Russia: Dealing With The Next Revolution

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June 2, 2012: The new Vladimir Putin government is making a big show of cracking down on corruption. A principal target is military procurement, where a growing number of embarrassing incidents (embezzlement, bribes, theft, and padded contracts) have come to light in the past few years. Now that the military is getting a lot more money, the government wants to dampen the bad publicity and improve the value received for money spent. This means more than just reducing the stealing and cheating but also improving the quality and effectiveness of Russian built weapons. Breaking with long-standing tradition, the government has gone public with a long-concealed truth; Russian made weapons suck. Decades of communist propaganda had convinced many Russians and foreigners that Russian designed and manufactured weapons were "rugged and effective." While there were a few exceptions, most Russian weapons were neither. When buyers (Russian and foreign) got to handle Russian weapons, and their Western counterparts, they usually chose the Western designs. In combat the Western designs were usually triumphant. For a long time this was blamed on the inferior training and leadership the users of Russian weapons often suffered from. While true, this did not change the fact that the Russian weapons were also inferior. So now the Russian government is demanding that Russian defense industries improve the quality of their products or lose sales. This Putin-inspired approach is becoming a nightmare for the Russian weapons manufacturers. Corruption among these firms extends back more than a century. The communists thought they had cleaned up the corruption before World War II, but it came back, and increased enormously once the communist police state was gone after 1991. While the stealing is annoying, what really angers most Russians (from Putin on down) is the continued development and manufacture of inferior weapons. Putin wants to turn things around and he's turning up the heat to make it happen. Most Russians see this as an effort, not a sure-fire solution.  

Many Russians continue to demonstrate against the government, despite the refusal of officials to issue permits for the demonstrations. An increasing number of demonstrators are being arrested, and the government believes that the security system and judicial system, along with state-controlled media, can deal with this unrest. That may not be enough, as a lot of the protest activity is being organized on the Internet, which the government has been unable to control as they have the mass media. Moreover, a local search engine, Yandex, has recently surpassed the main state-owned TV network in terms of user activity. Vladimir Putin, who has been in power for 12 years now (as president, prime minister, and now president for another four years) is faced with several years of declining popularity. The urban middle class is largely against him and many rural groups are turning hostile as well. The government's response so far has been more action against corruption, more repression of public protests, and more propaganda against "foreign threats" (like the NATO anti-missile system). Russia is producing 10 million barrels of oil a day, mostly for export. This gives the government a lot of money to play with. But the pervasive corruption and growing police-state tactics are causing a lot more popular unrest. Moreover, since 1991, the government has been reluctant to spend a lot of money on modern infrastructure, something the previous communist dictatorship also skimped on. Most Russians are now well aware of how shabby Russia is compared to Western nations and are well aware of the reason why. The government now promises to make up for past mistakes. Most Russians are waiting for performance, not promises.

The government continues to back the dictatorship in Syria, despite the growing number of atrocities committed by Syrian security forces (some of them confirmed by UN observers). Russia blames "both sides" for these embarrassing murders and will only go so far as to suggest that maybe senior members of the Syrian government should resign. Russia and China are very much against international pressure to replace tyrannical governments.

Another Russian cargo ship, believed to be carrying weapons, is approaching the Syrian port of Tartus. Russia denies that newly imported Russian weapons are being used against Syrian protestors. But there have been several shipments of Russian weapons to arrive in Syria since the rebellion began early last year. The UN has asked that nations not ship weapons to Syria. Russia has used its UN veto to prevent the UN from officially declaring a weapons embargo on Syria.

Russia is upgrading its border security. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, so did most of Russia's traditional land borders. Now there are 61,000 kilometers of border with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea, most of them with little border security at all. Russia is now going to install modern sensors, to replace the few barbed wire and other fences on a small portion of the borders. The border guards will also get new vehicles and UAVs. All this will make a difference in the high traffic areas but for most of the border regions, smugglers and other criminals will still be able to get across.

June 1, 2012: In the Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria) gunmen killed two policemen in two separate incidents.

May 28, 2012:  In the Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria) gunmen attempted to kill a senior official but only wounded him. It's unknown if this was related to terrorism or common criminals. Kabardino-Balkaria borders Georgia, has a population of 850,000, and has problems with Islamic terrorists but even more violence comes from the many criminal gangs that are found throughout the Caucasus.

May 25, 2012: Bad weather off the north Russian coast has delayed the sea trials of the Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (the former Russian Gorshkov) until June. Weather in this part of the world is often quite nasty, so this delay was not unexpected. Some of the Indian crew has been working with the Vikramaditya for over a year, learning about all the ship's systems, and now most of the other 1,250 members of the crew are present. India will take possession of the INS Vikramaditya this year, after the successful completion of sea trials. This project is four years behind schedule and $1.5 billion over the original budget. It is a major cause of ill-will between Russia and India.

May 24, 2012: The new Putin government is speeding up military reforms. The latest example is cutting 200,000 civilian jobs from the bloated Defense Ministry bureaucracy. This overstaffing is a hold-over from the communist period. The Defense Ministry is supposed to have 886,000 civilian jobs but 15 percent of them are not filled and the new total will be closer to half a million. This is still excessive for Russian needs but old traditions die hard.

May 23, 2012: A new ballistic missile warhead was tested, one that used multiple warheads, each able to maneuver while entering the atmosphere, in an effort to deceive anti-missile missiles.

May 21, 2012: The air force decided not to adopt a combat version of their new jet trainer (the Yak-130) as the new ground attack aircraft (as the Yak-131) to replace existing Su-25s. The Yak-131 was found to be too vulnerable to ground fire for the job. Instead, a new design, based on the successful Su-25, will be developed and built over the next decade. Meanwhile, existing Su-25s will be refurbished and upgraded. The Su-25 has performed well in over a decade of action in the Caucasus.

Despite Russian protests and threats, NATO has decided to proceed with the activation of an anti-missile system against Iranian and North Korean threats. Since such a system could also knock down incoming Russian missiles, Russia considers this a threat. The Europeans don't understand this Russian hostility.

May 20, 2012: In Dagestan police killed four Islamic terrorists, including a local leader.

 

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