In Syria Russia is openly siding with Israel and Syria against Iran and, less frequently, Turkey. Israeli willingness to accept the Assad government in Syria was made possible by Russia establishing treaties with the Assads for basing rights and post-war investments. Before 2011 the Assads were a major military threat to Israel because Syria wanted the Golan Heights back and Israel to work out a peace deal with the Palestinians. Syria no longer has a powerful military and depends on its military alliance for protection. That protection comes at a cost and that includes public support for getting the Golan Heights back, which was never going to happen before 2011, much less after. Syria must also halt support for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, which the Palestinians now say is only possible if Israel is destroyed. Giving up on the Palestinians is something most Arab states have dome officially or unofficially. The Palestinians have been their own worst enemy and regularly backed the wrong side in Arab nations where they were refugees.
Russia and Israel have become more open about their cooperation in Syria. Russian and Israeli senior officials frequently meet in Russia and Israel to discuss details of this and often release details of their Syria arrangement and any new developments. Israel and Russia have been cooperating in Syria for decades but in 2015 that relationship had to be modified. For the first time Russia had substantial combat forces in Syria and at a time when Israel was carrying out airstrikes against Syrian or Iranian forces that were threatening Israel.
In September 2015, Russian ground and air forces arrived in Syria and it was soon apparent that Russian and Israeli forces were behaving like allies, or at least regularly cooperating. Russia later revealed that their Syrian intervention was carefully planned and that included negotiating an agreement with Israel on how to avoid accidental attacks on each other. With this agreement Russia recognized the Israeli need to stop Iran or Syria from transferring weapons to Hezbollah or attacking Israel. Russia agreed not to interfere with Israeli aircraft or ground forces attacking Iranian munitions being transported into Syria. Russia recognized the Israeli need to retaliate against rebel and Syrian forces that were fighting near the Israeli border, with bullets, rockets, or shells from Syria landing in Israel. Israeli warplanes had carried out dozens of retaliation attacks in Syria between 2013 and the arrival of Russian forces. Several airstrikes destroyed Russian weapons being moved to Lebanon by Hezbollah. Israel made it clear that it would not back off on using air power to protect their Syrian and Lebanese borders and Russia later revealed that it understood the Israeli situation and did not want any problems with Israel defending itself. Russia and Israel established a hotline and informed each other when their warplanes or ground forces might encounter each other.
As time went on more details of this arrangement became public. In 2017 Russia revealed that their forces would remain in Syria for as long as required to end the civil war there. Russia also revealed details of their cooperation with Israel since 2015. Many people had figured out that Russia and Israel seemed to be cooperating in Syria but official confirmation of that was not available until 2017. By then senior Russian military officials were openly visiting Israel to meet with their Israeli counterparts. One of those meetings was the first time a Russian Minister of Defense had visited Israel to discuss anything, much less “the agreement”.
Israel and Russia confirmed some modifications to their agreement. This included Russia taking more active measures to keep Iranian forces, especially the Hezbollah militia, away from the Israeli border. Russia agreed to establish a 10–20-kilometer buffer zone and enforce it. A key aspect of this was telling the Assad government that continued Russian assistance was contingent on the Assads cooperating with the Russians in keeping the Iranians away from the Israeli border. At the same time the Russians would continue not interfering with Israeli air and missile strikes on Iranian weapons shipments moving from Syria to Lebanon for Hezbollah. Syria protested all this via the media but did little beyond that. Iran studied the situation and decided not to use their Plan B, which involved removing the Assads from power and putting some other clan in charge. There was no other clan with enough influence to make that work and the Assads had made it so on purpose to avoid any Iranian Plan B for Syria. Iran also recognized that the cozy relationship Russia had with Israel was more valuable to Russia than any deals it had, or could have with Iran. Russia recognizes that Israel has the strongest economy in the region as well as the most capable military power. Israel also has nuclear weapons.
In 2018 Russia revealed that there was no blanket pledge to not interfere with Israeli attacks inside Syria. There was, however, no change in the existing policy of Russian forces not confronting Israeli attacks on Iranian targets. Russian diplomats told Israel that Russia would support Israel if Iran attacked Israel directly. Russia revealed that their cooperation with Israel sometimes had to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. The Russians made it clear they did not want to fight the Israelis, especially when the Russians have growing evidence that Russian military equipment would not do well if there were clashes. Israel later revealed cases where they cancelled an airstrike at Russian request. Apparently, there were Russian troops in the target area and Israel, once informed, was able to divert that airstrike to another area in need of attention.
