Russia: Old Habits Die Hard


October 28, 2013: Recent violent riots against non-Slav Russians and illegal migrants are likely to become more of a problem. That’s because Russian Moslems (15 percent of the population) are the only group with a high enough birth rate (twice that of non-Moslems) to increase their population. Most illegal migrants coming in are Moslem. Actually, Russia needs the migrants because the population as a whole is declining and aging. New working age citizens are needed to keep the economy going but the only people keen on moving to Russia tend to be Moslem. The government has been trying, with some success, to get the non-Moslem population to increase their birth rate (and take better care of themselves and live longer) but so far it’s not enough to reverse the population decline.

Russia recently announced that it would accelerate its plan to create 40 more combat brigades by the end of the decade. This conversion was first announced in 2009, and since then 70 brigades have been created. Not all are fully manned or equipped. Only 35 are maneuver (tank or infantry) brigades and only about half of them are at full strength. The other 35 brigades are artillery, engineer, and the like. Converting the force from one based on divisions to one based on brigades was an admission that this two decade old Western practice was the correct solution to the many changes in military equipment during the last few decades. It is uncertain if the army can scrounge up the needed manpower for another 40 brigades but, for the moment, that’s the plan. The basic element of brigade-centric organization is to distribute many of the division and higher level support functions (supply, maintenance, artillery, engineer, communications) to the regiments (which are now brigades) and make the larger units more capable of operating independently and not simply as a subordinate unit of a division. The brigades are larger in terms of personnel and equipment than the older regiments. New training is required as well. All this is an effort to revive the Russian ground forces. The Russian army has been falling apart since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. That's fifteen years of practically no new equipment and a vast downsizing. The Cold War force of 175 divisions dwindled to 25, plus 21 independent brigades (equivalent to another 5 divisions). These divisions were, for the most part, very under strength and poorly equipped. By 2006, the Russian army was smaller than the American army and much less capable.

Russia recently announced that a naval survey of its northern (Arctic) coast last year had discovered a new island in the Franz Josef Land archipelago. This collection of 191 ice and snow covered Russian islands was found to have yet another island, created when storms and tidal action carved a channel into one island and created two. This discovery was part of a massive effort to chart, in detail, the new ice free “Northeast Passage” that has formed off the north coast. Other countries are depending on Russia to provide accurate information about the new shipping channels off the north coast. In July, China sent a 19,000 ton cargo ship through this ice free route to confirm what satellite images and Russian navigation charts have already shown, that there is an ice free route from Alaska to Norway for 4 months a year. Research has shown that this route has been ice free in the past but this is the first time in the modern period when that has happened. Russia is encouraging the use of the Northeast Passage, as it cuts the time it takes to get from East Asia to Europe by a third (from 6 weeks to 4). Time is money in the shipping business and this is a big deal for China, which is a major exporter of goods to Europe. Russia is also claiming most of this now ice-free area as part of their offshore economic zone. That means Russia owns the oil and natural gas down there and is stationing more ships and warplanes up there to protect these new assets. Foreigners are welcome to pass through but not to stay and drill.

For the second time in 4 days Turkish F-16s were sent into the air to escort Russian reconnaissance aircraft that were close, or across, the Turkish border in the Black Sea. Turkey complained to Russia but got no satisfactory reply for this sudden and unfriendly behavior. Russia and Turkey have been uneasy neighbors for centuries and often at war. The two countries have been at peace since the Turkish Ottoman Empire fell in the early 1920s but old habits die hard.

October 27, 2013: In Moscow some 5,000 people demonstrated against the police state tactics the government is increasingly using to stifle dissent.

October 26, 2013: In the south (Ingushetia) police were fired on by 2 masked men. The police returned fire, killing the 2 men and a woman who was with them. Apparently this was not terrorism but police stumbling on a bride kidnapping. While illegal, such kidnappings are common cultural customs in the region and those involved get very angry if there is interference by the police.

