Russia: Paranoia Losing Its Punch



December 3, 2011: Opinion polls show that the ruling party of president Medvedev and prime minister Putin is losing support. Despite Putin's success at taking control of the mass media, and organizing his United Russia party to include several hundred thousand "observers" all over the country (to report on and intimidate political opponents), a growing number of voters don't want Putin to be president-for-life. After one presidential term for his crony Medvedev (who succeeded two-terms of Putin), Putin can now run for president again, and serve another two terms. While most Russians appreciate Putin's efforts to reduce the crime rate and spread the wealth (from growing oil production and prices) around, younger Russians want real democracy, not a market economy version of the Soviet police state. Putin followed the letter of the law in not running again after two terms as president, but will he allow the Russian people to get their way? While Putin pleased a lot of older voters by increasing their pensions and bringing more order and safety to their twilight years, younger Russians want less corruption and more economic freedom. The young Russians are the future, and it appears Putin will try and resist the future to maintain power.

Russia continues to support the Assad dictatorship in Syria. This includes recently delivering Yakhont anti-ship missiles. Israel is the only one in the region the Yakhonts would be used against. However, because Iran is supplying (unofficially) the cash for the missiles, there is also the risk that some of the Yakhont's would end up in Iran. A major reason for this steadfast support for the seemingly doomed Syrian tyrant is the agreement to allow the Russian Navy to use the Syrian port of Tartus as a naval base. There are over 500 Russians in Tartus, building facilities for Russian warships. Russia plans to base a squadron in the Mediterranean, and Tartus will be its base. If the revolution succeeds in Syria, the Russians apparently believe they have a shot of negotiating a deal with the new government (which will still be anti-Israel and interested in having a major power stationing some forces in Syria, to discourage Israeli attacks.)

The Russian leadership continues to portray the American anti-missile system being built in Europe (to defend against Iranian missiles) as, in reality, an attempt to weaken Russia's ability to attack European nations with nuclear missiles. Russia is now threatening to aim more nuclear armed ballistic missiles at the new anti-missiles systems in Europe. All this still resonates in Russia, especially among older Russians. But the old, Soviet era, generation is dying out, and younger Russians consider this "NATO is the enemy" line as absurd. Russia also threatened to shut down NATO access to Russian railroads for supplying troops in Afghanistan. This would seriously damage Russia's commercial reputation, which is already badly hurt because of corrupt courts and government officials. Russia complains about a lack of foreign investment, and ignores the causes. Afghanistan is another example of that twisted thinking. At the same time that Russian leaders are threatening to cut NATO supply lines, they are asking NATO to increase their attacks against Afghan drug gangs. Afghan opium and heroin are a growing problem in Russia. Potential invasion by NATO is not, but the political leadership believes that talk of the "NATO threat" works with Russian voters. It does, but less and less.

December 2, 2011: The Interior Ministry announced that it had killed over 300 Islamic terrorists in the Caucasus so far this year. In addition, 366 terrorist camps and safe houses had been discovered, along with 1,400 firearms and 500 kg (1,100 pounds) of explosives and other bomb making material. Corruption and unemployment are the major causes of Islamic terrorism in the Caucasus, and Russia continues to spend a lot of money to remedy the economic problems. But corruption by local officials gets in the way.

November 30, 2011: A newly built early warning radar in Kaliningrad (on the Baltic) entered service. The media played this up, as part of Russia rebuilding its armed forces. This Voronezh-DM type radar has a range of 6,000 kilometers and replaces older, and worn-out Soviet era radars. Some of those older systems were also in countries that were created out of the dissolved Soviet Union, and no longer owned by Russia. The new owners kept increasing the rent, so new radars were built and old ones abandoned. The new Voronezh-DM radars are all on Russian territory.

November 26, 2011: President Medvedev threatened criminal prosecutions of Russian Space Agency officials. In the last year, several senior officials of the Space Agency have been dismissed in response to failed launches, space vehicles or satellites. The latest embarrassment is an expensive Mars probe that failed after launch, and is now uselessly in orbit, rather than on its way to Mars. Such dismissals of senior officials are 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. The cause of these failures is that officials running technical government operations have not been able to get good people. Over the last two decades, many of the most talented technical and managerial people have emigrated or have higher paid jobs in the civilian sector or overseas.

November 22, 2011:  Britain and the U.S. said they would cease sharing military information with Russia. This came about because, four years ago, Russia abandoned the Cold War era CFE (Conventional Armed Forces in Europe) treaty, which limited where Russian and NATO military forces could be stationed in neighboring nations. In practice, the treaty is moot, as the enormous Cold War armies are now largely gone. The number of Russian combat divisions has shrunk some 80 percent since the end of Cold War, with NATO losing over a third of their ground forces. No one is inclined to threaten war if CFE is discarded. But CFE also had data sharing provisions that remained in force, as a way to reassure Russia and NATO that they were not a threat to each other. But Russia stopped cooperating, and now most NATO nations have stopped as well.

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