Russia: Woe Is Us


February 25, 2013:   Russia is spending $30 billion a year on defense and wondering if it is getting its money’s worth. A recent readiness inspection found serious problems. Headquarters personnel and troops were not ready for emergencies. Training and maintenance had not been done. All this is nothing new for the Russian army, which has always been beset by leadership and corruption problems. The government has been trying to shake up the military leadership for over a decade now, but in the last two decades of the Cold War (1947-91) the Russian military became very corrupt and inefficient. Turning that around has proved very difficult. Such a situation is not unique, in fact it is quite normal.

The government continues its campaign against political opponents, by using house arrest (which includes no Internet or mail) for leaders of the many illegal demonstrations. The government rarely allows legal protests.

The anti-corruption campaign is faltering. With so many government officials and businessmen involved in corruption, pushback was expected. In 2010, there were 10,000 convictions for corruption. That fell to 7,600 in 2011, and 5,500 last year. Moreover, the government has been putting far fewer people in jail and instead allowing them to just pay a fine. Last year only 250 people were charged with taking more than $330 in a corruption scheme. The biggest cases, where millions of dollars have gone missing, are rarely investigated, much less leading to conviction and imprisonment.

Russia is sending humanitarian aid to Mali and working with Western intelligence and counter-terrorism efforts in Africa. Russia is concerned about that huge pot of money (from ransoms and drug smuggling) that the African Islamic radicals have, being used to do some damage inside Russia. At the same time, Russia is being accused of a double-standard in Syria, where the beleaguered Assad government (which Russia has long backed) has always supported terrorists. Russia insists that the rebels would be more pro-terrorist than the Assads.

February 23, 2013: Russians are being told by government officials that nearly a trillion dollars being spent on rebuilding the military over the next decade will enable Russia to create world class tech industries. Massive purchases by the Russian armed forces will (it is hoped) enable Russian firms to develop new defense technology inside Russia and create more export demand as well. Russia has already absorbed (mostly legally) a lot of Western tech since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Russia is exporting over $10 billion worth of military equipment a year.

Russia needs a new source of exports because oil and gas are running out. The national budget is $400 billion a year for a GDP of $2,000 billion. A quarter of that is raw materials exports, some 80 percent of it oil and gas. This accounts for a quarter of the national government’s income. Oil and gas income are slowly shrinking and this predicted tech industry boom is to take up the slack. Russia has been trying to do this with defense exports for over a decade and is still stuck in its Cold War position as the cheap but second best alternative to Western weapons and equipment. But there is a big market for second best from countries that are mainly concerned with using troops to keep their own population under control. Russia, unlike most Western defense suppliers, has no problem with paying bribes and offers cheap loans for buyers.

February 22, 2013: China joined Russia in making it clear that both opposed military intervention because of North Korea’s recent nuclear weapons test.

February 21, 2013: The government agreed to lease Cuba eight jet transports, worth nearly $700 million. Russia got this deal by agreeing to write off some of the $20 billion Cuba still owns for past (mostly Cold War era) purchases. The leasing fees will have to be paid on time, of course, or the aircraft will be repossessed. Before the Cold War ended in 1991, Russia had kept the Cuban economy afloat for three decades with generous amounts of aid. That all stopped after 1991 and, of course, Cuba was unable to pay for the billions of dollars of additional items it had bought from Russia on credit. Cuba defaulted on everyone after 1991, and still has a dismal credit rating.

February 15, 2013: A large meteorite exploded over central Russia, injuring over a thousand people. Some members of parliament blamed the United States, while others called for the military to develop a system that would spot these small meteorites and shoot them down. Legislators, and many other Russians, were upset by the fact that meteor incidents like this occur about once a century and that the last one, in 1908, also occurred in Russia. That meteor was larger. While the recent one produced the equivalent of 500 kilotons of explosives, the 1908 one produced 50 times more energy and would have destroyed any urban area underneath it. Fortunately, the 1908 event occurred over northern forests and simply blew down 80 million trees and killed thousands of large animals. The Russian military is unlikely to undertake the expensive, and likely to fail, task of developing an “anti-meteor” system.

February 14, 2013: The government bowed to public pressure and agreed not to send conscripts to combat zones. Only “contract soldiers” (higher paid volunteer troops) will do combat, unless there is a general war. As a result of this new policy, combat training of conscripts will be reduced from six to four months.

In the Caucasus (Dagestan) a suicide bomber killed four policemen. Police operations after that attack found and surrounded the terrorists responsible and killed six of them.

February 13, 2013: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) a policeman was shot and wounded by an Islamic terrorist. 

February 12, 2013: Despite Russian protests, North Korea carried out a third nuclear weapons test.

February 11, 2013: Japan complained once more of Russian military aircraft (two Il-38 patrol planes) approaching Japanese air space that turned away at the last minute. When this happens Japan has to send two or more jet fighters aloft, an expensive process that would be avoided if the Russians would stop playing these silly games. The Russians said they did nothing wrong.

February 9, 2013: In St. Petersburg police arrested nearly 300 people on suspicion of supporting Islamic terrorism. About a third of those picked up were illegal migrants.

February 8, 2013: South Korean officials were told that Russia had asked North Korea not to carry out a nuclear weapons test. 




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