The government is encouraging ethnic hatred and nationalism in order to maintain its popularity among a majority of the population. Even the communists would use this populist appeal to divert anger against unpopular government policies. These days, the government has been increasingly harsh with political opponents. The new one party system is based on former members of the communist bureaucracy and younger entrepreneurs who control large chunks of the economy. It's more of a meritocracy than the old communist system, and the economy is not centrally planned. But the police state has returned, as has state controlled media. Some things, like communist-era corruption, especially among the police and courts, never went away. The Soviet era politicians were politicians that had to work their way up via the Communist Party bureaucracy, Many were pretty competent, compared to their Western counterparts (who have to win elections.) But what most Westerners tend to ignore is the large role party politics plays in how successful a politician is. Many politicians, everywhere, see elections as a rubber stamp and a done deal. But there are still surprises, which politicians like to play down. In Russia, the elections are more tightly "managed", but demonstrators still come out in the thousands.
But the Soviets didn't have to deal with the Internet and cell phones, two communications devices that defy censorship. So the neo-Soviet state is more economically productive, but not as completely controlled. This means any opposition is not as powerless as was the case under the communists. This is something of a social experiment, that has potential for becoming very ugly. Next door, in Belarus, the communist era bureaucrats retained more control than in Russia. The Belorussian neo-communists have been much more open and unapologetic in its use of force against opposition politicians. Belarus is technically a democracy, but run like a communist dictatorship. An opposition remains alive and active, but the government becomes ever more violent against any opponents. What the Belorussian bureaucrats fear most is a broad-based revolution. Unlike Russia, where the politicians managed to get the economy going, their counterparts in Belarus failed to ease the Soviet era poverty. In Belarus, there is more anger at the bottom, and more incompetence and greed at the top. Russian leaders keep telling their Belarus neighbors to follow the Russian models. This advice is largely ignored, and the instability and potential for widespread violence continues.
January 7, 2011: The Russian Air Force is taking control of nearly all Army anti-aircraft missile systems. The army and air force air defense weapons (including jet fighter interceptors) will become a combined aerospace defense system.
January 5, 2011: In Dagestan (southern Russia, in the Caucasus), police clashed with Islamic terrorists, leaving three cops wounded and four terrorists dead.
January 3, 2011: The revitalized Russian industry pumped a record (for the post Soviet era) of 10.15 million barrels of oil a day. The previous record, 11.45 million barrels a day was in 1988. Years of poor maintenance and little investment saw oil production plunge to about half its 1980s peak in the 1990s. Since then, new investment and better management have brought production back up.
January 2, 2011: Someone fired an RPG rocket at a Christian (Orthodox) church in Ingushetia (adjacent to Chechnya in the Caucasus) and started a small fire. Christians are a minority (less than ten percent) in the Moslem areas of Russian Caucasus.
January 1, 2011: In eastern Russia, a Tu-154 three-engine jet transport crashed on takeoff, killing three passengers. The next day, the government recommended that airlines (mainly Russian) ground their 154s until the cause of the crash could be determined. So far, the onboard fire appears to have been related to faulty wiring. The Tu-154 was the Soviet era counterpart to the American B-727. The Tu-154 entered service a decade later than the 727. While about 1,800 727s were produced, and production ceased in 1984, about a thousand 154s were manufactured and about 200 remain in service. The same number of 727s are still working. The 727 was largely replaced by the more efficient twin-engine 737, while the 154 was never really replaced by another Russian aircraft. Efforts to upgrade the 154 didn't work out, and production finally ceased last year. Major Russian airlines, and most foreign users, have dropped the 154. Smaller airlines still operate 154s because they are cheap, and the later models, with more efficient engines, are not ruinously expensive to operate.
December 28, 2010: The government fired two senior officials of the Space Agency, in response to the recent failure of a satellite launcher, that resulted in the loss of three communications satellites. Such firings are an old Russian tradition (the "vertical chop" that fires several senior people even when the screw up is lower down). This encourages other senior officials, and is very popular with the population in general.
An An-22 four engine turboprop transport crashed, apparently because of engine problems. All An-22s were grounded, and Tu-95 heavy bombers, that use the same engine, were also grounded. Russia cannot afford to replace most of the Cold War era systems, like the An-22 and Tu-95, and even upgrading and refurbishing these aircraft have been difficult to carry out.
December 25, 2010: In the capital of Dagestan, in the Caucasus, eight Islamic terrorists were trapped in a ten story building and killed by police. The dead men were believed responsible for the roadside bombings in the area last week.
December 23, 2010: In the last three days, two bombs went off in Dagestan, killing one and wounding five policemen and a few civilians. These were roadside bombs, but poorly built. No one took credit for these attacks, so it's unclear if the bombers were gangsters or Islamic terrorists.
December 19, 2010: Russia and Britain have each recently expelled one of the others diplomats. The British began the process on December 10th, accusing the Russian diplomats of supporting a widespread espionage in Britain. Russia denies such widespread espionage in the West, but there is a growing number of Russians being caught spying in the West.