August 23, 2009: The commander of the Russian Air Force admits that his force is a mess and is unable to defend the nation's air space. Although pilots are flying more, they still get into the air a third as much per year as NATO countries (where pilots fly 180 hours a year.) Russian aircraft are a generation behind most NATO countries. Russia is having a hard time recruiting pilots, as many of the new graduates get sent to remote air bases where they are only able to fly 20-30 hours a year, while getting paid less than a thousand dollars a year. If they stick around and get promoted, they transfer to bases in more populated areas, and fly more hours in more modern aircraft. But a lot of young pilots get disenchanted being based in the wilderness, and able to get into the air only 2-3 hours a month. The air force plans reforms that will improve the situation.
In an attempt to mend fences with India, the largest customer for Russian weapons, technology for building high performance jet engines will be exported. Russia will help India set up an assembly plant for the RD-33 engines that power the MiG-29. The high-tech components for the engines will come from Russia. If India invests in developing the technology to manufacture the engine components, they will have become one of the few nations that can produce these engines. China has, in the last decade, achieved that status via adopting, and stealing, Russian technology.
In eastern Siberia (Khakassia) the largest dam project in the country suffered an accident, when the turbine room was flooded. This killed over 70 workers. This was very embarrassing for the government, since there have been media reports about sloppy work and problems at the dam site, for over a decade. Similar problems are all too common in large construction projects, a problem that developed during the Soviet period, and persists. Back in the Soviet era, you could be jailed, or executed, for not completing a big project in time. In response, officials began to cheat, and some continue doing so. This custom evolved into more widespread corruption, aiming to get rich, and not just avoid the firing squad.
This year, American prosecutors have nailed several groups of Internet hackers, who had part of their operations in Russia, run by Russians. The U.S. is trying to get Russia to be more cooperative in going after the Russian Internet gangs. But the argument that these gangs are doing economic damage in Russia as well, is countered by the fact that these gangs have bribed Russian officials, or done espionage or political work for the government (via Internet access) that make the government reluctant to crack down too much.
August 21, 2009: In Chechnya a suicide bomber on a bicycle attacked the police, and killed four of them, plus a civilian.
August 19, 2009: The air force has made its biggest purchase since the end of the Cold War, ordering 48 of the new Su-35 fighters. This will cost over $2 billion, with deliveries stretching out for nearly a decade. The Su-35 is an extension of the Su-27, using a much more powerful engine and stealth features. Development has been expensive and difficult. The Su-35 has been called the F-22ski, but it's more analogous to a proposed advanced F-15 fighter, with stealth features.
August 18, 2009: A Russian warship caught up with the cargo ship, Arctic Sea, off the Cape Verde islands, and arrested eight pirates who had taken over the ship and its 14 man crew. Associates of the pirates had tried to get a $2 million ransom for the ship. Apparently inspired by the Somali pirates, this Baltic gang (consisting of four Estonians, two Russians and two Latvians) thought they could overcome the lack of a safe port to hold the hijacked ship (as the Somali pirates have) by turning off the Arctic Sea's transponder (that enables the ship owner to track it) and heading for a lightly trafficked part of the Atlantic. The pirates didn't realize that the United States still has an ocean surveillance system, and NATO countries have substantial maritime surveillance capability. Apparently the Arctic Sea was found and tracked shortly after it was reported missing about a week ago. It took several days for a Russian warship to reach the scene, and make the arrests. Thus there was no publicity for the tracking effort until the Arctic Sea crew were safe.
August 17, 2009: In Ingushetia (next to Chechnya) a suicide truck bomber attacked a police headquarters, leaving 25 dead and over a hundred wounded. About a ton of explosives was involved.
August 16, 2009: Near Moscow, two Russian Air Force Su-27s collided while practicing for an acrobatics demonstration for an air show. One of the victims, the leader of the acrobatics team (The Russian Knights) had earlier complained about the low quality of the aircraft his team was given.
August 15, 2009: The missing Russian cargo ship, Arctic Sea, was spotted 750 kilometers off one of the Cape Verde islands (which are off the northwest coast of Africa.) In the city of Nizhny Novgorod, anti-corruption uncovered a plot by unidentified defense officials, to steal $14 million worth of jet aircraft.
August 14, 2009: In Dagestan (next to Chechnya, where four policemen and two terrorists recently died) gunmen attacked a police station (killing four) and a sauna (killing seven women employees).
August 13, 2009: The U.S. has informed Russia that American military trainers would resume training Georgian troops. The U.S. pointed out that the training would be for Georgian troops operating as peacekeepers overseas. Russia does not want the U.S. to train Georgian troops to be more effective in resisting another Russian invasion.
August 12, 2009: In Chechnya, two human rights activists were kidnapped and murdered. Their "offense" was openly protesting that sort of behavior (which is used by the many gangs of Chechnya, including the one that runs Chechnya for Russia.) This sort of thing is meant to discourage criticism of illegal activity in Chechnya (and other parts of Russia, where beatings are more common than kidnapping and murder, mainly because the media and police are more robust in those areas.)
In neighboring Ingushetia, a senior government official was murdered by a lone gunman. This could be terrorism, or a dispute over an illegal deal gone bad.
August 11, 2009: Russian maritime authorities announced that the 4,000 ton Russian cargo ship Arctic Sea, and its crew of 14, had disappeared off the coast of Portugal. Two weeks earlier, in the Baltic Sea, the ship had reported that it was boarded by some armed men, who stole some items and left. The Russian Navy announced that it was now searching for the Arctic Sea, which was to have delivered its cargo of lumber in Libya by August 4th.
August 9, 2009: Recent attacks on U.S. social networking sites (like Twitter, which was shut down for a while, and Facebook) have been blamed on Russian nationalist hackers trying to shut down a Georgian blogger who has been hostile to Russia. Later investigation found that some of the same nationalist hacker groups, that were involved in earlier Internet attacks on Estonia and Georgia, were participating in the Twitter/Facebook attacks.
August 7, 2009: Bowing to economic realities (a global recession that hit Russia very hard, because of lower oil and raw materials prices), next year's defense budget will only be 1.5 percent higher than the current Russian budget. That would mean about $35 billion for defense. That's progress, as a few months ago, the government was talking about a 15 percent cut in the defense budget. This, after last year's plans to increase defense spending 26 percent. The recession will slow down the rebuilding of the Russian armed forces (which have been in decline and disrepair since the Cold War ended in 1991.)
August 3, 2009: The U.S. announced that two Russian Akula class SSNs (nuclear attack subs) had been spotted off the coast of North America. Russia quickly confirmed this. Apparently this operation was to see if the most modern Russian subs (like the Akulas) could sneak into America's backyard, to scout around, and practice wartime operations that would result in the sinking of American commercial and military ships. A Cold War era U.S. submarine tracking system was still active and, much to the disappointment of the Russians, their Akulas were soon spotted, and tracked by American and Canadian aircraft.
August 2, 2009: Georgia accused Russia of moving the South Ossetia border further into Georgia. While doing this, Russia issued threats about retaliation against Georgia because of a mortar attack across the border from Georgia. In nearby Chechnya, five policemen were killed in an ambush.
August 1, 2009: A billion dollar program to upgrade Indian MiG-29s will now be delayed nearly a year. Russia is blaming Indian suppliers of some of the equipment used in the upgrade.