January 5, 2012: The 20th anniversary of the official end of the Soviet Union was noted on December 31st, 2011 and there followed an unexpectedly vigorous public debate over what it all meant. Most everyone agreed that one of the main reasons was the failure of the centrally planned communist economy. But what tore apart the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was the fact that the dozens of ethnic groups that had been part of the Russian empire did not want to be ruled by Russians. This, to the horror of many Russians, included Ukraine and Belarus, areas full of people Russians always considered Russian. But that was the other big reason for the end of the USSR - the Russians ignored how much the non-Russians hated Russian rule. But it is still believed that there were more sinister forces at work. Even back then, and more so now, some Russians blame foreign influence for the breakup. While not a majority opinion, the "foreign provocateurs" argument has always been popular in Russia. The current government uses it a lot. Most Russians do not want the Soviet Union back but they would like parts of it (superpower status and rule over many of their neighbors).
Although Russia is spending over $60 billion a year, for the next decade, in buying new weapons and equipment for the armed forces, there is dismay at the sorry state of Russian arms manufacturers. These firms are the few survivors of the huge Soviet era arms industries that were cut loose after 1991, with no government contracts or subsidies. The current firms found enough foreign customers to survive, or switched to producing some civilian goods. The survivors had to cut back on research and development. Thus if the Russian military wants the latest tech they have to buy from the West. This is happening, even though Russian arms firms protest. But the generals and admirals point out that, if Russia is to get the most for its arms spending, it has to buy from the West. The government is supplying some cash to help make its arms industries competitive. But it's more complicated than that because most of the best technical people have left the weapons business. Getting them back won't be easy.
The 20th anniversary of the Soviet collapse has also put some unpleasant matters into more public view. For example, the huge network of scientific research facilities was starved for funding in the 1990s. This promptly ended Russia's long tenure as a source of scientific discovery (even if much of it was kept very secret by the paranoid Soviets). This collapse was hidden by the sudden appearance of much of this once secret tech on the world market. People could see Russia as a source of great science but miss the fact that that pipeline was now broken. In the last decade, as more money became available, billions of dollars was allocated to reviving the great research network. It was too late. Most of the best people had gone on to better paying jobs (often abroad) and did not want to return. This was especially true when it became clear that the "revive science" effort was crippled by corruption and cronyism. Much of the money was wasted and now Russia has to face the fact that an era of Great Russian Science is truly over. A new one will have to be built from scratch and that will take decades. Even more dispiriting is the fact that China, long a nonentity in the science research community, has turned into a giant. This really annoys Russians, who have an innate fear of a powerful China (who could invade Russia from the east).
The growing popular calls (and demonstrations) for clean elections and less corruption are being dissipated by the government. Former secret police official (and now prime minister) Vladimir Putin is being given credit for devising a campaign that pretends to clean up the voting mess and fight corruption, while actually doing not much at all. But the demonstrations continue. The people won't be fooled again. The demonstrations have been going on since December, and despite hundreds of arrests, the people keep coming out. There is talk of a "Russian Spring", especially since so many people are now coming out in very cold weather. Putin is also finding that many of his publicity and information management techniques that had served him so well for over two decades, no longer work. It was that damn Internet again, where a lot of smart Russians had collaborated to pick apart the reality from the myth that Putin had created in the media. There are many real problems in Russia and the Internet has allowed details, and names, to be collected and made available to all.
January 3, 2012: After waiting for 15 months, China has ratified a counter-terrorism cooperation agreement with Russia. This was prompted, in part, by Russian intelligence agencies volunteering information on where a group of Moslem Chinese rebels were based (in Pakistan), which enabled China to pressure Pakistan to shut this sanctuary down.
January 1, 2012: Last year, Russian oil production hit record levels (10.27 million barrels a day). This was a record high since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. During the 1980s, Russian oil production hit 12 million barrels a day, but this was accomplished by temporarily increasing output using destructive (to underground oil deposits) techniques, and production sharply declined (to about 8 million barrels a day) by the late 1980s. This was one of the reasons the Soviet Union collapsed, as oil exports were a major source of government income.
December 30, 2011: After yet another delay last March, the new Akula II submarine that was supposed to be turned over to India (which is leasing it) two years ago, was finally delivered. Three years ago, during sea trials, there was an equipment failure that killed 20 sailors and shipyard workers. This delayed sea trials for many months and the Russians found more items that needed attention. These additional inspections and repairs continued until quite recently.
December 29, 2011: A blogger released photos she had taken when she walked into a high-security rocket motor (for missiles and satellite launchers) production plant and went right past absent guards and one that was sleeping at his desk. The government ordered an investigation.
In the far north, a SSBN (ballistic missile nuclear submarine) caught fire while being upgraded in a dry dock. The fire was put out when the dry dock was flooded.
December 23, 2011: In yet another embarrassing space related failure, a Soyuz satellite launcher rocket failed and a military communications satellite came crashing down in a remote part of Siberia.
On the bright side, a Russian SSBN (ballistic missile nuclear submarine) successfully fired two of the new Bulava ballistic missiles. This concluded the much delayed (because of missile failures) testing program. The Bulava is now officially ready for mass production and use by new Borei class SSBNs.
December 20, 2011: Russia conducted a successful test of a new missile to be used in a new anti-missile system.