Russia: Old Habits Die Hard


December 14, 2012: The government campaign against corruption, particularly at the highest levels, is not making much progress. Senior officials are alarmed at the growing Internet chatter about this, indicating that the high-level corruption is increasingly visible and the population is not believing the official line that this bad behavior is under heavy attack. This is embarrassing because the economy increasingly suffers from the corruption, most visibly in the refusal of more and more foreign firms to do business in Russia or with Russian firms. In short, “the Russians can’t be trusted.” This is embarrassing, expensive, and seemingly incurable.

The government is giving a lot of publicity to a corruption investigation in the military. This is supposed to have involved $257 million stolen this year and the cause of the minister of defense (Anatoly Serdyukov) recently losing his job. Serdyukov has not been accused of participating in the theft but for not detecting and halting it. Serdyukov is being interrogated about this and there is much speculation about exactly why this particular theft was revealed.  Resistance from corrupt officers, and traditionalist officers opposed to the reforms underway, were believed to be the major reasons for Serdyukov being fired. The government insists that the reforms will continue. That may be so but the reforms have not been very successful, in part because of the continuing corruption in the military and defense industries.

December 13, 2012: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) police killed three Islamic terrorists they had cornered.

For the first time the government admitted that the Syrian government (which Russian has staunchly backed for decades) is losing to the two year old rebellion. Most foreign diplomats have already left Syria and now Russia is telling its citizens they should prepare to leave. With the rebels closing in on the main airport at the capital, and controlling most of the land crossings, Russians face the prospect of being trapped in a rebel-controlled Syria that is very angry at Russian support of the Assad dictatorship. This made Russia very unpopular in the Arab world, although not as much with Arab governments. Russia was still able to work with China and Arab governments to recently try and establish UN control over the Internet (via a change in the international treaty that covers use of telephone and other pre-Internet electronic communications). That effort failed because the rest of the world knew that what Russia, China, and the Arab states wanted was a way to censor what could appear on the Internet. Russia, China, and most non-democratic governments see the free flow of information on the Internet as a threat. They are correct and so far most of the world is willing to leave it that way.

December 11, 2012: In the Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria) police killed an Islamic terrorist.

December 9, 2012: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) gunmen broke into the home of a senior anti-corruption official and killed him. Corruption, especially when it involves the central government, is considered a popular activity in the Caucasus and those who try to interfere do so at their own risk.

December 5, 2012: In the Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria) Islamic terrorists killed a popular news reader for government controlled TV. Islamic terrorists try to control what is said about them in the media and murders like this are part of that effort.

December 4, 2012: A retired American naval petty officer was arrested and charged with spying for Russia. This is one of several recent incidents in the West where people were caught spying, or trying to spy, for Russia. While most of Russian espionage efforts have been directed at commercial secrets since the Cold War ended in 1991, there is still a Russian interest in Western military secrets. Old habits die hard, or maybe the Russians just want to sell this stuff to China or Iran, who can afford to pay what the Russian military espionage efforts cost.

November 28, 2012: The government has tried, without success, to suppress news that an uprising (against corruption and abuse) in a major prison in a rural area (the Ural Mountains) took place on the 24th. Russians are familiar with that kind of corrupt behavior in the military but the government has had more success keeping news of the same sort of misbehavior that is taking place in the prison system quiet.


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