By rebuilding the old police state (although now more czarist than communist) the Putin government has crippled the economy. Not only are foreign investors avoiding Russia in droves, a lot of Russian investors are moving their money elsewhere. Most businesses inside and outside Russia have given up on the new police state, which brings more order at the expense of conditions conducive to economic growth (as in less corruption and more economic freedom). This change has had dramatic results. Two years ago economic growth was moving along at a brisk five percent a year. Since then it has slid down to one percent a year and continues to head south. The government is alarmed but not yet willing, or able, to undo all the economic damage its police state has inflicted over the last decade. The people are getting restless.
Success in fighting Islamic terrorists in the Caucasus is sending hundreds of those terrorists to Syria, which has become the place to be for ambitious Islamic radicals. This is causing political problems (among Islamic terror group leaders) in the Caucasus and Syria. At first Islamic radical leaders in the Caucasus opposed going to Syria, insisting that the need to resist the Russians had a higher priority. But the average Islamic terrorist in the Caucasus could do the math and knew that the chances of glory, and staying alive, were much higher in Syria. There the opposition (Sunni Arab irregulars and government troops) were a much less formidable opponent than Russian secret police and commandos. This has caused some problems among the Islamic terrorist groups in Syria, who find the Chechens scary, clannish, and not Arabs.
Chechens have been coming to the Middle East for centuries, often as mercenaries. Scary and loyal (as long as paid on time) mercenaries. The Chechens also despised the Arabs, seeing them as pushovers. Arabs did not like this and saw the Chechens as dangerous northern barbarians who kept to themselves and seemed to enjoy killing Arabs. This explains why, back in
July, Syrian Islamic terrorists released a video on the Internet urging Islamic terrorists in the Caucasus to remain where they were instead of trying to come to Syria to fight alongside other Islamic terrorists against the pro-Russian Assad dictatorship. The Syrian Islamic radicals made the point that the fight against Russia inside Russia is very important and Islamic terrorists from the Caucasus are the most active and effective in that struggle. Effective yes but not invulnerable. Recently, Chechen Islamic terror leaders released videos challenging that and pointing out the obvious, that Chechen (and Caucasus men in general) could be a lot more effective in Syria because the war against Russia was not going well. One reason for this change of attitude was the realization that all those Chechen Islamic terrorists operating in Syria had organized themselves into largely Chechen combat groups and the leaders of those groups were gaining stature and followers and they killed more and more Arabs. Some of these guys would eventually come back to the Caucasus and challenge existing leaders there. So now is the time to make nice with the new competition. Not only are Chechens dangerous to Arabs but also (less frequently) to each other.
More Russian troops and major weapons will soon start moving to Tajikistan. That’s because Tajikistan finally ratified last year’s deal to extend the lease on Russian bases in the country for 49 years. That includes an unspecified increase in Russian troop strength there. There are already 7,000 Russian troops of the 201st Motor Rifle Division in Tajikistan. That unit is at half strength and had sent most of its heavy weapons back to Russia in the last decade. Current gear includes 96 tanks, 300 Infantry Fighting Vehicles, 54 self-propelled artillery vehicles, 1,100 other vehicles, 8 helicopters, and 5 ground attack aircraft. The 201st was there during the Soviet period and the post-Soviet Union Tajik government asked Russia to leave the 201st in place to help with internal security. This was a problem because Tajikistan shares a long border with Afghanistan, which Russian troops had only left a few years earlier. The new lease also involves Russia spending $200 million over the next twelve years to upgrade the Tajik armed forces. The main purpose of the deal is to prevent Tajikistan from becoming an easy route for Afghan drugs and terrorists to get into Russia.
August 15, 2013: Chinese and Russian ground and air forces completed three weeks of joint training at Chelyabinsk (south central Russia just north of Kazakhstan). While called a counter-terrorism exercise, both countries had armored units and warplanes training together as well. What was most interesting about this was that nearly all the weapons were Russian designs (and Chinese copies). This was especially true of the tanks and warplanes. Some Chinese stuff (infantry combat vehicles and small arms) incorporated Western design ideas, but that sort of thing was the exception.
August 13, 2013: In India a Russian built Kilo class sub caught fire and exploded while docked. The 16 year old Indian Kilo had recently returned from Russia after an $80 million refurbishment. Eighteen sailors were killed as the sub sank at dockside. The cause appears to be an accident but an investigation will try to determine if it was caused by human error or equipment failure. Indians fear the latter because there have always been quality control problems with Russian built equipment, especially ships, armored vehicles, and aircraft. Even these Kilo refurbishments have had quality control problems. The lost Kilo had returned from the Russian refurbishment in January and successfully completed a three month shakedown cruise.
August 10, 2013: In the south (Dagestan) police clashed with armed Islamic terrorists at night and killed one while at least one other escaped.
August 9, 2013: The Russian Air Force has ordered 60 Mi-28UB helicopter trainers to improve the skills of Mi-28N gunship pilots. The UB model has dual controls that enable an instructor to also control the helicopter (from the weapons systems operator’s seat). The Mi-28N is replacing the Mi-24 gunship but is a much more complex aircraft and requires more skillful pilots. Each squadron will receive 4-6 of the UB model to help build and maintain pilot skills.
August 8, 2013: In the south (Dagestan) unidentified gunmen shot dead a policeman at 1 AM.
August 7, 2013: In the south (Kabardino-Balkaria) police were fired on by four men trying to get past a checkpoint. The police returned fire and killed all four. Among the weapons and dead bodies was found evidence that the four belonged to a major criminal gang that was known to cooperate with Islamic terrorists.
August 6, 2013: In the south (Stavropol) a health emergency has been declared because two people have contracted anthrax. Last year there was an outbreak in southern Siberia. Anthrax is found naturally in both areas and infected animals (who pick up the disease while grazing in areas where the anthrax spores are active) have to be destroyed when there is an outbreak. Anthrax is also found in some parts of the United States and other parts of the world where climate and geographic conditions are right for it. In rural areas of the United States where anthrax is found, people liable to exposure are usually vaccinated against the deadly disease. Animals are also vaccinated, as it is the cattle and sheep that usually spread Anthrax to humans. Vaccination is much less common in Russia but when there is an outbreak people and animals in the area are vaccinated in order to contain it. During the Cold War Russia devoted a considerable amount of effort to create a “weaponized” version of anthrax for wartime use.
August 5, 2013: The Russian Army has ordered 40 Mi-8 transport helicopters as part of its effort to replace much older Mi-8s built during the Cold War.