Russia: The Enemy Within


February 13, 2011:  The war in the three majority Moslem provinces in the Caucasus (Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan) continues. Last year, there were 754 deaths from rebel violence. The resistance is largely nationalistic, but with Islamic radicalism added. This religious angle gets cash and other aid from Islamic terrorist organizations worldwide. The three provinces have a combined population of four million, with only one percent of the people from other parts of Russia. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the population was over a million larger, and a third were non-Moslem. But two decades of violence, mainly in Chechnya, has driven the non-Moslems out. Russia tried letting Chechnya be independent in the 1990s, but the Chechens couldn't govern themselves, and the place turned into a base for criminal gangs and warlords. So Russia returned in 1999, sharply cutting the crime rate in the region, but sparking a rebellion that has smoldered ever since. Nearly all the violence is in the three Moslem provinces, with occasional terror attacks elsewhere in Russia. The years of fighting has increased tension between people from the Caucasus and Russians in general. This has led to increased violence against the millions of people from the three Moslem provinces who have moved north to get jobs. Corruption and violence make it difficult to run a business in the three provinces, so there is high unemployment. The rebels are a small group, less than a thousand men, but losses are constantly replaced by unemployed young men who don't want to migrate north for work. Clan warfare is an ancient tradition in this area, as are warlords that preside over several different rebel groups, and many more criminal gangs. The occasional terror attack in Russian cities, and the constant threat of more, has forced the government to try and eliminate the unrest down there (otherwise, it would be largely left to local authorities to cope with.)

The annual terror attacks in and around Moscow have enraged the government, causing several senior  security officials to lose their jobs, and much emphasis placed on capturing or killing the most prominent terrorist leaders down there. In the past, Russia has quieted things down with attacks on the families of rebel leaders. Such behavior is no longer acceptable, but just about anything short of that is.

The government announced that more troops would be sent to the Kurile Islands. This was in response to Japanese officials pledging to regain ownership of the Kurils. This war of words has been escalating over the last three months, since the Russian government renounced 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 Kurile 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. Russians were brought in, and about 16,000 of them (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 8th, 1945, and promptly invaded Japanese occupied northern China (Manchuria). Japanese surrendered to the United States a week later. You could say that Japan and Russia have a lot of unresolved issues.

February 12, 2011: In the Caucasus, four rebels and one local official were killed in several incidents.

February 8, 2011: In Chechnya, three police were wounded by a bomb in the provincial capital.

February 7, 2011: Chechen warlord Doku Umarov took credit for the January 24th terror bombing at a Moscow airport, which killed 36.  Umarov claimed responsibility for similar attacks that killed 39 people in the Moscow subway last year, and killed 26 in 2009 when a Moscow-St Petersburg train was bombed. Russian police have identified the airport suicide bomber, and several other suspects, as having come from the same village in Ingushetia.

February 6, 2011: In Chechnya, eight people were wounded and one killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint outside the provincial capital.

The new nuclear disarmament (or START, for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement between the United States and Russia has come into effect. The last one was negotiated at the end of the Cold War, and went into effect in 1994. The new one further reduces nuclear weapons Russia and the U.S. will maintain in service. The new treaty lasts for ten years, with the option of the five year extension.

February 4, 2011: Two policemen were wounded during shootout in Dagestan. It's unclear if the people shooting at the cops were Islamic radicals or gangsters. Both groups are hostile to the police, and are often the same people.

February 3, 2011: In Dagestan, a bomb damaged a rail line, but there were no injuries.

February 2, 2011: Prosecutors have accused government officials and a Nationalist political party of using an elaborate scheme to steal $3 billion in government money over the last six months. Even by Russian standards, this was a large theft. But many of the thieves are well-connected (and obviously rich) politicians, who will likely buy and bully their way out of it.

Russian ground controllers regained communications with a survey satellite launched the day before. The GEO-IK-2 is in the wrong orbit, and will be of limited use. It was meant, in part, to provide data to improve the accuracy of Russian ICBMs.

February 1, 2011:  Police have completed the arrests of ten people from the Caucasus, who had come to Moscow at the end of December to carry out an attack using two suicide bombers. But an unexpected call (it was spam) to the cell phone meant to trigger one of the bombs. One of the terrorists died, and the others fled. But eventually police identified the dead woman, and another woman in the group surrendered (saying she had been coerced to join the plot, otherwise her child would be killed.)

January 31, 2011: In Dagestan, two wanted rebels were cornered and killed by police.




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