Russia: Bad Neighbors Make Great Headlines


June 17,2008: Russian talk about military reform is mostly just that, talk. The only sector of the military that has gotten money, and serious attention, since the end of the Cold War (1991) has been the nuclear forces (ICBMs on land and in nuclear subs). With the vast conventional forces of the Soviet era gone, the nukes are the ultimate defense for Russia. But some reforms in the military move ahead, mainly a crackdown on corruption and incompetence (the two tend to go together.) Senior officers that oppose the dependence on nukes, and attacks on corruption, continue to be removed. Ultimately, the government wants an all-volunteer force, one that can be depended on.

June 16, 2008: Violence continues in Chechnya, as it has for generations. It's a combination of separatist and criminal gangs, with added activity by Islamic terrorists (which was rarely a factor over the two centuries of Russian domination). Over the last few years, the violence has spread to adjacent areas (Ingushetia and Dagestan). This is shaping up to be a violent Summer, with over a dozen dead in these three provinces so far this month.

June 13, 2008: Despite frequent Russian criticism of NATO, there are many deals between Russia and NATO that are popular with both sides. These include the transport agreement that allows NATO supplies and troops to easily move through Russia to Afghanistan. Another mutually beneficial deal involves cooperation in fighting drug smugglers and Islamic terrorists.

June 11, 2008: Russia is expanding military operations (mainly with patrol aircraft and nuclear subs) to reinforce claims on underwater resources. This conflicts with American and Canadian claims.

June 8, 2008: Russia admitted that arms exports this year will likely be 25 percent less than last year. Russia is having quality and patent theft issues with its two largest customers (India and China), and sales are suffering. Smaller customers are also upset over poor quality, and increasingly attracted to more expensive Western systems. China is also offering illegal copies of Russian military gear, and this has become a major issue between the two countries.

June 4, 2008: Government studies indicate that $120 billion a year (about a third of the annual government budget) is stolen by corrupt officials. The government is determined to reduce corruption, which has an adverse effect on economic growth and government efficiency. But the corruption pre-dates democracy in Russia, and flourished during communist and czarist times. However, to compete in a world economy, that amount of corruption is a handicap that an increasing number of Russians want to eliminate. That's easier said than done, as wealthy Russians rather enjoy the power that corrupt practices provides. That kind of advantage is not given up easily.

June 1, 2008: Russia put another 300 "peacekeepers" into the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia. The Georgians fear that Russia will eventually annex Abkhazia, which sits between Georgia and Russia. Everyone in Abkhazia has already been issued Russian passports. While Abkhazia talks about independence, it only has a population of 200,000, and is, for all practical purposes, being incorporated into Russia. This kind of behavior is being repeated against other neighbors of Russia, like Ukraine, which finds its Crimean peninsula being taken away by Russia. This kind of behavior is nothing new, and goes back centuries. It is the main reason why the neighbors have long feared and mistrusted Russia.


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