Russia: Saving Syria

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September 2, 2013: China has joined with Russia to oppose any use of foreign military force against Syria. This was prompted by the recent Syrian use of chemical weapons against pro-rebel civilians. The U.S. and other NATO countries had earlier told Syria that such use of chemical weapons would bring military intervention. China and Russia have long been supporters of the Assad dictatorship and similar tyrants around the world. China and Russia are also bitter about what happened to their old friend Kaddafi, who lost his life clinging to power in Libya two years ago. Kaddafi was largely done in by NATO providing air support. NATO is reluctant to do that for Syria because the post-Kaddafi government (and post Arab Spring governments in general) tend to be tolerant of Islamic terror groups. But the Syrian civil war is dragging on and that is becoming embarrassing for the West. Assad losing power would be an even bigger embarrassment for China and Russia.

Russian naval and shipbuilding officials are not looking forward to the investigation of why a Russian built Kilo class sub belonging to India (INS Sindhurakshak) caught fire and exploded on August 14th while docked near Mumbai. The 16 year old submarine had recently returned from Russia after an $80 million refurbishment. Eighteen sailors were killed as the sub sank at dockside. The cause appears to have been an accident, but a thorough forensic investigation will eventually determine if it was caused by human error or equipment failure. Back in 2008, India had refused to accept a refurbished Kilo because of repeated failures of the subs Klub missiles it had recently been equipped with. The Indian sub had test fired six Klubs in late 2007, and all failed. The Russians had no explanation for the failures. That boat had been in Russia for over two years, for $80 million worth of upgrades and repairs. India refused to pay, or take back the sub, until Russia fixed the problems with the missiles. This the Russians eventually did, and there were several successful Klub tests that persuaded the Indians to accept the refurbished Kilo. Russian missiles have little combat experience and a reputation for erratic performance. Quality control was never a Soviet strength, but the Russians are getting better, at least in the civilian sector. The Indians are now haunted by a 2000 incident where the detonation of a missile (or torpedo) aboard the Russian nuclear sub Kursk caused the loss of the sub and all its crew. There have been other problems since then and the Indians fear that the Mumbai disaster may just be the latest.

September 1, 2013: In the south (Dagestan) an Islamic terrorist was killed and a policeman wounded when police stopped two men at night and asked for ID. The men opened fire and one managed to escape. The dead man was later identified as a wanted terrorist bomb maker.

August 31, 2013: Russia told Iran it would not discuss any new arms deals as long as the 2011 Iranian lawsuit is active at the international arbitration court in Switzerland. Iran is seeking $4 billion in damages because Russia backed out of a 2010 agreement to deliver $800 million worth of S-300 anti-aircraft systems (similar to the U.S. Patriot). Russia did not deliver on the 2010 deal because of the new UN arms sanctions against Iran but believes that some types of military gear could still be sold to Iran and will try to do so once the 2011 lawsuit is dropped. In reality, Russia is glad to have an excuse to stay away from Iranian arms deals, which cause the Russians all manner of diplomatic and foreign trade problems with the West and Israel.

At the Soviet era Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, a Russian Zenit 3SLB rocket put an Israeli communications satellite into orbit.

August 28, 2013: On the Baltic, outside Kaliningrad, a Russian Navy Zubr class air cushion vehicle approached a crowded beach full of people swimming and sunning themselves. Seemingly unconcerned, those in the water and on the beach that the 555 ton craft was headed for got out of the way as the hovercraft came up on the sand. Out came over a hundred naval infantry in battle gear, who moved the sunbathers back and established a perimeter and then moved inland for a training exercise. Naturally there were plenty of smart phones on the beach recording it all and the videos soon appeared on the Internet. The Russian Navy could not just ignore this bizarre incident so an official explanation was given. The navy said that the beach was a military training area and no one should have been there. But the videos indicated no surprise or alarm among the crowd at the beach and people just moved out of the way of the hovercraft and went back to relaxing on a sunny and hot day at beach. The Baltic does not have many warm sunny days for visiting the beach. During the Soviet period (before 1991), if the government said stay away from somewhere most people stayed away, rather than risk a nighttime visit from the KGB (secret police). But since 1991, Russians have gladly shed decades of such obedience and fear. If there’s a fine beach on military land and it’s a hot, sunny day, the people will insist on sharing the beach with whatever the navy has planned. The navy would like to see the good old (Soviet) days return but know that the best they can do is pretend and tell the media that people were not supposed to be on the beach and leave it at that. That said, that hovercraft was huge and scary to the uninitiated. A Zubr can carry 130 tons (three tanks, or a combination of lighter armored or non-armored vehicles, or up to 500 troops). Top speed is 110 kilometers an hour and range is 480 kilometers. The crew of 31 usually stays out less than eight hours per mission. The Zubrs also carry two stabilized MLRs (multiple tube rocket launchers), four short range anti-aircraft missiles systems (Igla-1Ms), and two AK-630 six-barrel 30mm close-in weapon systems (CIWS), for defense against anti-ship missiles. This is an amphibious warship used to quickly get troops and vehicles onto a beach.

In the south (Dagestan) two Islamic terrorists were killed when police interrupted a terrorist attack.

August 27, 2013: In the south (Ingushetia) a senior security official was killed while driving to work. It’s unclear if the killers were Islamic terrorists or gangsters, as both groups have an interest in hindering police and military intelligence work in the area. The victim, however, was mostly involved with persuading Islamic terrorists to surrender and accept amnesty.

