April 14, 2012: The recent government decision to shift over $20 billion in military procurement funds from conventional forces to space and anti-missile projects has met with opposition even within the Russian space agency. Senior space officials were starting their careers in the 1980s when the American "Star Wars" space based anti-missile program appeared. These officials point out that the Russian effort to match the Americans in space played a role in bankrupting the Soviet Union. While this is a contentious issue in the West, the Russians who were working in their space program at the time have bitter memories of hustling to compete with the Americans and failing. Several of those aborted space programs still linger, or were sold off to the Chinese.
Now the Russian leadership is again calling for Russia to be dominant in space. This is seen as a matter of national security, as a way to gain information dominance, and have the ability to fight for control of orbital space. Russian leaders have concluded that maintaining large and well equipped conventional forces is not possible (too few Russians are willing to join the military). Nuclear weapons and their delivery systems (mainly missiles) have been well cared for since the Soviet Union dissolved, and these are seen as Russia's primary defense. To better protect the nukes, and make them more effective, having a large presence in space is considered essential. Otherwise, a foe could launch a surprise attack and destroy Russia's missiles and render the nation unable to respond to a ground threat. Despite this attitude many military commanders would rather spend the money on elite ground forces, new warships, and upgraded aircraft. But for the moment, the Russian defense budget is backing a space based defense.
Meanwhile, Russian military activities are becoming more aggressive. Recently, a modern (S-400) anti-aircraft missile battalion was moved to Kaliningrad, to help defend Russia against another invasion from the west. Kaliningrad is the former German city of Konisgberg, which was captured at the end of World War II and kept by Russia, as the boundaries of Eastern Europe were rearranged in the late 1940s. Until 1991, Kaliningrad was on the Soviet Union's western border. But when the Soviet Union dissolved that year, and more than half the Soviet Union split away to regain their independence as 14 new nations, Kaliningrad found itself nestled between Poland and Lithuania. The small (200 square kilometers, 400,000 Russians, the Germans were expelled 60 years ago) city is still the headquarters of the Russian Baltic fleet and protected by a large force of troops and warplanes. Russia recently activated a new early warning radar in Kaliningrad. Most Russians see bolstering the defenses of Kaliningrad as quite reasonable. You never know when those Western Europeans will invade again.
There are also threats in the east. Last year, more troops were sent to the Kuril Islands and defenses there are being upgraded. This year, Russia increased its reconnaissance flights near the Kurils. All this is in response to Japanese officials pledging to regain ownership of the Kurils. This escalating war of words has been getting worse since the Russian government renounced, last year, a 1956 deal to return two of the four Japanese Kuril islands. Japan has been pressuring Russia to make good on the 1956 promise (made at the time Japan and the Soviet Union resumed diplomatic relations). But Russia has reneged, claiming Japan was plotting to get the other two islands back as well. The Japanese have been pressuring the Russians to return the Kuril islands (off northern Japan) for decades, and this has caused a lot of tension recently. These four islands were seized at the end of World War II and the Russians kept them. The Kurils had been occupied by Japanese for centuries but when Russia reached the Pacific coast in the 17th century, they began to send ships down to the Kurils. In 1875, Japan and Russia signed a treaty settling claims in the area. Japan acknowledged Russia's claim to the larger Shakalin Island to the north, while Russia acknowledged that the Kurils belonged to Japan. After World War II Russia expelled the 17,000 Japanese inhabitants of the four Kuril Islands and Russians were brought in. About 16,000 of these Russians (including many Ukrainians, Koreans, and so on) currently inhabit the islands. There’s not much economic value to the Kurils, except for the good fishing. But it's believed there are oil and gas deposits off shore and valuable mineral deposits on land. Meanwhile, the Russians are still hacked off at losing a war to Japan in 1905, and to Japanese soldiers occupying parts of eastern Russia after World War I. Japan and Russia had a non-aggression treaty for most of World War II. But Russia declared war on Japan on August 15th, 1945 and promptly invaded Japanese occupied northern China (Manchuria). Japanese surrendered to the United States a month later. You could say that Japan and Russia have a lot of unresolved issues.
Russia condemned North Korea's recent attempt to launch a long range missile. Although sharing a short border with North Korea, Russia defers to China when it comes to policy towards North Korea.
The Russian population has declined 1.5 percent (to 142.9 million) in the past ten years. The rate of decline is slowing, as more couples have more children and life expectancy increases. In the next decade Russia may halt the decline. But the non-Slavic (mainly Moslem) Russians are still increasing at a faster rate.
April 13, 2012: The Russian Navy will continue maintaining a naval patrol off the Syrian coast. For the last year, since the rebellion began in Syria, Russia has had one or two warships stationed off the Syrian coast (along with several more from the U.S. or West European states). Several hundred Russian personnel are building facilities for the Russian Navy at the Syrian port of Tartus, and Russia continues to deliver weapons and military equipment to Syria. Russian state controlled media blames outsiders for the violence in Syria. This programming is similar to the kind of stuff the old Soviet Union constantly used during the Cold War, blaming the West, and especially the United States, for all the world's ills. But most of the world blames the decades old Assad dictatorship for the problems in Syria and condemns Russia for blocking UN action to support the popular rebellion there. The Arab League, in particular, is very critical of Russia. This will cost Russia (arms sales and business opportunities) in the future.
April 12, 2012: In Dagestan a prosecutor was shot dead, apparently by Islamic terrorists.
April 10, 2012: In the Caucasus (Stavropol) two clashes left nine Islamic terrorists dead.
April 5, 2012: Algeria has hired a Russian shipyard to refurbish two Russian warships (a corvette and frigate) Algeria bought in the 1980s. Most of the electronics will be replaced and all systems, plus the hull, will be upgraded as needed. This is a continuation of a program that has been underway for five years. Several similar ships have already been refurbished and the Algerian Navy is satisfied with the results. These refurbishment projects are helping keep many Russian shipyards alive.
April 3, 2012: In Ingushetia clashes with Islamic terrorists left eight terrorists and one policeman dead. Some of the terrorists were wearing suicide bomb vests.