Russia: Casting Out The Past


December 3, 2009: Particularly in media centers, like Moscow, politics is a contact sport, with a high body count. Businessmen or politicians who have angered government officials, major gangsters, or each other, still get shot dead in public. A popular priest, who preached against Islamic radicalism, was shot dead in his church, raising the popular anger level still more. Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, radical political groups (both right and left wing) have become popular, especially among young men (who like to brawl in public over their differences.) Over the last five years, the government has regained control of mass media (as was the case in the Soviet period), but the Internet is largely beyond their control, and that's what these young radicals use to recruit and organize.

After seven months of negotiations, Russia and the United States diplomats believe they have come up with something to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires at the end of the month. The treaty limits the number of nuclear weapons each nation has. This is beneficial to both nations, as during the Cold War, both nations built far more nuclear weapons than were needed for defense. These weapons are expensive to maintain, and many are becoming useless because of old age. But taking nuclear weapons out of service (even ones that don't work anymore) and destroying them, hurts national pride in Russia (and to a lesser extent in the U.S.). The negotiations were rough, but productive. The remaining negotiations have to do with verification and monitoring. Negotiators don't believe these are deal breakers, and expect to meet the deadline.

December 2, 2009: The ammo depot that exploded on November 23rd, will be closed by the end of the year. Located in the city of Ulyanovsk, since 1941, the depot is one of dozens which were kept operating, and secret, instead of being shut down, after the Cold War ended in 1991, and the Russian armed forces shrank by nearly 80 percent. Despite government control of the mass media, the word has gotten around (via cell phones and the Internet) about the many depots, similar to the one in Ulyanovsk. Politicians are under pressure to shut the unneeded depots, containing ancient, and dangerously degraded munitions, down before the blow up.

December 1, 2009: A Russian rocket put another American communications satellite into orbit. The 2.5 ton bird carries 22 transponders and will replace a worn out Intelsat telecommunications satellite. The reliability, and lower prices, of Russian satellite launches have been one bright spot in the once mighty Russian defense industries.

November 30, 2009:  Another Russian passenger train was attacked by a bomb under the rails. But this train, travelling through Dagestan in the Caucasus, was not derailed, and halted safely.

November 28, 2009: At the scene of yesterday's train derailment, another bomb went off, apparently by remote control, in an attempt to kill investigators. Some of these detectives were injured, but none were killed.

November 27, 2009: In Moscow, three policemen were arrested for beating to death a civilian for no reason (other than that one of the cops was drunk). The cop's commander was suspended for trying to cover it up. All this is another part of the anti-corruption campaign, which has been ongoing for most of the last decade. Progress is being made, but slowly.

The luxury train between Moscow and St Petersburg, in a rural area, was derailed by a bomb buried under the tracks. At least 26 people were killed, and many more injured. Two years ago, a similar bombing injured 60. Chechen Islamic rebels eventually took credit for the attack, but the delay makes it appear that the bomber may have been some independent terrorist. The police recovered DNA, and other, evidence from the bomb fragments.

November 25, 2009: Iran has threatened to sue Russia for breach of contract. Two years ago, Iran bought S-300 air defense systems. But pressure from the U.S. and Israel has persuaded Russia to delay shipments. Iran wants it's missiles, or its money back.