Off the north coast a group of Europeans opposed to off shore oil drilling attempted to move their ship close enough to interfere with and halt oil operations. A Russian coast guard approached the interloper and told them to leave or they would be fired on and, if necessary, sunk. The protestors’ ship left and said they would take the Russians to court for interfering with free passage in international waters. Not only do the Russians tend to open fire on real or perceived threats to their borders, but they also tend to ignore international agencies telling them that sort of thing is wrong.  

A Russian transport flew another 90 Russians (and others from former parts of the Soviet Union) out of Syria. This is in anticipation of NATO air strikes in retaliation for the Syrian government recently using nerve gas against pro-rebel civilians. Syria denies it and Russia insists the rebels did it. The U.S. says it has proof and that sarin nerve gas was detected on victims and the areas where they were when they were killed by the sarin.

August 26, 2013: A Russian cruiser, destroyer, and supply ship visited Venezuela. The 11,400 ton cruiser Moskva was later ordered to go to the coast of Syria to demonstrate Russian support for the embattled Assad government. A Russian electronic intelligence collecting ship was also ordered to the same area, apparently to monitor any American naval and air operations.

August 22, 2013: South Korea put its first radar imaging satellite into orbit (via a Russian launcher). The 1.4 ton KOMPSAT 5 satellite uses a radar that can detect objects and landforms as small as one meter (39 inches) across. This satellite is mainly for obtaining geographic (land and sea) information, disaster response, and environmental monitoring. Military use was not discussed publically. The launcher was a Cold War era ICBM (an RS-18) converted to work as a satellite launcher.

The Russian Air Force has ordered 15 An-148 commercial transports. The An-148 is a twin jet commercial transport that normally carries up to 80 passengers or nine tons of cargo. Max range is 2,100 kilometers and the high-wing design means that the stretched An-178 cargo version can carry up to 15 tons and have a rear door for quickly loading and unloading. The An-148 is costing the air force about $39 million each and all will be delivered by 2017. The air force does have a need for An-148s, but the government has an even greater need in keeping the Russian commercial aircraft manufacturers in business. That’s the main reason behind this purchase.

August 21, 2013: The Russian government recently issued a formal reprimand to the director (Vladimir Popovkin) of the Russian Space Agency (RSA), which handles all of Russia’s satellite launches. The government later clarified that the reprimand was not for several recent disasters but for the fact that in the last three years the RSA has only been able to launch 47 percent of Russian satellites. The reprimand, which in Russia is usually the last warning for someone about to be dismissed, was about the continued inefficiency of the RSA and the inability of Popovkin to reform and revitalize the RSA. The repercussions continue in the wake of all the sloppy decisions and stupid mistakes that have led to the loss of launchers and satellites. Another shake up of the RSA is expected if the government can find someone more qualified than Vladimir Popovkin to do the deed. Senior government officials know that Popovkin is not the problem and that the corrupt environment he has to work in is. Cleaning that up means cleaning up the corruption through-out Russian society. That requires more than the vertical chop, it takes time and persistence. 

August 20, 2013: In the south (Dagestan) nine Islamic terrorists were killed when police surrounded the house they were hiding in. The terrorists refused to surrender and then died in the ensuing gun battle. The dead included a local terrorist leader and the man believed responsible for the recent murder of a local Islamic cleric who had preached against Islamic terrorism.

August 19, 2013: The government revealed that two years ago Sudan had secretly bought 24 Mi-24 helicopter gunships and 14 MI-8 transport helicopters. Some have already been delivered. Russia told the UN that Sudan agreed not to use these helicopters in Darfur (western Sudan), where the UN has embargoed the introduction of new weapons.

The government repeated a warning to Russians planning to visit Egyptian vacation resorts to reconsider. Russians were not forbidden from going and most did not cancel their plans. The main reason for this was that the resorts that cater to Russians (and other foreigners) are outside the cities and have had no violence. The Egyptians are grateful for the Russians showing up because a lot of Western tourists have cancelled.

Russian and Japanese negotiators met in Russia to resume negotiations over the long delayed treaty to end the state of war existing between the two countries since World War II. The talks are also about a territorial dispute. In 2010, Russia renounced a 1956 deal to return two of the four Japanese Kuril islands. Japan had been pressuring Russia to make good on the 1956 promise (made at the time Japan and the Soviet Union resumed diplomatic relations). But Russia reneged, claiming Japan was plotting to get the other two islands back as well. The Japanese have been pressuring the Russians to return the Kurile Islands (off northern Japan) for decades, and this has caused a lot of tension recently. These four islands were seized at the end of World War II and the Russians kept them. The Kurils had been occupied by Japanese for centuries, but when Russia reached the Pacific coast in the 17th century, they began to send ships down to the Kurils. In 1875, Japan and Russia signed a treaty settling claims in the area. Japan acknowledged Russia’s claim to the larger Shakalin island to the north while Russia acknowledged that the Kurils belonged to Japan. After World War II, Russia expelled the 17,000 Japanese inhabitants of the four Kuril Islands. Russians were brought in and about 16,000 of them (including many Ukrainians, Koreans, and so on) currently inhabit the islands. There’s not much economic value to the Kurils, except for the good fishing. But it's believed there are oil and gas deposits off shore and valuable mineral deposits on land. Meanwhile, the Russians are still hacked off at losing a war to Japan in 1905, and to Japanese soldiers occupying parts of eastern Russia after World War I. Japan and Russia had a non-aggression treaty for most of World War II. But Russia declared war on Japan on August 15th, 1945, and promptly invaded Japanese occupied northern China (Manchuria). Japanese surrendered to the United States a month later. You could say that Japan and Russia have a lot of unresolved issues.

 

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