The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left over 6,100 dead and a million Ukrainians displaced in the last year. About two-thirds of the dead are civilians. There is growing evidence that the rebels, especially the Russians who “volunteered” to enter Ukraine and fight, have been committing a growing number of war crimes (like executing prisoners, looting and abusing civilians). Russia continues to portray the situation as a NATO plot to weaken or destroy Russia by instigating an uprising against a pro-Russian Ukrainian president in late 2013 and now encouraging the new pro-Western government to resist legitimate Russian claims on Ukrainian territory (Crimea and Donbas). Ukrainians, the West and other East European nations find this absurd but the Russian government has convinced most Russians by exploiting the revived state control of the mass media, the traditional Russian paranoia and sense of persecution plus increasingly ruthless (including assassination and false imprisonment) suppression of critics and dissenters. This effort has led to increased censorship of Internet use inside Russia. Recently introduced rules make it illegal to say anything bad about government officials, especially senior ones. This includes jokes and parody. Criticism of the leadership is illegal, just like in the bad old Soviet days.
The crises in Ukraine has also allowed the Russian government to back off on its anti-corruption campaign. This was popular with most Russians, but not the wealthiest ones and the government officials being bribed. With the public distracted by the situation in Ukraine and the government’s increasingly strident attacks on “NATO aggression” it was deemed prudent to do something for the wealthy and some key members of the government by dropping some investigations and prosecutions.
This propaganda success inside Russia lessens the negative public opinion backlash created by the growing economic problems. The government plays down the negative effects (GDP decline growing unemployment and inflation) and appeals to the traditional Russian forbearance (tolerance for all sorts of misfortune). While the internal propaganda and appeals to traditional Russian virtues has worked in the past many in the current leadership are also aware that it does not work forever, which is why the monarchy fell in 1917 and the communists in 1991. As the old saying goes, you can’t fool all the people all the time. Even in Russia dissent builds and builds if fixable problems are not fixed.
Since Russia annexed Crimea in early 2014 the peninsula has been turned into a heavily armed fortress. Russian airpower in being increased and to that end some of the more than 24 airfields on the peninsula, built there during the Cold War, are being refurbished. Before the Russians took over only five of these bases were in use. But now three of the old airfields are being returned to duty. The 200 or so military aircraft in Crimea include Be-12 and Be-200 flying boats, Ka-27 and Mi-8 helicopters, Su-24 attack and Su-24MP recon jets, Su-27 and Su-30 multirole fighters, Su-25 close air support planes, Orlan-10 UAVs, and Tu-22M strategic bombers. More than 30 Russian warships are being moved to Crimea by the end of the decade. This includes six frigates, a cruiser, three destroyers, two submarines, six corvettes, and twelve patrol boats. Many of these ships are new and some are still under construction.
Russia is increasing its effort to modernize its aging Tu-95MS bombers. Eight of these were modernized (mainly with new electronics, including communications, navigation and automated landing systems) in 2014 and ten more will undergo the process in 2015-16
April 22, 2015: The United States accused Russia of violating the new ceasefire agreement for eastern Ukraine (Donbas) by sending in air defense systems and Russian troops to train the often unreliable and inept rebels.
April 20, 2015: Poland, as part of its response to increased Russian aggression, has increased defense spending and announced it had decided to spend over a billion dollars to purchase American Patriot air-defense missile systems.
April 19, 2015: In the south (Dagestan) police clashed with Islamic terrorists and killed Ali Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, the leader of al pro-al Qaeda Islamic terrorists in the Caucasus. A lower ranking leader was also killed. Dagestani has been in charge for about a year and has managed to cope with growing defections to ISIL. Dagestani was seen as competent and effective, so his death may help ISIL come to dominate the various Islamic terrorist factions in the Caucasus. Whatever the case the security forces still have the upper hand and have maintained that dominance for over a decade.
April 18, 2015: Russia warned Israel not to sell weapons to Ukraine. In the past Israel has used similar sales to bargain with the Russians to not sell weapons to Iran. The U.S. believes the new Russian S-300 sale to Iran is being done for economic reasons, to help keep the Russian manufacturer in business and to reduce the damage to the military rearmament plan. While the sanctions and plunging oil price have caused major cuts (10 percent for most areas) in the national budget military spending is only being reduced about four percent. The problem is that the Russian military is still equipped with a lot of Cold War era weapons and without new gear the force will decline in usefulness. Since the 1990s only the nuclear missile forces have received adequate financial support and have maintained most of their Cold War era capabilities.