October 25, 2013: The government warned all its citizens to avoid travelling to foreign nations that have extradition treaties with the United States. This seemed odd until you realize that the major criminal gangs in Russia have a lot of their money parked overseas and their members like to travel. As a result, a growing number of these criminals are being arrested in nations that allow seemingly legitimate (but actually criminal) people to do their off shore banking. These arrests are carried out at the behest of the United States, which then extradites the Russian criminal to America and prosecutes for violations of American law (especially those regarding money laundering and smuggling). This usually results in a long prison sentence. The Russian gangsters have used their clout in the Russian bureaucracy to get the government to launch a media campaign to threaten foreign countries that have those extradition treaties with the U.S. and warn all Russians about this sorry state of affairs. The public warnings are painful and embarrassing for most Russians, as they are a reminder of how much criminal activity there is in the country and how much control the criminals have over the government.

October 21, 2013: In the south (Kabardino-Balkaria) an FSB officer was killed during a gun battle with Islamic terrorists.

In the southern city of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), a woman from Dagestan got on a bus and detonated explosives she was carrying, killing herself and 6 others. Police believe the explosives were detonated remotely by her nearby handler.

October 19, 2013: A Russian destroyer lefts its Pacific base, accompanied by a supply ship and a seagoing tug, to show the flag and visit countries in East and Southeast Asia.

October 18, 2013: In the south (Kabardino-Balkaria) a bomb went off in a mosque, and 2 bodies were found. It was later deduced that the 2 men were carrying an AK-47 and the bomb, which apparently was accidentally detonated.

October 16, 2013: In the south (Ingushetia) police arrested 4 men and found a large quantity of weapons and bomb making materials. The 4 were charged with planning terror attacks.

October 15, 2013: Iranian officials met with their counterparts from the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany to begin discussions of how to end the heavy sanctions on Iran. The 2 days of talks produced nothing except Iranian refusal to consider what the West wants (the end to Iranian nuclear weapons research). Another round of talks will take place in November. Everyone issued upbeat press releases. The Saudis and Israelis are unhappy with all this theater, but Russia considered it a victory for their ally Iran.

About a thousand kilometers northeast of Moscow (Kirov) police arrested 2 Moslem men from the Caucasus and charged them with planning to bomb a chemical weapons storage and disposal facility near Kirov.

October 14, 2013: The main Syrian rebel group, the SNC (Syrian National Coalition) has refused an invitation by the United States and Russia to attend peace talks. At least 19 individual groups in the SNC do not want to negotiate with the Assad government while the Assad forces are killing Syrians and chasing them out of their homes and out of the country. Many rebels do not believe that Assad will negotiate seriously. For many Syrians the Assads cannot be trusted. The Iranians also refuse to participate in any peace talks. Russia counts this as another victory because the massive Iranian aid to the Assads has stalled the rebels and Russian diplomacy has stopped the West from providing air support for the rebels.

October 13, 2013: Triggered by the belief that an illegal immigrant had murdered a Russian, several thousand people attacked an indoor market in Russia largely staffed by illegal immigrants. Police arrested over 1,200 people in an effort to halt the violence.

October 10, 2013: The head of the Russian Space Agency (Vladimir Popovkin) was fired. Popovkin was brought in to head, and reform, the Space Agency in 2011, but the failed launches and other problems continued. The basic problem here, and throughout the Russian defense industries, is the loss of key personnel to better paying and more satisfying jobs in the commercial sector. Reversing that trend has so far proved impossible.

After a 3 year delay the Russian Army has finally agreed to accept new BMP-3M IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) from the manufacturer. Initial attempts to deliver in 2010 were refused because of quality and reliability issues. The Russian army currently has 300 BMP-3Ms and 400 BMP-3s. Deliveries were halted after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and began again in 2007, with about 40 a year until 72 were shipped in 2010, and that’s when the army began refusing to accept because of the inability of the manufacturer to address the quality problems.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close