, older Russians were beginning to complain that memories were starting to fade. Younger Russians were put off by the forced celebrations and constant propaganda extolling the efforts of the Communist Party in defeating the German invaders. When the Cold War ended, the annual parades continued, but without the forced attendance. The government is trying to maintain Victory Day as something important for most people. Thus the big parade this year, which cost a record $43 million. It's become less a celebration of how great the Communist Party was, and more about how the Russian people came together to defeat a common enemy.
May 8, 2011: In Dagestan, several clashes resulted in eight Islamic terrorists, and one policeman killed.
May 3, 2011: In Chechnya, a senior al Qaeda leader in the Caucasus, Doger Sevdet, was found and killed. Another al Qaeda member also died in the gun fight.
May 1, 2011: A district police chief in Dagestan was shot dead. It's unclear if the killers were Islamic terrorists, or local gangsters.
April 29, 2011: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin fired the head of the Russian Space Agency, in response to several recent failures. Such dismissals of senior officials is an old Russian custom. In the past, the official would be sent to a prison camp or executed, but these days losing your well-paid job is punishment enough to encourage other officials. But one problem officials running technical government operations have is that many of the most talented technical and managerial people have emigrated or have higher paid jobs in the civilian sector.
In the Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria), police killed ten Islamic terrorists.
April 28, 2011: The government has got a new law enacted, that forces banks to disclose information about candidates for political office. The government wants to make it harder for criminal candidates to run for office, which many now do. The government is trying to eliminate the many forms of deception used by politicians and government employees to hide illegal activities.
April 24, 2011: In Dagestan, a wanted Islamic terrorist leader, Gadzhiyav Gaziyev, was tracked down and killed, along with another terrorist.
April 22, 2011: In Chechnya, police found and killed the chief al Qaeda liaison with local Islamic terrorists, Haled Yusef Muhammed al Emirat, and killed him. The dead man had been sought for years.
April 18, 2011: The admiral handling the purchase of three Mistral class amphibious ships from France has been replaced. No reason was given, but the government was unhappy when the admiral was siding with France's demand for a 17 percent higher price ($1.15 billion). France has a reputation for doing whatever it takes to obtain export sales, and Russian military officers have long had a corruption problem.
In Dagestan, Islamic terrorist leader Israpil Validzhanov, and three of his followers, were cornered and killed by police.