April 2, 2012: The government announced that last year they had discovered and prosecuted members of 43 terrorist groups (23 international and 20 domestic). This resulted in a decline in terrorist activity compared to 2010. But terrorist activity is on the increase in the Caucasus (especially Dagestan and Ingushetia). The Caucasus continues to be a lawless area dominated by local warlords and criminal gangs. The only difference this time around is that many of the armed groups are sustained by Islamic radicalism. That has cropped up in the past but not as strongly as today. It makes little difference because the unruly peoples of the Caucasus have been fighting each other and people bordering the Caucasus (which is how Russia got involved two centuries ago) for thousands of years.
The government is increasingly active in breaking up demonstrations, especially those protesting restrictions on personal freedom. Leaders of these events are often being arrested. The police are increasingly going after critics of the government in general, particularly those who cite the corruption that is still so common. The government has passed laws against corruption and declared corruption is under control. It isn’t, and the government is prosecuting those who point this out.
The Russian Navy submarine force has received a disproportionate share of the defense budget for the last two decades because Russian military and political leaders agree that submarine technology is the one area where Russia is closest to being competitive with the best on the planet (the U.S. and its allies). How true this is remains unclear. That's because, of all the services, the submariners and their boats manage to keep the most secrets. The only thing that has become public is that Russian submarine construction is still sloppy but that the boats that do survive and remain at sea for years appear to be quieter and harder to find. But how much quieter and harder to find is difficult to say. The Russians seem to believe that their subs are now more of a decisive weapon than they were during the Cold War. But potential foes are not going to compare notes, since that would be giving away a wartime advantage.
Although the Bulava submarine launched ballistic missile was recently approved for mass production, the navy announced that there would be another round of test firings in about six months. Development of Bulava ran into a lot of problems, and while the last few tests were good, seven of 18 tests were obvious failures and several of the "successful" tests are believed to be flawed. Equivalent U.S. missiles have done much better, and that technical superiority has long made Russia uncertain of its own military capabilities.
The government continues to insist that the United States stop putting ICBM defenses anywhere near the Russian border (especially in Europe). To Westerners this makes no sense, as the defenses are there to protect Europe from a potential Iranian threat. But Russians are still paranoid about the superiority of American technology and the inferiority of their own. To the Russians these American defenses could seriously cripple Russian ballistic missile capabilities and given the sorry state of the Russian armed forces, these missiles are the only real defense Russia has.
Russia has destroyed 60.4 percent (24,000 tons) of its Cold War era chemical weapons stockpile. The remainder is to be gone by 2015.
In Dagestan someone opened fire on a police vehicle, killing two policemen.
March 30, 2012: In the Caucasus two employees of the FSB (the Russian FBI) were injured by a car bomb.
In Dagestan someone opened fire on police killing a policeman and a nearby civilian.
March 23, 2012: In Dagestan police killed two wanted Islamic terrorists and arrested a third.
March 20, 2012: Russia has decided to maintain defense spending at 2.8 percent of GDP for the rest of the decade. Current GDP is nearly $2 trillion and 2.8 percent of that is $50 billion. The U.S. spends over three percent of a $15 trillion GDP on defense but is reducing that a bit. Economy is destiny, as the Russians have learned. With recent spectacular economic growth, the Russians see the possibility of a return to superpower status. After the Soviet Union collapsed it was discovered (the communists were very bad at accounting) that actual GDP was much lower (less than a tenth of the U.S., then six trillion dollars) than expected. The chaos of the 1991 collapse led to further economic contraction in the 1990s. By the end of the decade Russian GDP was about $200 billion. But by then reforms and new ideas had taken hold. In the last ten years the GDP has grown to nine times its 1991 level. Even greater growth is expected. While there’s a lot of enthusiasm for rebuilding the armed forces when it comes time to write the checks other priorities, more immediate priorities, appear. The Soviet Union left a legacy of poor, or non-existent, infrastructure. For the economy to grow you need infrastructure (roads, utilities, ports, sanitation). Guns are nice, infrastructure is essential. There is talk of rearmament but in a democracy (despite the totalitarian aspects) the people’s needs cannot be ignored. Several years ago, for the first time in 18 years, the Victory (in World War II) Day parade featured a drive-by of combat vehicles (a hundred of them). It was all for show, Russia is spending far more on new roads than on new tanks.
A Russian banker, who had sought asylum in Britain, was seriously wounded by an unknown gunman. The banker was to give testimony in a case involving an earlier assassination attempt on another exiled Russian. British intelligence also believes a Chechen Islamic terrorist, who had also obtained asylum in Britain, was also targeted by enemies back in Chechnya. British intelligence is appalled at the large number of Russian intelligence agents in Britain and their apparent role in keeping an eye on Russian exiles and occasionally arranging for an exile to be killed or intimidated (usually by one of the many Russian gangsters also in Britain).
March 18, 2012: In Dagestan police killed two wanted Islamic terrorists.