Russia: February 1, 2004

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Later this month, Russia will hold it's first "nuclear war exercise" since 1982. The training operations will include Tu-160 bombers launching long range cruise missiles over the North Atlantic, other bombers will launch similar missiles in the Arctic, towards aim points in the Caspian Sea. There will be test firings of ICBMs from silos and nuclear submarines. Satellite launches will also take place, to represent the delivery of replacement satellites, or anti-satellite satellites. The missile defense system around Moscow will be tested as well. The last exercise of this magnitude was held in 1982, and caused consternation in the West. Not as much consternation this time around, but many in the West are wondering why the Russians are practicing for a nuclear war.

Meanwhile, in the Far East, the army has begun a large scale operation to hunt down and arrest thousands of young men who have deserted their military units. There have been many military corruption scandals in Far East, usually involving food and living conditions for troops. As a result there have been many desertions. The military won't sat how many men have deserted, but there are 500 captured deserters being prosecuted right now. With about a 100,000 troops in the Far East, it's possible as many as five percent have fled their units.

Fighting continues in Chechnya, as the army goes after rebel bases while security forces round up hundreds of suspects in villages where rebel groups have been seen. Small groups of rebels are ambushing convoys and shooting at roadblocks and army bases. These groups are sheltered in villages by Chechens who support the rebel cause (which can be nationalist, criminal activities or Islamic radicalism, or a combination of the three.) The Russian tactics are the same ones used to pacify Chechnya for over two centuries. Those tactics, which include torture and summary execution, were considered brutal in the 19th century, and no less so today. The Russians have not been able to come up with a kinder and gentler way to deal with the problem. Just getting out and leaving the Chechens alone didn't work, as the Chechen criminal gangs began a kidnapping spree in neighboring areas, while armed Islamic radicals invaded southern Russia with the intention of establishing an Islamic Republic. The Russians have ignored foreign criticism, apparently feeling that if they can get local Chechens to keep order, all will be well. But that strategy is taking longer than expected, as the rebels appear willing to fight to the death. There have not been many surrenders, apparently because the custom of "blood feud" does not allow for it. The way it works, if someone kills a member of your family, you have to kill one, or more, of theirs. The feud goes on until one family is wiped out, or a settlement worked out. The Chechens who are working for the Russians are considered tainted and not worthy of a settlement.

 

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