By 2019 Russia had treaties with the Assads that included a long-term lease for a major airbase and a smaller port facility in western Syria. Israel had no formal objections, apparently because this arrangement was made after consultations with Israel. Russia agreed to these treaties to give the Assads an opportunity to move away from the long dependence on Iran. As far as the Assads were concerned the Iranians were trying to turn Syria into something like Hezbollah, the Shia militia Iran helped create in the 1980s and has sustained ever since. That turned southern Lebanon into a region controlled by Hezbollah which, in turn, took orders from Iran. Israel had long sought to get Iran out of Lebanon and now most Lebanese agreed and were now openly fighting with Hezbollah over the issue. The Assads agreed to informally make peace with Israel in an arrangement that would be monitored and enforced by Israel and Russia. Russia considers this a major achievement in Syria and most of the world will agree if the changes do not prompt Iran into starting a major war over it.
The War Back Home
Russia has reduced the damage covid19 shutdowns and sanctions have done to its economy by taking part in reducing some energy exports to help drive energy prices up. The rest of the major oil producing nations have done the same. This includes the U.S., where a new government has sharply reduced local production to the point where the U.S. is no longer exporting oil. Foreign estimates put Russian GDP growth at over four percent this year, but less (under three percent) in 2023 and subsequent years. Russia is still having problems with a growing poverty rate. While unemployment has declined, the percentage of the population officially living in poverty has not done the same. That’s because of a high inflation rate, now over eight percent.
The poverty rate is a key indicator about how well the population is doing. It fell from 29 percent of the population in 2000 to just under 12 percent in 2012. Then came economic disasters, some of them self-inflicted. By 2018 the poverty rate was 14 percent and went to 33 percent in 2019. In 2020 there was a local and international economic recession caused by covid19. Government claims that the poverty rate was still a third of the population in 2021 was met with disbelief and derision. Many Russians compared that claim to something not heard since the days of the Soviet Union where official lies were the norm and denying them was a criminal offense.
November 11, 2021: In the Black Sea a Russian fighter intercepted a British RC-135W ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) aircraft near Crimea and forced it to move farther from Crimea. Other NATO ships and aircraft were active in the Black Sea, monitoring Russian activity in and adjacent to Ukraine, where the Russians have assembled 90,000 troops. Russia and Belarus are also threatening to further reduce natural gas deliveries to Europe, where many countries, especially Germany, have come to depend on those natural gas deliveries and would suffer economically and politically if Russia did what it promised not to do when the natural gas export deals were negotiated.
Russian troops in Ukraine or an invasion is a
blatant violation of a 1994 agreement in which Ukraine allowed the ICBMs and other nuclear weapons based in its territory to be removed and destroyed. In return the West paid for it all and Russia, the U.S. and other Western nations agreed to never try and take territory from Ukraine. This clause was meant mainly for Russia and at the time there were many Ukrainians who wanted to hold onto the nukes, despite the enormous costs and technical problems, to discourage Russian from trying to regain control of Ukraine. It was because of this agreement that Russia tried to hide its role in the takeover of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine. Some of the uniformed men who took control of Crimea and parts of DonBas, were locals, but the core of this “local militia” were men with obvious military training and who have been using those skills recently. These Russian speaking professionals turned out to be Russian special operations troops. Russia also had recently ousted Ukrainian president Yanukovych write a letter requesting Russian military assistance in Crimea. Yanukovych insisted he was still president of Ukraine and the Russians agreed with this as well as providing Yanukovych with sanctuary and protection from prosecution for crimes he committed in Ukraine. Yanukovych was the Russian Plan A for keeping Ukraine loyal to Russia and out of NATO. Yanukovych had recently been forced out of office by massive Ukrainian opposition to revelations that Yanukovych, who had been elected on promises to move Ukraine closer to the West, had been bribed by Russia to do the opposite. Russia did not expect that and what soon happened in Crimea and DonBas was their Plan B. Russia had long claimed that Crimea was really theirs and erroneously made part of Ukraine when the Soviet Union still existed.
