August 20, 2012: Growing urban protests against the return of the police state makes headlines in the West but that reporting ignores the fact that the new commissars have the backing of most Russians. When Vladimir Putin first got elected president in 2000, he paid attention to the opinion polls. People wanted safer streets, more jobs, and better treatment of pensioners (many of whom were veterans of World War II, memories of which loom larger in Russia than in the West). Putin delivered progress on all the things most Russians cared about. University educated city folk paid less attention to what Putin delivered and more to what he was taking away. The government took over most of the major media and reduced the use of democracy (as in appointed provincial governors instead of elected ones). Most Russians had never known democracy but they did fondly remember the "order" of the Soviet period. Putin, a career KGB (secret police) official during the Soviet period, imposed order without the Soviet style police state. This was appreciated by most Russians but appalled many in the West. Putin also amped up the traditional Russian paranoia towards the West, often by demonizing NATO and giving credence to rumors of Western plots to harm Mother Russia. While all this alarmed people in the West, and pro-Western Russian artists and democrats in the cities, Putin was only giving most Russians what was needed to keep them content and pro-Putin. Until the anti-Putin crowd can do better, the revolution will be delayed.
One weakness the new commissars have is corruption. Putin has attacked this over the last twelve years but has not made much progress. The government has tried to impose some discipline on the rampant government corruption, which actually makes it more difficult for the senior leaders to run the country. Corruption is a growing issue because as people achieve more economic stability and personal safety, the corruption becomes more of an issue. This is especially true as people notice that corruption limits economic growth. This is what helped bring down the Soviet government in 1991, and most Russians can relate to that.
The government continues its campaign against open dissent. The dissenters are getting the worst of it, with a growing number of prosecutions. Often the charges are invented or punishment is far in excess of what would normally be meted out. Meanwhile, corrupt officials, even notorious ones, get off much easier.
While publicly denouncing NATO as an anti-Russian alliance, Russia is also openly disappointed that NATO is pulling its troops out of Afghanistan. That country is seen as a source of heroin and Islamic terrorists, two major social problems in Russia. In light of the NATO withdrawal Russia is improving its military ties with Afghanistan's two northern neighbors: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The Tajiks are ethnic cousins of the Pushtuns (who dominate the heroin trade, southern Afghanistan, and northwest Pakistan). The Tajiks and Pushtuns do not get along and it was the Tajiks (the second largest minority, after the Pushtuns, in Afghanistan) who led the anti-Taliban resistance until 2001. At that point the Americans intervened and the Tajiks assumed a major role in the new democratic government. But the Pushtuns still dominate and Russia is seen as an ally of all Tajiks. It was the Pushtuns who led the resistance to the 1980s resistance, while many Tajiks cooperated with the Russians. So as NATO departs from Afghanistan, Russia is getting all its heavily armed ducks in a row.
Russia continues to back its old ally, the Assad dictatorship in Syria. The Assad's no longer control most of the country. Russia is calling for a cease fire and openly opposing growing calls for NATO air support of the rebels. The U.S. and Turkey announced that they have been planning for such air support for over a week. Russia has made no mention of providing any military assistance for the Assads.
Islamic terrorism in the Caucasus persists. Most of it is now in Dagestan (a neighbor of Chechnya) where the government believes there are at least a dozen terror groups with over 300 active members.
August 18, 2012: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) two men attacked a mosque with bombs and gunfire, wounding eight worshipers. The Moslems attacked were Shia and local Islamic terrorists are Sunni, who consider Shia heretics (a death penalty crime according to Sunni Islamic terrorists).
In nearby Ingushetia gunmen opened fire on a policeman, killing him and wounding a teenage girl nearby. The attacker was believed to be an Islamic terrorist. Elsewhere in Ingushetia a suicide bomber attacked a funeral for a policeman, killing seven. Violence against the police is seen as an essential terrorist tactic, as it intimidates the police and discourages them from coming after the terrorists.
August 17, 2012: In the Caucasus (Chechnya) four policeman were killed when a gunman in a passing vehicle opened fire with an assault rifle.
August 16, 2012: In the Caucasus (Dagestan, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Kabardino-Balkaria) several attacks left nine Islamic terrorists dead and seven arrested. Fourteen soldiers were killed and 15 wounded.
August 14, 2012: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) two traffic police were killed in a drive-by shooting, apparently by Islamic terrorists. Other police returned fire, killing one of the attackers, and the other two escaped.
August 8, 2012: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) police responding to a report of armed men outside a village were ambushed. Five policemen and three Islamic terrorists were killed.
August 6, 2012: In the Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria) a police raid killed two Islamic terrorists while two others escaped in the dark. A gun battle went on for several hours.
A Russian satellite launcher failed to put two Russian and Indonesian communications satellites into orbit. This is particularly embarrassing as the previous day the U.S. landed its latest exploration vehicle on Mars. A smaller Russian Mars explorer failed after launch last November. Russia has been having a growing number of problems with its space program because of losing many skilled people from research and manufacturing organizations in the 1990s.
August 5, 2012: In Spain two Chechen men were charged with being Islamic terrorists.
August 4, 2012: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) a police raid left one Islamic terrorist and one policeman dead.
A video appeared on the Internet in which an Islamic terrorist claiming to be from Tartarstan (an area 2,000 kilometers away from the Islamic violence in the Caucasus) warned that there would be more violence in Tartarstan. About half the 3.7 million people in Tartarstan are Moslem and most are hostile to Islamic radicalism. But the radicals have been killing and threatening moderate clerics and setting off bombs. The violence is not as widespread as in the Caucasus but Russian security officials in the area are alarmed.
August 3, 2012: The Syrian government openly called on Russia for cash (loans) and deliveries of fuel. Russia did not respond.