October 15, 2011: Westerners are annoyed at Vladimir Putin, in part because of his authoritarian tendencies, and the fact that he is genuinely popular with most Russians. One policy that contributes to this popularity is the Putin plan to (sort of) reconstitute the Soviet Union (which he, and many Russians, really miss) as the "Eurasian Union". This would be similar to the European Union, which some parts of the former Soviet Union are eager to join. Both these organizations are mainly economic unions, encouraging the free movement of goods and trade. The difference with the Eurasian Union is that Russia would be far more dominant that any single nation in the European Union. Moreover, the smaller nations that broke off from the Soviet Union in 1991 do not want to be dictated to from Moscow anymore. The economic benefits of an economic union, however, are an attraction. Then there is the willingness of Russia to back the dictators who run many of the successor states to the Soviet Union. Finally, the Eurasian Union also includes closer, and more peaceful, economic and political ties with China. That's a big plus with Central Asian nations, especially those that border China.
Current Russian president Dmitry Medvedev openly admits that Putin is more popular, and effective, than any other Russian politician, and he remains an ally of Putin because of that. Some Russian leaders do not agree, but they are very much a minority. Many others are waiting to see if Putin can deal with the lawlessness in the business world, which is forcing many major Russian companies to move their stock listings from Russia to Britain, along with some legal disputes. The corruption in Russia makes Russian stock exchanges and courts too unreliable. The criminality and chaos is hurting the economy. Fixing all this is a big job for Putin, but even ally, and rival, Dmitry Medvedev, believes Putin has the best chance of pulling it off. Putin is also expected to complete military reforms, something Medvedev has been pushing with growing enthusiasm.
Banditry, separatist rebels, clan warfare and Islamic terrorism continue to make the Caucasus the most dangerous region in Russia. A combination of carrot and stick are being used to pacify the area. Chechnya, the nexus for most of the violence, has received $6 billion in economic aid in the last decade, giving a big boost to living standards and economic activity. The Russian Caucasus is still a violent place, but it's now a more prosperous violent place.
New offshore oil fields in the Arctic Ocean have doubled Russian oil reserves. This, and newly found onshore natural gas deposits, have kept the standard of living up, encouraged more Russians to have children and brought in more migrants (legal or not). This has slowed population decline to less than .1 percent a year. Still a decline, but the precipitous drop seen a decade ago is being turned around.
October 13, 2011: The Belarus parliament approved new rules that give the secret police more powers and outlaw many foreign pro-democracy and pro-reform organizations.
October 11, 2011: Russia and China signed a technology exchange deal. This is one solution for the rampant Chinese theft of Russian tech over the last two decades. The new deal requires China to trade tech and resources. After two decades of rapid economic growth, China has lots more to trade, and wants to reduce the tensions over the Chinese tech theft. The new deal also makes China more of an equal partner. For the last 80 years, Russia has been the "elder brother" in terms of technology, military power and so on. No more.
Russia and China have also been cooperating closely in foreign policy, particularly in dealing with the many "Arab Spring" uprisings. Both China and Russia have supported tyrants, but also agreed to turn on these dictators when it became apparent that the rebels were winning, and that the dictators were not willing or capable of using reform and reconciliation to calm things down.
The U.S. also believes Russia and China are coordinating some of their Cyber War and Internet based espionage efforts. Both nations are being monitored by the United States, and many other Western nations, because so many cyber-attacks come from that direction.
October 4, 2011: Russia and China angered the West, and many other nations, by blocking UN efforts to impose harsher sanctions on the dictatorship in Syria.
Russia revealed that it had arrested a Chinese man and accused him of trying to obtain technology secrets about Russian anti-aircraft missile systems. This sort of thing is often handled quietly with China. But going public indicates that the Chinese are not cooperating (and cutting back on the espionage.)
October 2, 2011: A replacement Glonass navigation satellite was put in orbit, restoring the Glonass system to full capability.