Plan B is stalled in Ukraine and Ukrainian officials note that they have seen this before and believe an attack is always possible but that Ukraine has been preparing for this since 2014 when the Russians moved into Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Russia says it will not enter Ukraine unless provoked and has pronounced the increased NATO presence in the Black Sea and threats of more sanctions against Belarus as provocative. Ukraine fears Russia may grab a small bit of Ukrainian territory “in self-defense” and then declare a ceasefire that would be accepted because Russia has nukes and threatened to use them in self-defense if provoked. In East Europe this is seen as more political theater than a realistic threat. Yet Russia blundered into World War I and II poorly prepared and ineptly led, suffering enormous losses. The current Russian government has ordered that the history of those two wars be revised and portray Russia as the heroic victim of deceptions and provocations by the West. Put another way, Russia has a history of bad judgement and self-destructive military decisions. That’s why all those East European nations joined NATO after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Ukraine also expressed interest in joining, which Russia declared provocative and a threat. This was the justification for seizing Crimea and portions of eastern Ukraine in 2014.
November 10, 2021: The EU is considering building barriers along the Belarus border and increasing the sanctions against Belarus for economic and other threats. Russia calls this a provocation and pledges to back Belarus against foreign and domestic enemies.
Western neighbor and Russian ally Belarus has plenty of both and it has gotten worse since mid-2020 when widespread unrest began, triggered by the blatant rigging of the 2020 elections. In addition to the continued protests and civil disorder, the Belarus government is broke and Russia doesn’t have the cash to help them out. To further complicate the situation, at least two thousand illegal migrants from the Middle East were able to fly into Belarus from countries like Syria, Iran, and Iraq as well as North Africa and even Russia over the last few months. The illegal migrants were told by people smugglers that Belarus would allow them in and even transport them to the EU (European Union) border and leave the rest up to the illegals and the people smugglers they were paying to get them into the EU by any means possible. Belarus was now officially a possibility, until it wasn’t. The illegals were not told that Poland enforced strict border security and were able to call in more police and soldiers to physically block any attempts to enter illegally. The illegals had cell phones with them and let others back home know that the Belarus offer had a major flaw. Belarus police began taking cell phones from illegals before they were transported to the border, but it was too late. The supply of illegals was drying up but those already at the Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian borders all reported the same situation. The East European EU and NATO members would not let the illegals in. Belarus threatened to use force, as in open fire on the uncooperative border guards blocking exit from Belarus.
Russia proposed a solution that the EU already used with Turkey. Pay Belarus lots of money to keep the illegals away from EU borders. In 2015 Turkey threatened to allow millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey access and assistance to EU borders so the migrants or people smugglers can find a way to cross. Although Turkey was already receiving billions a year from foreign donors for refugee support, they demanded over a billion dollars more a year to keep the refugees away from the Greek, or any other EU border. That deal is now up for renewal and Turkey is demanding more money and that it be paid directly to the Turkish government, not some refugee organization.
Russia suggests that a similar arrangement be made with Belarus. The immediate response was no, because the Belarus and Turkey situations have some fundamental differences. In Turkey the refugees were fleeing a neighboring country where a long civil war was underway and the Syrian government had adopted a policy of attacking pro-rebel civilians and telling them that they could stay and continue to be attacks by artillery and airstrikes, or flee to Turkey or Lebanon. The Syrian government guaranteed safe passage to the border and millions of Syrians accepted it. This tactic no longer works against Turkey, which has increased border security and refuses to accept any more refugees. In Belarus the government is encouraging illegals to fly in and be transported to an EU border where they can do whatever they came to do.
Like most everything else in Belarus their refugee extortion effort will not end well. The EU is now threatening Belarus with even more sanctions for bad behavior. Belarus has been in trouble with its own population and the EU for over a year because of a rigged election in Belarus and police-state tactics employed against the protestors that angered its European neighbors and trading partners. This led to European sanctions. Belarus responded by banning Europe-to-China traffic (air, truck, and railroad) via Belarus territory. Worse, people smugglers were quietly informed that they would have no problems from Belarussian border guards when moving their illegal migrants from the Middle East and Africa into Europe. This created more anti-government anger in Belarus and more headaches for Russia. The current solution appears to be extortion and trying to emulate the Turks.
In Belarus, tampering with the vote has been common since the 1990s but it gets worse and worse as more voters turn against the government via larger and larger pro-democracy demonstrations. For 26 years Belarus president-for-life Alexander Lukashenko has ruled as a loyal ally of Russia. That has not helped the Belarussian economy or improved the lives of Belarus voters. A new post-Soviet Union generation of voters has seen how life is better in democracies, especially other former victims of Russian rule like neighboring Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine. They blame Lukashenko for the poverty and mismanaged economy in Belarus, as well as an incompetent response to covid19.
