July 10, 2011: Russia and the United States remain divided over Russian insistence that America not interfere with Russian efforts to bully its neighbors. Having suffered so many destructive invasions in the past, Russia tends to distrust its neighbors, and prefers to use intimidation to keep adjacent nations in line. The neighbors, in turn, have a long history of invasion, domination and even annexation by Russia, and also fear their neighbor. The United States has sided with the smaller neighbors and Russia interprets that as a threatening gesture. America's West European allies, many of them former empires, tend to side with Russia, and advise the U.S. to show more compassion. After all, Russia lost its empire (something France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Portugal can all relate to) and the Cold War. Many Russians are upset with these reverses, and see the United States as being an ungracious victor, by supporting Russia's neighbors. But those neighbors appreciate American support, and just want to keep the Russians out.
Despite this hostile situation, Russia has been successful in negotiating deals with some neighbors, who used to be part of the Soviet Union, to allow Russia move in anti-aircraft missiles and jet fighters. For example, Russia recently signed deals with Armenia and Ukraine to allow Russian troops and air defense weapons to remain until the 2040s. But many neighbors, especially in East Europe (former members of the Warsaw Pact, like Poland) want no part of this. But for those who do allow Russian troops back in, there are economic benefits. Locals are hired to work on the Russian bases, and many supplies are purchased locally. Russia also offers lower prices for oil and natural gas, and protection (from foreign invasion, and for dictators, some job security.) Russia also seeks to resume using Soviet era military facilities, and pay for the privilege. Such is the case in Ukraine, where Russia pays to use ports and (aircraft carrier) pilot training facilities. Ukraine, while determined to remain independent, needs good relations with Russia because so many Ukrainians (22 percent) are non-Ukrainian (most of them Russian and Orthodox Christian, compared to the many ethnic Ukrainians who are not associated, and often hostile to, that Moscow based branch of Christianity.)
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov is caught between conflicting orders. President Dmitry Medvedev is trying to reduce corruption in the military, and has ordered Serdyukov to make it happen. But in doing that, Serdyukov has withheld payment to many military suppliers, because these firms refuse to explain why prices have suddenly increased. That has created problems with Medvedev, who is also demanding that defense industries produce the quantities of weapons agreed on, and according to promised delivery dates. That will not happen as long as Serdyukov is putting contracts on hold to deal with corrupt practices. President Medvedev has to decide, but in the meantime he has asked for more details. This might speed corruption investigations, but will definitely be interesting no matter how it turns out.
The problems Defense Minister Serdyukov went public with, also impact weapons exports. For example, a Russian shipyard recently revealed that it would be late delivering three Talwar class frigates (ordered five years ago, for $1.6 billion) and wanted another $100 million (from the government, which handles arms exports) to complete construction. Problems like this have led to record low approval ratings for the national government. President Dmitry Medvedev and prime minister (and former president) Vladimir Putin have run the country for over a decade and have done a lot to clean up corruption and economic problems. But corruption has proved resistant to reform efforts, and popular anger at the continued corruption is linked to dissatisfaction with politicians in general.
Russia continues to support, at least via Foreign Ministry press releases, dictators (and long-time weapons customers) who are beset by rebellions. Libya and Syria can count on such Russian support, at least until it appears that the dictator is done for.
July 9, 2011: In Dagestan, another moderate Islamic cleric was murdered. That makes about fifty killed in the last few years throughout the Caucasus, as Islamic terrorist groups seek to eliminate opposition within the Moslem community. It hasn't worked as expected, as each of these murders creates more moderate Moslems now willing to fight the extremists, or at least call in tips to the police. This accounts for the growing number of terrorist camps, and leaders, being found by police. Terror bombings and ambushes are also being reported, and aborted. But general anger at corruption and misrule keep the recruits coming to the Islamic radical groups. In the past, there would be a lot of nationalistic terrorists operating down there. But that has largely been replaced by the more fanatical Islamic radicalism. However, the Islamic radicals have less popular appeal because they call for a larger religious dictatorship, and seek to impose unpopular lifestyle rules (no vodka and beer, no schools or jobs for the women.)
July 2, 2011: Russia restored electricity exports to neighboring Belarus, after having cut the power supply four days ago for non-payment. Belarus, despite severe cash shortages, finally came up with the $21.5 million. Belarus, the last real dictatorship in Europe, and one run by Soviet era politicians, is an economic and political mess. Belarus is truly the last functioning (barely) remnant of the Soviet Union, complete with secret police, repression of all dissent and nostalgia for the good old days of the Soviet Union and the KGB (Soviet secret police.) Belarus also has a lot of state control over the economy, which means there is not much of an economy for the government to plunder.
June 30, 2011: Once again, police in Moldova have uncovered an effort to sell smuggled (out of Russia) enriched uranium to terrorists. Six people were arrested, and four of them were Russian (another was Moldovan and one was from Transdniester.) The six were offering a large (but unspecified) amount of Uranium-235 (which was not enriched to power plant or bomb grade) for $29 million. A similar smuggling operation was broken up last year. Moldova is a tiny (population 4 million) country, created in the 1990s, along the Ukraine-Romanian border, that is split between pro-Romanian and pro-Russian factions (who have split away a sliver of the eastern part of the country to form pro-Russian Transdniester). Many Moldovans want union with Romania, while Russia wants to keep Moldova independent and pro-Russian. Transdniester has become a lawless sanctuary for all manner of gangsters.
June 28, 2011: Russia successfully tested another submarine launched Bulava ballistic missile. For the first time, a Bulava was launched from the new Borei missile sub (SSBN).
June 27, 2011: A Russian military court convicted colonel Alexander Poteyev of high treason and desertion and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. The defendant was not present, and the trial was closed to the public. Last year, Russian officials revealed that the ten Russian spies arrested in the United States two years ago were betrayed by a Russian espionage official (Alexander Poteyev) in the SVR (Russian CIA). The U.S. claimed they had been watching the ten sleepers for several years, which may indicate that Poteyev has revealed a lot more if he was on the American payroll all that time. Poteyev was in charge of the SVR sleeper cell operation, and escaped to the United States before he could be identified and arrested. The Russians use military ranks in the police and intelligence services, and colonels are middle-management. There was political pressure for the head of SVR to resign, indicating that the damage was greater than anyone wants to admit. Russian intelligence services lost most of their best people in the 1990s, as better opportunities in the commercial sector beckoned. The redoubtable Russian intelligence services have shown numerous signs of having lost their Soviet era skills.
Russia launched another Cosmos spy satellite. This is part of a decade long program to rebuild Russia's military space satellite capability.
June 26, 2011: A 19 year old Moslem soldier deserted his base, in the Ural mountains, and took eight AK-74U assault rifles with him. A $3,000 reward is offered for the capture of the soldier, who is believed headed for his home town in Bashkortostan (a few hundred kilometers to the south).
June 25, 2011: The government has punished several senior defense ministry officials for lax management and incompetence, which led to explosions at an ammo depot last month. That disaster killed one, wounded over a hundred, and required the evacuation of over 30,000 soldiers and civilians. There was a similar incident in May, and the government is under a lot of public pressure to curb this sort of thing.