Russia: Dangerous Delusions


July 9, 2009: The U.S. and Russia have agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals from the current target of 2,200 warheads each, to 1,500-1,675, within the next seven years. There will also be a reduction of "delivery systems" (silos, SSBNs, heavy bombers), which was promptly criticized in the U.S. because of heavy use of the bombers for delivering non-nuclear weapons. But there are plenty of fighter-bombers to do this, although at a greater cost per bomb dropped.

There was no deal made to limit Russian high tech weapons sales to Iran in return for the U.S. cancelling the U.S. anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic. This missile defense system was to protect Europe from Iranian ballistic missiles, but Russia was offended because such a system could stop Russian missiles as well. This is part of a larger issue. Russia has a problem with its place in the world. Many Russians, and their leaders, still think of the country as a superpower, or at least a major player on the world stage. Trouble is, no one else agrees with this assessment, and Russians don't like it.  Many countries just humor the Russians, but this wears out quickly when the Russians demand a say in major decisions that they are not really qualified to participate in. Russia has lots of land, nukes, natural resources and attitude. But it's industrial might is more pretence than reality. A shrinking population, and authoritarian government that drives away foreign investment, does not persuade the world that the Russians have very promising prospects.

The government is still trying to get the Russian defense industries back into the forefront of military technology. When the Cold War ended in 1991, weapons sales to the Russian armed forces dropped by over 80 percent. Only recently has the military resumed large purchases, but these are still smaller than export sales, which kept many key defense firms alive through the 1990s. The problem is that the old Soviet Union was never in the forefront of military technology. The Russians had some great stuff in the laboratory, but were rarely able to get it to the troops as mass produced weapons. Over a decade of much reduced military R&D has left Russian defense industries even further behind the West. But the Russians are reluctant to admit that they are out of the race, and continue to hype their weapons as equal to Western gear.

The governments battle against alcoholism (which kills 500,000 Russians, mostly men, a year) has lost ground over the last decade. This problem is largely responsible for the shrinking Russian population. The government is planning another crackdown on excessive drinking, and the prospects for this effort succeeding, are not good..

July 3, 2009:  A convoy containing 45 Chechen policemen, in Ingushetia to assist in finding rebels, was ambushed by some of those rebels. Ten policemen were killed and ten wounded.

July 2, 2009:  The government agreed to allow the U.S. to ship weapons and ammo through Russia (via rail and air). Russia would be able to inspect these cargoes to verify what they are.

June 29, 2009: The military began a large scale exercise, including 8,500 troops, 200 tanks, 450 armored vehicles and 250 artillery. Operations were centered in southern Russia and the Caucasus. Georgia complained that Russian troops on their border were actually practicing another invasion of Georgia.  

June 27, 2009:  Russia and NATO have agreed to resume military cooperation. This was halted last Summer in the wake of the Russian invasion of neighboring Georgia.

June 22, 2009: The president of Ingushetia was wounded by a roadside bomb. This was the latest assassination attempt in the Russian Caucasus. The region has been troublesome since the Russians moved in two centuries ago. In addition to criminal gangs (often based on clan affinities), there are nationalists and religious radicals. Typically, the Russians have turned control of the Caucasus republics (provinces) to the strongest local thug, with the expectation that their guy would keep the others in line. But since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the various factions have been unable to determine which is really the strongest.