A growing number of Russian leaders recognize that the country is in big trouble. Corruption, most of it inherited from the communist period (1921-91), but some of it going back centuries, cripples the economy, military and just about everything. At the very top, there have been more and more major efforts to root out the bad practices. But the resistance is formidable, and progress is slow. Most Russians realize that if the reform doesn't work, nothing else in the country will either.
Trade with China doubled to $60 billion last year. One aspect of this, the rapid growth of Chinese trade in the thinly populated Far East, stirs Russian fears that Chinese businesses will take over the economy out there. The Chinese have done this before, over the centuries, with other neighbors. Chinese today are well aware of that.
Israeli officials admitted that one of their military attaches in Russia was engaged in collecting information on Russian arms sales to Arab countries. Russian police grabbed the Israeli diplomat (an army colonel) on May 12th and ordered him out of the country in 48 hours. The expelled man had been caught by the Russians before, "crossing the line" in doing what diplomats have long done; spy. A certain amount of this is allowed, but when diplomats become too aggressive, they get booted out.
President Dmitry Medvedev is trying to reduce corruption in the courts, where judges are often manipulated via bribes and threats. This is proving to be difficult, but unless this corruption is cleaned up, Russia will continue to suffer economic problems (local businesses not starting or growing and foreign investors staying away). Corrupt courts are seen as the major problems for local and foreign businesses.
May 31, 2011: Police arrested sixty (out of several hundred) demonstrators in Moscow and St Petersburg. These demonstrations are held regularly, on the last day of each month with 31 days, to protest government rules that make it nearly impossible to get a permit to hold a demonstration the government does not want held (as in anti-government ones.)
May 30, 2011: The government abruptly cancelled two joint military exercises with Indian military forces. One was a naval exercise near Vladivostok and another was an army exercise in Russia. The Indians were given obviously bogus reasons for the cancellations, and it caused quite a lot of anti-Russian media coverage in India. No one is quite sure what is going on here, because India continues to be a major customer for Russian weapons.
For the first time, Russian warships (from the Black Sea fleet) joined NATO ships for a joint exercise (off Spain). The exercise involved Russian and NATO forces cooperating in rescuing crews from a submarine that was unable to surface.
May 27, 2011: Russia has changed its mind about Libya, and no longer supports the Kaddafi government (which is fighting a civil war against a force that is supported by most Libyans.) Libya, under Kaddafi, has long been a good customer for Russian weapons. For that reason, Russia supported Kaddafi after most Western nations got behind the rebels. But now Kaddafi seems doomed.
May 26, 2011: In the Caucasus (Dagestan), seven Islamic terrorists and a soldier were killed as troops tracked down and surrounded a group of Islamic militants.
May 25, 2011: The third Talwar class stealth frigate was launched. These ships are sold to India, which is happy with their performance.
East of the Ural mountains, in Bashkorstan (Central Asia), an army munitions depot burst into fire and explosions. The cause was a soldier mishandling old munitions being prepared for disposal. The fire and explosions forced the evacuation of 27,000 people, killed two, injured over 70 and destroyed nearby businesses employing hundreds of people. Russia still has over a million tons of elderly Cold War era munitions, and the stuff has to be (carefully) disposed of before it spontaneously explodes (which is increasingly happening).
In Ukraine, two technicians were killed when an artillery shell that was being tested went off unexpectedly.
Russia is now willing to negotiate an agreement to allow Russia and the United States to participate in building an anti-missile system for Europe. Russia had long opposed such defenses (against rogue states like Iran) as actually aimed against Russia.
May 23, 2011: The Russian Supreme Court agreed with the government and ordered the Center for Islamic Culture closed. This allows a government controlled organization to be the supreme Islamic clerical council in the country. In this way, the government can monitor Islamic radical efforts to infiltrate Islamic institutions. This is another return the old, centralized, government controlled ways of the communist and, before that, czarist periods.
May 22, 2011: In the Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria), two wanted Islamic terrorists were caught and killed by police. Acting on information found on the bodies, police went and found three bombs the men had built. Police dismantled the bombs.
Russia has banned known drug addicts from working in a large variety of jobs (like transportation, petroleum, mining, nuclear industries, pharmaceutical, medical, rescue, teaching and construction). Drug addiction, mainly because of opium and heroin from Afghanistan, is a growing problem.
May 21, 2011: Demonstrations in St Petersburg protested the continued use of conscription, and revelations that, despite government promises, conscripts were still being sent to the Caucasus and getting killed in counter-terror operations.