October 30, 2011: Some good news; the Russian suicide rate continues to decline. The rate began increasing in the 1980s, and peaked in 1995 at 42 per 100,000. But it has declined since then, to 23.5. This is the sixth highest in the world, and more than twice the U.S. rate. Anything over 20 is considered troubling, but at least it is declining. In 1991, communist rule collapsed in Russia. But after 70 years, the brutal and often inept dictatorship did attract some fans, and the seemingly sudden collapse was a major shock. Moreover, most Russians were dismayed to discover that half the people in the Soviet Union wanted nothing to do with this Russian dominated empire. The loss of an empire that had taken several centuries to build, caused widespread dismay among ethnic Russians (who are 80 percent of the population of the new Russia). While still the largest (in size) country in the world, in terms of population they dropped from third to eighth (and soon to be passed by Bangladesh). In economic terms, Russia is now the 11th largest economy (right behind Canada). Before, no one is sure, but the Soviet Union may have been in the top five. The communists were not big fans of accounting, and liked to make things up when asked for economic data. But now, data is harder to falsify on a national basis. Greater wealth is obvious in Russia, because of all the new roads, buildings, vehicles and consumer goods. But many Russians miss being a superpower. That will take another decade or so to get over. And as Soviet era nostalgia fades, so will the suicide rate. But there will still be lots to be suicidal about in Russia, mainly the loss of democracy. It was there for a short while, but now it is being smothered by a new police state masquerading as a democracy.
Relations with Turkey are in trouble because of continued use of Russian assassins (from SVR, a successor to the KGB) to track down and kill Chechen Islamic terrorists hiding out there. Since the 1920s, Russian secret police have sought out and killed "enemies of the state" who had fled overseas. The Russian government always denies these activities, no matter how much evidence there is. It is feared that the Russian government may start going after Russian exiles that are increasingly vocal about the new dictatorship. While technically a democracy, Russia has become an oligarchy, with a few dozen men controlling key sectors of the economy, and financing all manner of corrupt behavior and propaganda to keep getting their cronies elected. The oligarchic form of government is not as inefficient as the communist one, but it is close, and increasingly unpopular. That means, eventually, yet another revolution. Vladimir Putin, one of the chief architects of this oligarchy, and now seeking to become president for life, warns Russian that they must support him, or face chaos. Dictators have been justifying themselves this way for a long time. But Putin is the most efficient ruler Russia has had since 1991, and is quite the master of media spin. He is popular, even if the system he presides over is not.
October 28, 2011: For the third time this year, the new Bulava SLBM (submarine launched ballistic missile) had a successful test launch. This was the 17th test, most of them successful. Last year, the situation was quite different, as back then the Bulava had failed half its tests, and had recently failed three in a row. But changes were made in the leadership of the Bulava program, and things got better. The Bulava is based on the Topol ICBM, which has been a very successful design. Although introduced in the 1980s, it's been decided to keep this model in service until 2019.
October 25, 2011: The air force is doubling its fleet of An-26 heavy lift (up to 20 tons) helicopters to 45 over the next four years. This is part of an effort by the Russian military to revive the Russian helicopter industry by ordering a lot more choppers.
The government told Germany that two Russians (a married couple) arrested in Germany on the 18th were not active Russian agents, but retired Cold War era spies. The two 51 year olds are Russians who were sent to Germany in the 1980s to serve as "sleeper" (agents that spend most of their time doing nothing, until activated from time-to-time for some simple, but essential, mission.) The Germans apparently plan to prosecute anyway. While Germany let a lot of its own, Soviet era, spies off easy, there is still a lot of animosity towards Russian spies. That's because Russia is still very much involved with espionage. In Germany, that means stealing economic secrets, which hurts the German economy. The Germans are not in a forgiving mood because of this Russian aggression.
October 21, 2011: A Russian launcher sent the first two European Union (EU) Galileo navigation satellites into orbit. This is another GPS type system, competing with the original GPS and the newly activated Russian GLONASS. The Russian Soyuz rocket was launched from the EU base in South America (French Guiana) which is near the equator (making it easier to achieve certain orbits).
October 20, 2011: In far eastern Russia, a Su-24 fighter-bomber crashed on landing (apparently because of landing gear failure), killing both crewmen.