The current crisis began right after August 9th 2020 when Lukashenko was elected to another term. Unlike past rigged elections, this time there were major and sustained anti-government protests triggered by government incompetence and decades of rigged elections, corrupt rule, and inability to do much of anything effectively. Since the late 1990s Lukashenko has won reelection with 80-90 percent of the vote in visibly fraudulent voting. Lukashenko has been in charge since 1994, when he consolidated power in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the creation of Belarus. Lukashenko is a Soviet era official, who runs Belarus like the Soviet Union still existed. Belarus is a police state, where elections, and everything else, is manipulated to keep the politicians in power. It's a tricky business, but so far Lukashenko has kept the security forces up to snuff, and on his side. He bribes or bullies key officials to keep the country running. Lukashenko has maintained good relations with Russia, getting him cheap fuel supplies and other aid. Belarus is small (9.5 million people) compared to neighbors Russia (146 million) and Ukraine (42 million) and Russia wants to absorb Belarus and Ukraine to rebuild the centuries old Russian empire that the czars created and the communists lost. Lukashenko, like most Belarussians, opposes annexation by Russia. At this point Russia is not seeking to annex Belarus or send in security forces to help suppress what has turned into a rebellion against Lukashenko.
Lukashenko is becoming more of a liability for Russia but is currently still a “favored ally.” Russia would like to be rid of Lukashenko but there is no one in Belarus with his skills and experience. Russia has created a major problem for itself in Belarus. Not as bad as the mess in Ukraine, but still another setback in the Russian effort to rebuild the Soviet-era Russian empire.
November 9, 2021: In Syria Iran is trying to establish bases close to existing Russian ones to provide some protection of the constant Israeli airstrikes. This apparently explains the growing number of Israeli airstrikes near Russian bases, attacks that are carried out with Russian cooperation.
November 8, 2021:
In Syria two Israeli airstrikes were carried out against targets in central Syria (Homs province) and the other against targets outside the Syrian port of Tartus. This is where Russia has taken over a portion of the port and expanded it into a naval base that has a long-term lease. This base handles the needs of Russian warships operating off the coast and in the Mediterranean.
November 7, 2021: In northeast Syria, Russia negotiated more cooperation between the Syrian army and the Kurdish led SDF militia to block a buildup of Turkish forces. This is another aspect of the Russia/Syria/Israel coalition that is opposing Turkish and Iranian operations in Syria.
November 2, 2021: In Afghanistan Russia is uneasy about the Taliban IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government succeeding. Russia still maintains an embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital, but reduced the number of Russians in the embassy to the bare minimum. Russia is also reluctant to support the IEA in its effort to gain control of the Afghanistan seat in the UN. Pakistan, China, and Russia are still maintaining their embassies there. All the Afghan ambassadors, including the one in the UN, remain loyal to the deposed IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) government the Americans helped create. Pakistan is counting on China and Russia to use their influence to change minds, but so far that is not happening. Pakistan is widely recognized as a terrorism supporter. China, Russia, and Pakistan are haunted by what happened in the 1980s and 90s. Russia got burned in the 1980s when they tried to support a communist government in Afghanistan. That triggered a massive backlash from most Afghans. Now they fear Pakistan will suffer the same fate and a growing number of Pakistanis agree.
October 29, 2021: Russia protested the U.S. expulsion order for 55 Russian diplomatic personnel. This is part of an American plan to make the number of Russian diplomatic personnel in the U.S. equal to the American personnel in Russia. This got started in mid-2020 when
four different labs analyzed the samples of poison used in March 2020 to attack and kill Russian “enemies” living in Britain. The four labs, from different countries, all agreed the substance was Novichok, a chemical weapon only manufactured in Russia. This confirmation prompted Britain to properly respond to the March 2020 Russian use of Novichok in Britain by expelling 23 Russian diplomats suspected of being intelligence agents. Russia responded by expelling 23 British diplomats. More nations, including the United States, also expelled Russian diplomats. The U.S. also placed additional sanctions on Russia. These could be limited if Russia admitted it used Novichok and provided assurances it would never do so again with any banned weapons. Russia refused and denied any involvement. This assassination effort was nothing new for Russia, which has been saying that since the Soviets started hunting down and killing “traitors” overseas back in the 1930s. Russia denied they were involved in the British Skripal incident and now deny using Novichok against Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who was allowed to be flown to Germany for medical care after suddenly becoming ill in a manner consistent with the use of Novichok. The U.S. also decided to reduce the number of Russian diplomatic personnel in the U.S., which has always been larger than what Russia allows in Russia because of the large Russian delegation assigned to the UN. Throughout the Cold War this made New York City a hotspot for Russian espionage because many of the people in the Russian UN delegation were spies, not diplomats.
