Russia: The Escape Clause


September 26, 2010: The Russian military continues to get bad press, for continuing bad behavior. The latest publicity disaster involves poor security at anti-aircraft missile sites around Moscow. These new S-300 and S-400 missiles were installed, with great fanfare, over the last decade. But there weren't enough troops to provide security, especially for the widely distributed missile launchers. A series of photos showed up recently, making it clear that at least some of these missiles were completely unguarded. Surrounded by a rusting fence, with man sized holes in it, mushroom pickers forage around the site, and hikers come by and look, and in at least one case, take pictures. After a few weeks, the Russian military noticed the web pix, and the growing media disaster. Army press officers announced that more troops had been assigned to guarding isolated missile sites, and fences were repaired. For the moment, anyway. All this is very Russian. In a few months, the extra guards will be gone, and someone will cut new holes in the fences.

One reason the guards will be gone is the shortage of personnel in the armed forces. That's because the military is still heavily dependent on conscription. But there are fewer and fewer conscripts available (falling birth rate), and an increasing number of conscripts are in no shape (physically or because of a police record) for service. Those who do qualify turn to draft dodging (often by bribing an official) to avoid service.

To the surprise of few, Vladimir Putin is planning to run for president of Russia again. He left that office in 2008, after two four-year terms (the most allowed by law). But the law can be changed, because Putin is the most popular politician in Russia. He has turned this popularity into power, so much so that he can do just about whatever he wants. Putin is popular because during his eight years as president, he pushed through economic reforms which brought much prosperity to many Russians. He also cut crime and, in general, made Russians feel better about themselves. But whether or not he holds the office, Putin has also made himself "president-for-life." While this strongman approach appeals to many Russians (for historical, and practical, reasons), others see it as a medieval throwback, and ultimately destined to retard progress.

Russian reformers also point out that Russia's bullying government style has caused problems with neighbors (like Georgia and Ukraine, and most others). This has also frustrated Russian efforts to join the WTO (World Trade Organization). WTO makes it easier, and more profitable, to export goods. But Russia is still heavily dependent on oil exports, a product the WTO is not needed for.

If Putin regains the presidency in 2012, one of the big problems he will be faced with is the flood of opium and heroin coming out of Afghanistan. Over the last five years, the drug problem has been growing, to the point where a quarter of court cases are drug related. So far this year, police have seized 30 tons of drugs and 90,000 people have been arrested on drug cases. All this explains why Russia is increasingly eager to help NATO defeat the Taliban and their drug gang allies in Afghanistan.

The drugs are one component of the collapse of Russian family life. This began during the Soviet period, and has not gotten any better. For example, 20 percent of Russian children are orphans, often "rejected" by parents who are still alive but disabled by alcohol or drugs. Grandparents are often unwilling to raise the kids, and not a lot of Russians want to adopt. About 30 percent of these kids do get adopted by foreigners. For most Russians, this is a shameful situation.

While Russia is complying with the new sanctions against Iran, it wants to go on record as still opposed to such harsh restrictions on military sales to Iran. But Russia has an escape clause. While Russia finally cancelled the billion dollar sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran, it is going through with a $300 million sale of P-800 high speed anti-ship missiles (with a range of 300 kilometers and a nearly quarter ton warhead) to Syria. These missiles, some or all of them, will end up in Iran. That's because Syria can't afford these missiles, and has been propped up by Iranian subsidies for over a decade. Now Russia plans to sell lots more weapons to Syria, not caring if much of this stuff mysteriously shows up in Iran. Russia made it clear that it would continue "military cooperation" with Iran, even though Iranian officials (as named in the new sanctions) are not permitted to enter Russia.

While Iran wants Russian weapons, Russia wants Western weapons technology. In the past month, Russia has made deals with France and Israel to get that tech. The deal with France involves buying four Mistral amphibious ships, two to be built in Russia. This is where the tech, and techniques, will be transferred. Russian shipbuilders badly need that kind of help. The deal with Israel, which involves setting up a UAV production facility in Russia, is less certain. That's because Israel is well aware of the fact that high-tech weapons sold to Syria are aimed at Israel (even if Iran gets the stuff). So while Israel appreciates the cancelled S-300 sale to Iran, it is holding off on the UAV factory deal until Russia cuts off Syria.

The Summer heat wave (that killed at least 25,000 Russians, 11,000 in the Moscow region alone) is over, but there are still several dozen forest and bog fires burning. All these are expected to go out in the next month, as Winter snows arrive.

September 24, 2010:  In Dagestan, police located a terrorist bomb workshop, and killed four terrorists defending it. One was identified as 'Alibek Abunazarov, a terrorist leader long wanted by the authorities. Later that day, a terrorist wearing a bomb vest approached police guarding the site of an earlier battle with terrorists. His vest exploded, killing two policemen and wounding 30 people. Throughout the region, a dozen people were killed by terrorist violence this day.

September 23, 2010: In Dagestan, seven Islamic terrorists were killed in two separate raids.

September 19, 2010: After an absence of nearly a century, Russia has authorized the reintroduction of chaplains into the armed forces.

September 17, 2010: Russia has ordered $3.5 billion worth of 737 airliners from U.S. firm Boeing. In return, Russia expects more assistance in developing Russian commercial aircraft manufacturing. Russian firms and Boeing have been cooperating for decades now, but never enough to completely satisfy the Russians.

September 15, 2010:  A new college level history textbook is causing a stir because the two authors (who teach at the elite Moscow University) seek to justify the harsh measures (which killed over 20 million Russians) of dictator Josef Stalin.




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