Russia: The Spy Who Annoyed Me


April 26, 2009: While the fighting has died down in Chechnya, a lot of it simply moved next door to Ingushetia. There, over fifty people have died so far this year in terrorist related incidents. The violence is caused by a combination of anger against corrupt local government, and criminal, religious and terrorist groups moving from Chechnya, to less dangerous hideouts in Ingushetia.

The government is willing to work with the U.S. to further reduce each nations nuclear weapons stockpiles, with the goal of reducing each other's nuclear weapons arsenal to 1,700 warheads. The current reduction goal, stipulated in a 2002 treaty,  is 2,200 warheads. It costs several hundred thousand dollars per warhead per year for maintenance, security and other expenses. So taking warheads out of service, and recycling their nuclear material as power plant fuel, can save lots of money. Currently, Russia has 4,100 warheads in service, and the U.S. has nearly 6,000. Reducing the number of active warheads does not affect either nations security, since a thousand or so warheads is more than sufficient to threaten any potential foes. Preliminary talks are now underway, with the goal of having a final agreement before the end of the year.

The government has dismissed the head of the GRU (military intelligence), general Valentin Vladimirovich Korabelnikov, for opposing military reforms. The GRU also controls most Russian commando troops. While the Russian armed forces lost 80 percent of its strength in the last 17 years,  a disproportionate number of officers remained. The reforms underway since last year include a sharp reduction in the bloated officer corps, and a reorganization of the remaining personnel. Many senior officers disagree with this. Korabelnikov was particularly upset that the GRU would lose control of many elite combat units, which would be transferred to other organizations.

Currently, the Russian military has about a million personnel (400,000 in the army itself, the rest in paramilitary units that are largely uniformed and armed like soldiers). But there are 355,000 officers in this force. That's more than one in three, and includes 1,107 generals, 25,665 colonels, 99,550 majors, 90,000 captains, and only 50,000 lieutenants. With all that, some 40,000 officers positions are still vacant. The reorganization underway is eliminating 20 percent of the generals, 65 percent of the colonels, 75 percent of the majors, and 55 percent of the captains. The number of lieutenants would increase 20 percent. Some 80 percent of existing military organizations  would also be eliminated over the next few years. Most of these are reserve units, Cold War relics, containing only a cadre of officers. In the event of a major war, reservists (who are no longer available) would be called up to use the stockpiled equipment (also now missing.) The Stavka (general staff) will have its personnel cut 61 percent (to 8,500). In effect, the government is disbanding the century old "reserve army", but many senior generals believe that is a big mistake.

After the Cold War ended, the GRU hung onto most of its spies and analysts, while the KGB, which was always the larger spy agency, was dismantled. All that was left of the KGB's foreign espionage operation was a much smaller (than the GRU) outfit called SVR. This pleased the GRU, which for decades had been unhappy as the much abused "junior brother" to the mighty KGB.

April 22, 2009: In Chechnya, near the border with Ingushetia, armed men ambushed a car carrying three Russian soldiers, killing them and taking their weapons.  Russia promptly resumed counter-terror operations in Chechnya, to run down the killers. But the gunmen had apparently fled to Ingushetia.

April 19, 2009: In Tajikistan, a thousand special operations troops from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan took part in counter-terrorism training exercise. This was all organized by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional security forum founded in Shanghai in 2001 by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and China. The main purpose of the SCO was fighting Islamic terrorism.

April 16, 2009: The government officially ended ten years of counter-terror operations in Chechnya. There are still a lot of anti-Russian Chechens around. But as has happened many times in the past two centuries, the Chechens were beaten down by Russian police and troops. Russia also enlisted opportunistic Chechens to  help in the fight, in return for political power inside Chechnya.

April 13, 2009:  The government has purchased $50 million worth of Israeli UAVs. For over a decade, Russian industry has been unable to develop world class UAVs, so Israel offered to sell several of three different models. The understanding was that the Russians could try and steal the technology (as one Russian defense official admitted to reporters), while delaying shipments of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.