Russia: Playing Old Cold War Games


March 17, 2012: The government repeated assurances that it would continue military cooperation with Syria. Several hundred Russian personnel are building facilities for the Russian Navy at the Syrian port of Tartus and Russia continues to deliver weapons and military equipment to Syria. State controlled media blames outsiders for the violence in Syria. This programming is similar to the kind of stuff the old Soviet Union constantly used during the Cold War, blaming the West, and especially the United States, for all the world's ills. But most of the world blames the decades-old Assad dictatorship for the problems in Syria and condemns Russia for blocking UN action to support the popular rebellion there. The Arab League, in particular, is very critical of Russia. This will cost Russia (arms sales and business opportunities) in the future.

Newly elected president Vladimir Putin faces some serious economic problems beyond Russia's inability to produce competitive weapons. Skilled people and cash continue to flee Russia, which is regarded (by businessmen) as a lawless state that views commercial enterprises as prey, not equal partners in economic development. The courts and government officials are corrupt. Disputes are decided not by law but by bribes and the whims of bureaucrats and Putin cronies. Meanwhile, Putin has sought to create prosperity (paid for with oil exports) with high tariffs and subsidies for non-competitive industries. So Russia continues to produce a lot of sub-standard goods. The situation is so bad that the generals and admirals have insisted they be allowed to buy some weapons and military equipment from Western suppliers. The government has reluctantly allowed this but has also encouraged the purchase of Western tech firms. The purchase of Western military gear often includes buying manufacturing technology as well and building some of the gear in Russia. But this does not solve the corruption and lawlessness problems, which are most obvious in the growing number of foreign aircraft bought by Russian airlines. Most of the aircraft used by the big Russian airlines are foreign made. Russian commercial aircraft manufacturers are still not competitive and survive mainly because of government subsidies. The growing presence of more efficient Western airliners makes clear to many Russians, on a regular basis, what is wrong with Russia. The big question is whether Putin will deal with these problems, or keep supporting them.

Since Vladimir Putin won the presidential election on the 4th, crowds at anti-Putin demonstrations have shrunk 80 percent. The government is also being more aggressive attacking the remaining demonstrators, arresting more of them, and more aggressively investigating and prosecuting anti-Putin activists. Yet the anti-movement seems prepared to keep at it. It remains to be seen how old school Putin will get to rid himself of these troublesome critics.

March 16, 2012: The government made final the order for 24 MiG-29K, which in the next three years will replace the Su-33 on Russia's only aircraft carrier. India has already received some MiG-29Ks for their aircraft carriers.  Until today, the Russian order was a "proposal", even though new carrier aircraft were desperately needed.

March 14, 2012: Russia demanded that NATO apologize for civilians killed by NATO warplanes in Libya last year. The Russian government was extremely unhappy with how NATO helped the Libyan rebels overthrow long-time dictator Moamar Kaddafi and has state-controlled media churning out stories about how defeating Kaddafi was a big-time war crime. Now Russia accuses the new Libyan government of supporting the pro-democracy rebels in Syria. This is, to a certain extent, true and the Libyans don't hide it. Most Libyans and Syrians don't hide their disdain for Russia either. Playing these old Cold War games is costing Russia a lot of good will in the Arab world. Many Arabs fondly remember decades of Russian (then Soviet) support against the "imperialist West." Now the tables have turned, as far as most Arabs are concerned.

March 12, 2012: In Dagestan, two Islamic terrorists were killed by police. During the last year there have been about two incidents like this each week in Dagestan. There have also been about two assassination attempts on policemen each week.

March 6, 2012: In Dagestan a female suicide bomber attacked a police station, killing five policemen.

March 5, 2012: In St Petersburg a major museum opened a huge display of childhood artifacts (clothing, toys, candy wrappers, books) from the Soviet period. This, like much else the state-controlled cultural and media institutions does, is meant to appeal to nostalgia for the Soviet police state. It works for older Russians, not so much for those who grew up in a non-Soviet Russia.

March 4, 2012: Premier Vladimir Putin won election as president. Putin has previously served as president from 2000 to 2008, but the constitution prohibits serving more than two consecutive four years terms and Putin observed that. But many urban Russians are unhappy with Putin's rule and accuse him of rigging the current election.


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