Russian talk about military reform
is mostly just that, talk. The only sector of the military that has gotten
money, and serious attention, since the end of the Cold War (1991) has been the
nuclear forces (ICBMs on land and in nuclear subs). With the vast conventional
forces of the Soviet era gone, the nukes are the ultimate defense for Russia.
But some reforms in the military move ahead, mainly a crackdown on corruption
and incompetence (the two tend to go together.) Senior officers that oppose the
dependence on nukes, and attacks on corruption, continue to be removed. Ultimately, the government wants an
all-volunteer force, one that can be depended on.
2008: Violence continues in Chechnya, as
it has for generations. It's a combination of separatist and criminal gangs,
with added activity by Islamic terrorists (which was rarely a factor over the
two centuries of Russian domination). Over the last few years, the violence has
spread to adjacent areas (Ingushetia and Dagestan). This is shaping up to be a
violent Summer, with over a dozen dead in these three provinces so far this
2008: Despite frequent Russian criticism
of NATO, there are many deals between Russia and NATO that are popular with
both sides. These include the transport agreement that allows NATO supplies and
troops to easily move through Russia to Afghanistan. Another mutually
beneficial deal involves cooperation in fighting drug smugglers and Islamic terrorists.
2008: Russia is expanding military
operations (mainly with patrol aircraft and nuclear subs) to reinforce claims
on underwater resources. This conflicts with American and Canadian claims.
2008: Russia admitted that arms exports
this year will likely be 25 percent less than last year. Russia is having quality
and patent theft issues with its two largest customers (India and China), and
sales are suffering. Smaller customers are also upset over poor quality, and increasingly
attracted to more expensive Western systems. China is also offering illegal copies
of Russian military gear, and this has become a major issue between the two
2008: Government studies indicate that $120
billion a year (about a third of the annual government budget) is stolen by
corrupt officials. The government is determined to reduce corruption, which has
an adverse effect on economic growth and government efficiency. But the
corruption pre-dates democracy in Russia, and flourished during communist and
czarist times. However, to compete in a world economy, that amount of
corruption is a handicap that an increasing number of Russians want to
eliminate. That's easier said than done, as wealthy Russians rather enjoy the
power that corrupt practices provides. That kind of advantage is not given up
2008: Russia put another 300 "peacekeepers"
into the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.
The Georgians fear that Russia will eventually annex Abkhazia, which sits
between Georgia and Russia. Everyone in Abkhazia has already been issued
Russian passports. While Abkhazia talks about independence, it only has a
population of 200,000, and is, for all practical purposes, being incorporated
into Russia. This kind of behavior is being repeated against other neighbors of
Russia, like Ukraine, which finds its Crimean peninsula being taken away by
Russia. This kind of behavior is nothing new, and goes back centuries. It is
the main reason why the neighbors have long feared and mistrusted Russia.