October 28, 2021: In Iran diplomats and economists from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, China, and Pakistan met with their Iranian host to discuss the risks of total collapse in Afghanistan and a surge of refugees fleeing the new IEA government. Iran is the neighbor with the most to fear from this because Iran has a 921-kilometer border with Afghanistan and feels an obligation to help protect the 20 percent of Afghans who are Shia and long the victims of Taliban violence. Iran also wants to keep Sunni Islamic terror groups like ISIL out of Iran as well as protect Afghan Shia from Sunni terrorist attacks. Even if the IEA stabilizes the situation, there will still be the problem of Islamic terrorist groups able to operate more freely in Afghanistan and able to launch attacks on the neighbors, as some of these terrorists are already doing inside Afghanistan. While many of the neighboring countries revel in the departure of the Americans, they do miss what the Americans were doing to maintain stability and bring prosperity to Afghanistan. The Iran conference released a statement supporting the Afghan people and calling on the IEA to form a more inclusive government that would make it easier for foreign aid donors to return to Afghanistan. Most of the neighbors are wary or hostile towards the IEA and bracing for the worst. The meeting in Iran did not include the IEA, which is perhaps just as well because some of those in attendance agreed that the IEA government could collapse in a few years and the neighbors had to prepare on how to deal with that disaster, or opportunity depending on how the neighbors react.
October 27, 2021: Russia reacted to the recent Ukrainian use of an
armed Turkish TB2 UAV to destroy a Russian self-propelled howitzer that had broken the ceasefire by shelling a Ukrainian position in eastern Ukraine. This was the first combat use of the TB2 in eastern Ukraine (DonBas) where Russian forces sought to take over and annex the region to Russia in 2014. Ukrainian resistance halted the Russian advance after half the DonBas had been overrun and still occupied by the Russians. Since 2015 there have been a series of ceasefires that are regularly broken, and then revived by the Russians. Russia protested that the ceasefire agreement included provisions that only OSCE
(Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) ceasefire monitors could use UAVs in DonBas. Ukraine has been ignoring that since early 2021 when they first used the TB2s for surveillance along the ceasefire line to video and document Russian violations. The Russians regularly fired on OSCE UAVs and tried to blame it on the Ukrainians. Moreover, Russia has, until recently, been unable to develop and build a UAV like the TB2.
Russia regularly ignores or even attacks the OSCE
monitors in Russian occupied Donbas. The monitors also note that more artillery and armored vehicles were being brought close to the ceasefire line, as if it were preparation for a major offensive. Russia has also brought in more new weapons and systems, apparently to continue their practice of testing this stuff under combat conditions against the Ukrainians. In October the OSCE suspended operations in DonBas to protest continued Russian interference and harassment of OSCE operations.
Ukraine received its first TB2s in 2019 and used them mainly for surveillance, obtaining a growing number of videos showing Russian forces violating the ceasefire. Ukraine has a manufacturing license from Turkey to assemble TB2s locally. Russia has criticized Turkey before about its active arms trade with Ukraine which includes imports as well as exports. China also continues to buy military tech from Ukraine but Russia does not criticize China, which is a major economic ally of Russia.
October 26, 2021: Foreign intervention remains a major problem for Libya because not all the foreign supporters agree on what a united Libya should be like and are unwilling to withdraw unless their local faction prevails.
Russia and several Arab nations have been involved in the Libyan civil war since 2015. Russia joined Egypt and some other Arab states in backing the LNA (Libyan National Army) that had the support of most Libyans because of LNA efforts to suppress Islamic terrorism and restore order to the country. Neighboring Egypt was the first to witness the effectiveness of the LNA approach as Islamic terrorist activity and weapons smuggling declined as the LNA operations increased in eastern Libya. Egypt already had contacts with some Libyan tribes there and there were also a lot of Egyptians who still had jobs in Libya, mainly to support oil production. The news was enough to get other Arab nations as well as Russia and some Western nations willing to quietly support the LNA, which meant these nations could send some of their special operations troops in to get a better look from a ground level up-front-and-personal look at the situation.
