For the first time since 1995, the Russian population has increased. It went up about 20,000, to 141.9 million. The growth was caused by a 4 percent decline in death rates, and more immigration (mostly ethnic Russians coming from countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.) This migration caused a spurt of growth after the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, and population peaked in 1995 at 148.5 million. But low birth rates, and rising death rates, caused continual decline since then, until 2009. The government has improved public health, and made it easier to have children (the growth of the economy has been a big help). While the current government is anti-democratic, it has reduced crime, corruption and the general feeling that things were out of control. That's why most Russians tolerate, or support, the current government.
Part of the population growth effort is another campaign to reduce alcoholism. Unlike Westerners, Russians consume more of their alcohol in a concentrated form (liquor, especially vodka), rather than in beer and wine (which is actually healthy in small amounts). All that vodka causes more health problems, and early deaths. Moreover, as the economy has improved since the 1990s, so has alcohol consumption. This went from 5.4 liters (quarts) per capita to 10 liters (18 liters if you include illegal stuff). In the U.S., it's 8.4 liters, and about the same in most European nations. The key problem in Russia is the illegal production of vodka. Setting up a still is easy, because the knowledge, and use, of this simple technology has been widespread for a long time. Moreover, there is a thriving market for drinkable industrial alcohol. If the government wants to really cut the amount of hard liquor available, they will have a hard time doing it.
While the national media has again been brought under state control, the government still has to respond to major events and trends that have become important to most people, and spread via the Internet (which the government has been unsuccessful at controlling). To keep the national media from appearing to be a Soviet era propaganda ministry, pursuit of problems the government is also concerned with, is allowed. Thus the growing number of stories on corrupt and incompetent cops. Russia has a national police force, and it was corrupt and ineffective before the Soviet Union collapsed. The government needs a more competent police force to maintain order, and Russians in general want to be rid of corrupt and inept cops. The current media line is that 30 percent of police are incompetent. Some are deranged to the point where they commit random murder. The national media has been spotlighting many of those stories. Once the police are cleaned up, there won't be any stories on the national media of how the force is used to suppress dissent more efficiently. Currently, the government has to be careful when it sends the police to shut down demonstrations (since the government won't issue permits for anyone protesting against the government, all of these gatherings are illegal). In many areas, a special "anti-protestor" force has been organized, to insure that none of the protestors are killed (and turned into anti-government martyrs) while being arrested, or otherwise removed from the scene. With so many psychos and losers on the force, it's hard to find enough reliable police for this kind of duty.
For years, the government has allowed Internet based criminal gangs to operate freely, as long as they provided unofficial services for the government (shutting down foreign websites that angered the government, stealing information from foreign corporations and governments). But these hackers often get out of control, and several have been punished (jailed, fined heavily or driven into exile). But recently this hacker misbehavior became quite public, when a 6x9 meter (19x28 feet) electronic sign was hacked during the evening rush hour, and the ads were replaced with two minutes of hard core pornography. Traffic came to a halt, although there were no injuries. Now the government has a few more undisciplined hackers to hunt down and punish.
Terrorist violence was up 19 percent in the Caucasus (mainly Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan) last year, and Russia has publically blamed Georgia for harboring some of the ethnic and religious terrorists. Georgia has a long (as in ancient) policy of live and let live with the neighboring Chechens, and has looked the other way when Chechen terrorists slipped across unguarded portions of the border, to hide out in thinly inhabited areas. The Russians have long threatened to ignore the border when chasing, or searching, for terror suspects.
Vietnam is buying billions of dollars in military equipment from Russia. In addition to hardware, Russia has agreed to provide trainers and technical assistance for modernizing the Vietnamese armed forces from top to bottom. The last time Vietnam was at war was in 1979, with China (it was a draw, but the outnumbered Vietnamese killed a lot of Chinese). Since then, the Vietnamese military has stagnated, while China has modernized its forces. Vietnam and China have been foes for centuries, as China long considered northern Vietnam a rebellious province of China.
January 29, 2010: The latest Russian fighter design, the T-50, made its first flight. This aircraft is actually another development of the Su-27. This kind of development is a Russian custom, and the T-50 is incorrectly touted as a Russian answer to the American F-22. It isn't. But the T-50 contains more features that Russia hopes will make the T-50 (also referred to as the Su-35, Su-37 or PAK FA, short for Prospective Aviation System of Frontline Aviation) more competitive against the new American fighters (F-22 and F-35, which are wholly new, and much more expensive, designs). Russia wants to export the new fighter, while the U.S. won't (yet) export the F-22.
January 26, 2010: The government finally ended its long opposition to dropping sanctions against Taliban leaders who have switched sides in Afghanistan. The pro-U.S. Afghan government has, since September 11, 2001, negotiated peace deals with several prominent pro-Taliban tribes, who switched sides. Part of the deal was dropping all personal sanctions against tribal leaders. But the Taliban killed the pro-Russian Afghan leaders who ran Afghanistan for several years after the Russians left in 1989. The Russians were not willing to do any Taliban any favors, until now.
January 11, 2010: A natural gas pipeline in Dagestan was damaged by a bomb. Gas supply was not interrupted. Islamic and separatist rebels have been increasingly active in the area.
January 9, 2010: In Dagestan, police killed four Islamic terrorists, including two identified as leaders. One of these was Marat Kurbanov, commonly known in Islamic circles as the Emir of Dagestan.
January 6, 2010: In Dagestan, a suicide car bomber killed six policemen, and wounded sixteen civilians and police. The police had actually stopped the bomber short of his target (a police base.)