Ukrainian troops near Mariupol clashed with pro-Russian rebels who attempted to advance. The Ukrainian resistance persuaded the rebels to back off. The rebels appear to be bringing in more troops and weapons forward in preparation for another effort to take Mariupol. This is in violation of the truce and is nothing new as far as the Russians and rebels are concerned.
Elsewhere in Ukraine 300 American paratroopers have arrived and began training Ukrainian volunteers and reservists. Other NATO nations are also sending trainers and Russia is not pleased with this. Ukraine is expanding its security forces and has plenty of basic infantry weapons not a lot of qualified trainers.
April 13, 2015: Russia agreed to lift its ban on shipping S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. These missiles would make it much more difficult for Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities and would mean higher Israeli losses. There was a similar problem recently in Syria. In 2013 Russia and Syria insisted that shipments of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems (similar to the U.S. Patriot) had arrived in Syria. The Russians could have delivered the S-300s in 2010, when they were ordered, but did not. The delay was all about the Russians understanding the Israeli situation and not wanting to trigger a response that would hurt Russia. This agreement to delay delivery also covered orders for Iran, which Russia has now decided to proceed with in order to punish the West for sanctions on Russia because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) complains that its 400 monitors in eastern Ukraine and Donbas, whose job is to monitor the ceasefire, are being restricted by rebels and, less frequently Ukrainian forces from carrying out inspections.
April 12, 2015: In Yemen a Russian warship and two Russian airliners evacuated 650 people including about 150 non-Russians.
April 9, 2015: Ukraine banned Soviet and Nazi symbols. This means the destruction of many surviving Soviet era monuments and Russia immediately protested. Many Russians still consider Ukraine part of Russia while most Ukrainians disagree.
April 8, 2015: The Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine is being felt as far away as India. That’s because the last five of 40 Indian AN-32 transport aircraft being upgraded in Ukraine have, well, sort of disappeared. Ukrainian engineers working in India to upgrade another 64 An-32s were also called home and India can no longer get An-32 spare parts from Ukraine. The original contract called for 40 An-32s to be upgraded in Ukraine and another 64 in India. Now India faces the prospect of most of its aging An-32s becoming inoperable by the end of the decade. India is desperate to remedy this situation and is considering purchasing new transports. This is a very expensive alternative, but appears to be the only one. Ukraine was a major source of An-24 series aircraft series and parts until the 2014 Russian invasion.
The U.S. accused Russia of carrying out a hacker attack on the White House computer network.
April 7, 2015:
For the second time since 2013 a Russian Oscar class nuclear submarine caught fire while undergoing refurbishment. This time it was in a yard on the north coast. The one in late 2013 was in a Pacific coast shipyard. In both cases the fire was put out quickly and there were no weapons on board and the reactors had been shut down before the shipyard work began. There was no radiation leak or damage to the sub’s reactor in either incident. It is standard procedure to unload all weapons and turn off the nuclear reactor before putting these subs into dry dock. In both cases the fire was started when tools or welding ignited some rubber insulation and spread to other flammable material. The 2013 fire took five hours to put out and killed 14 people. The 2015 fire did not kill anyone.
Over the Baltic Sea, near the Russian border, a Russian Su-27 jet fighter tried to intimidate an American RC-135 electronic reconnaissance aircraft flying in international air space. The Russians denied that the incident occurred but the RC-135 crew has proof.
April 2, 2015: Russia finally admitted that they were having serious problems with their new “5th generation” T-50 (or PAK-FA) stealth fighter. The admission came in the form of a decision to cut the number of production T-50s to be built by the end of the decade from 52 to 12. Russia already has five development models of the T-50 flying, although one was damaged in a fire. The Russian announcement did not cover specific reasons for the change. But Indian Air Force officials have been criticizing the progress of the T-50 program for over a year. This aircraft is the Russian answer to the U.S. F-22 and according to the Indians, who have contributed $300 million (so far) to development of the T-50, they are entitled by the 2007 agreement with Russian to have access to technical details. The Russians were accused to refusing to provide development updates as often and in as much detail the Indians expected. The Indians know from experience that when the Russians clam up about a military project it is usually because the news is bad and the Russians would rather not share.