The government believes the pro-Russian Assad dictatorship in Syria is doomed and is seeking to do some damage control. There are not many options in this department. Most of the Arab world is hostile to Russian support for the Assads. The Syrian rebellion has also caused problems inside Russia, where backing the wrong side makes the government look weak and ineffective.
Russia continues its transformation back into a police state. Foreigners are demonized and foreign aid organizations are banned. Now the government wants to eliminate independent Russian charities. This is based on the fear that any independent organization is a potential threat to the state. Very Soviet, and this attitude has a lot of support inside Russia who still see many enemies of the state wandering around.
The new police state mentality requires a lot of external enemies to make Russians frightened enough to tolerate all the new restrictions. This includes using the state-controlled media to demonize the traditional (Soviet era) enemies (West Europe and the United States). This has caused a lot of anger and frustration in West Europe. For example, government propaganda complaining about Western anti-missile systems as a ploy to disarm Russia, not stop missile attacks from Iran or North Korea, is seen as absurd by other Europeans. This paranoia, constantly delivered by state controlled media, finds many receptive minds inside Russia. Here, paranoia about the outside world, especially the West, has been a cultural staple for centuries. Senior Russian military leaders openly discuss how Russia might be forced to attack Western anti-missile systems, in self-defense. This was mainly for internal consumption but it alarms foreigners.
February 6, 2013: In Dagestan police killed a terrorist who was wanted for involvement in a 2010 suicide bombing in a Moscow subway.
February 4, 2013: Russia terminated a 2002 crime fighting cooperation deal with the United States. The 2002 agreement mostly benefitted Russia but also helped the United States identify many of the corrupt officials in Russia. This was seen as a potential danger by many Russian officials, even if the program did help reduce crime in Russia.
January 30, 2013: Ukraine signed a $10 billion contract with a major oil company to develop shale gas fields in Ukraine. Within a decade this could eliminate the need to import natural gas from Russia. This would free Ukraine from Russian threats to halt gas shipments if Ukraine did not do as it was told. This sort of thing has gotten nasty in the past. Four years ago a natural gas price dispute between Russia and Ukraine led to a cut off of some 20 percent of the gas used in Western Europe (arriving via pipelines going through Ukraine). This was not supposed to happen, and Ukraine and Russia blamed each other for it. After two weeks of threats and negotiations Russian natural gas shipments, via the pipeline that transits Ukraine, resumed to Western Europe. The West European nations now had an agreement with Ukraine and Russia to station monitors at the natural gas pumping station, to settle disputes over whether Russia was sending the proper amount of gas or Ukraine was diverting it. Ukraine agreed to pay more for the natural gas it got from Russia but not as much as Russia was originally asking. Western Europe, in general, is losing patience with the unreliable, and often criminal, manner in which Russian firms do business. Many of these firms are state owned, and the Russian government is being told to shape up or lose a lot of business with Western Europe. Thus it was not a surprise that days after Ukraine announced its new shale gas effort, Russia demanded another $7 billion for gas delivered last year. Ukraine accused Russia of fraud and intimidation.
January 28, 2013: The state-appointed governor of Dagestan was replaced by order of the national government. Dagestan has become the main terrorist battleground in the Caucasus and the national leadership was not happy with local efforts to deal with the problem.
January 26, 2013: In Dagestan two bombs went off (in a policeman’s car and inside a police station). There were no injuries and this was another terrorist attempt to intimidate the police.
January 24, 2013: During a two day police operation in Chechnya, 12 Islamic terrorists were killed, along with two policemen. Two of the dead terrorists were wanted terrorist leaders, responsible for several major terror attacks in Chechnya over the last few years.