Russia: Big, Dangerous, Changes


September 11, 2009: Russia is finally taking corruption seriously, and it's all about money, or the lack of it. Russia ranks 147, out of 180 world nations, in terms of being free of corruption. Foreign firms are increasingly reluctant to invest in Russia, and Russia needs that foreign money for economic growth. Simple as that. So the government has agreed to solve the problem. This could get interesting, considering how many senior government officials are deep into corrupt practices themselves.

But that's not all. The government has also undertaken another attempt to cut alcohol consumption (by 25 percent) over the next three years. Alcoholism is a major reason for the declining Russian life expectancy. The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, admits that democracy in Russia is not working out as well as expected. He wants to change that. Medvedev apparently believes that democracy is essential for a robust economy, and Russia certainly needs that.

Russia is once more in trouble over how it is interpreting its past. Russia refuses to accept any responsibility for causing World War II. This came to a head during the recent ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II. Some Russian publications sought to blame Poland (which was invaded by Germany and Russia, a week after those two nations signed a pact dividing Europe between them) for the start of World War II. This was extreme, even by Russian standards. But many Russians are still sensitive about what went on during the communist years, especially the massive atrocities committed in the name of communism, and Russia. Blaming it all on "outsiders" is an easy escape, until the outsiders reply. Prime minister Putin tried to defuse the situation by writing an editorial for publication in Poland, where he disavowed the extremist Russian articles about Poland, and admitted that Russia had sometimes behaved badly towards its European neighbors in the past. This calmed things down a bit, but East Europeans still consider Russia a dangerous, and unpredictable, neighbor.

Some of this East European angst seemed justified as Russia seeks to restore Joseph Stalins reputation (as the World War II leader, not the guy from Georgia who killed over 30 million Russians). Russia recently restored Stalin's name to a Moscow subway station. A tiny step that created big ripples.

Chechnya has become a problem again. While there were 150 terrorist related deaths down there in the Summer of 2008 (when Russia declared Islamic terrorism defeated), that has more than tripled this year, to nearly 500 dead in June, July and August (the traditional Caucasus fighting season.) The violence has spread to a Chechen neighbor, Ingushetia, and the Russians recently replaced the corrupt official who ran that place. The corruption was a major reason for the sharp increase in Ingushetia violence. Same, to a lesser extent, in Chechnya, and elsewhere in the Caucasus.

September 8, 2009: Russia has declared that the ship, Arctic Sea, which was hijacked in July, and rescued by a Russian warship last month, was not smuggling S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. The media is having a great time with the Arctic Sea story, because no one (except maybe the Russian government) knows exactly what went on. The Russians are putting the pirates seized on the Arctic Sea, on trial. Maybe some clarification will come out of that. Maybe not.

September 7, 2009: Syria apparently got its credit and cash problems fixed up, and the deal to buy some MiG-31 recon jets, and MiG-29 fighters is on again. Israel is trying to persuade the Russians to halt the sale, but the Russian defense industries need the money, and the Israelis aren't willing to cover that to stop the sale.

September 5, 2009:  Russia has agreed to sell its most advanced military technologies to India, if the price is right. Russian military tech is not as advanced as it used to be, since Russian research in this area greatly declined after the Cold War ended in 1991. Western nations are farther ahead than they ever were during the Cold War. But Russia still has some advanced stuff the Indians could use, and it's all for sale. Meanwhile, Russia is trying to revive its decaying arms industries, with additional cash investments into facilities, and hiring back the best engineers and scientists.

August 27, 2009: An S-400 anti-aircraft missile battalion has been sent to the North Korean border, to prevent any failed North Korean missile launches from wandering into Russia. This appears to mainly be a publicity stunt, to help foreign sales of the new S-400 missile system, and to let North Korea know that Russia is not happy with how the communist leadership is misruling North Korea.

August 25, 2009:  The Russian president blamed the post Cold War brain drain for the recent accident at a major dam building site. Over 70 people died when part of the structure failed. This was blamed on the departure, for the West, or better paying jobs in new Russian firms, by the most competent people. Thus major government projects, like the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam, are now being run by people lacking the proper skills, and technology, to do the job safely and efficiently. The same reasons are being given for recent problems with military production.

In Chechnya, a suicide bomber killed four policemen. Russia has declared the war against Islamic terrorists in the Caucasus is on again, and more troops and police are arriving.

August 24, 2009: Russia now accusing Ukraine of directly participating in the fighting in Georgia last year. Ukraine is getting nervous about the increasing pressure from Russia. The nightmare scenario is a Russian invasion, to reclaim Ukraine as part of the "Russian Empire." The U.S. has lost its enthusiasm for letting Ukraine join NATO, thus leaving Ukraine on its own to deal with Russian aggression.


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