That worked until Turkey intervened in 2019 to support the unpopular, but UN-backed, GNA (Government of National Accord) opposition. Now the major obstacles to peace in Libya are the continued presence of Turkish and Russian forces.
The arrival of the Turks created a stalemate. Despite that Turkey agreed to withdraw in order to allow elections to be held. Since the Turks arrived under false pretenses, Russia refused to withdraw until the Turks did. This was unacceptable to the Turks and the GNA. Yet the Turks, Russians, GNA and LNA eventually agreed to withdraw their forces as part of a late 2020 ceasefire/national unification plan. This agreement called for national elections to be held by the end of 2021. Both major factions and the UN agreed to the formation of a temporary GNU (Government of National Unity) to deal with the details, like persuading the Russians and Turks to remove their troops, which would allow the GNU to access the entire country for voter registration and establishing voting locations.
Both Russians and Turks see a unified Libyan government as a potential customer for exports, including existing Russian participation in expanding Libyan oil production and Turkish offshore natural gas field development. Before the Turks arrived in 2019, Russia planned to withdraw most of its forces once the HOR (House of Representatives) LNA forces had taken Tripoli, the last stronghold of Islamic militias supporting the GNA. The Turkish presence in Libya has been a major source of Arab, European, and Russian hostility towards Turkey.
France has taken the lead in trying to achieve an acceptable compromise but so far that has not worked. France is hosting another meeting of all concerned parties, on November 12 and several new proposed solutions.
October 24, 2021: In CAR (Central African Republic) it was revealed that since the first week of August 2021 at least 11 Russian-hired military contractors have been killed in the CAR. On October 12 five foreign contractors (working for a Russian firm) died in a rebel ambush in western CAR. At least three other contractors have died in ambushes near the Cameroon border. In June a UN report concluded that the Russian contractors were involved in active combat with rebel militias.
October 22, 2021: In Russia, the Israeli and Russian leaders met to discuss their cooperation in Syria and Russia agreed to the unofficial cooperation agreement
October 21, 2021: In North Korea the demand for people to work in Russia has run into problems. The growing food shortages and unemployment because of the covid19 restrictions has made it more difficult to find enough physically fit North Korea men for strenuous jobs in Russian logging camps. Apparently about ten percent of applicants are too thin and weak for pass the physical exam. There was another problem because there was a delay of several months between passing the physical exam and departure for Russia. A growing number of those approved for logging jobs arrived in and were found be underweight, weak, and unable to work. Some of these men had much less to eat after passing the physical. Sometimes this was a byproduct of paying large bribes to the worker selection officials to get a job in Russia. In other cases, these thin workers scrounge up enough food to make the weight, but the cost of the bribes left him and his family broke and hungry and the man going to Russia arrived in substandard condition. This was a violation of the three-year labor contract and the worker was sent back to North Korea. This was a disaster for those sent back. North Korea has changed its screening rules, requiring a second physical exam just before departure.
There are far fewer North Korean workers in Russia and China because of increased sanctions. There was even more intense competition in 2021 to get selected and bribes of up to $2,000 were demanded. The bribes enable the North Korean officials running the foreign worker program to make a lot of money, if they pass enough of it around to the MSS (secret police) and senior officials to prevent prosecution for corruption.
In parts of Russia near the North Korean border there is a growing shortage of Russians for jobs in factories, construction projects, and lumbering operations. Some of the employers are not treating their North Korean workers well and over the last decade more and more dissatisfied North Koreans were running away, even though escape means family members back in North Korea will be punished. The legal North Korea migrants are part of what amounts to a slave labor program that has become a major (up to $2 billion a year) source of foreign exchange for North Korea. The export of North Korean workers went from 60,000 men and women in 2014 to over 100,000 in 2015. The number of workers outside the country nearly tripled from what it was before since Kim Jong Un took over in 2011. The North Korean government takes up to 90 percent of the wages these men and women earn outside the country, mainly in Russia and China, and holds the workers’ family hostage in case the worker does not return home when ordered. If someone does not come back, their families are sent to prison camps. More enforcement of sanctions has reduced the number of North Koreans working in Russia and China by more than half. North Korea recently offered a $10,000 bounty for anyone in Russia who will aid in the capture of a North Korean worker who is attempting to escape from his labor contract and going back to North Korea.