September 20, 2007:
Communists (who remain a powerful political minority in Russia) are switching
to nationalist parties that support the current government. The Soviet Union is
being restored, in spirit, by a movement that seeks to revive the lost Russian
empire. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and 14 new countries arose
from the wreckage, five centuries of Russian empire building was destroyed. It
was the czars that built the empire, and the communists who caused its
destruction. The new government recognizes the need for a market economy, but
also wants the traditional Russian dictatorship, or "strong center"
to run it. Czar or commissar, it was all the same, except the communists were
more politically inept and trigger happy, managing to kill off a third of the
Russian population during their seven decades in power. Many Russians are nostalgic
for the old empire, and power, not for the tragicomic communists. However, some
symbols of the Soviet Union remain popular, and in use. The red star is still
used as an identifying symbol in the military, and the Internet suffix, .su, is
still in use by thousands of nostalgic fans of the bad old days.
President Vladimir Putin has
named a new premier, and apparently ordered him to move ahead more vigorously with the anti-corruption
campaign. To that end, the new (since earlier this year) Defense Minister has
fired the head of the navy. The military was always corrupt, even under the
communists, but it has become more crooked since the 1990s, when the defense
budget was cut by over 80 percent. Most of the good (competent and effective)
people left, and the current generals and admirals are a decidedly mixed lot.
Pouring more money into the military won't do much good if you have a bunch of
kleptomaniac morons overseeing the rebuilding. If the past is any model (and it
usually is in Russia) expect to see a lot of generals and admirals retiring
soon, and lots of young officers being rapidly promoted to senior ranks. That,
as much as additional billions for procurement, will turn the Russian armed
forces into a world class fighting force again.
The Russian anti-corruption is
also going global. Russia has joined with the UN and the World Bank to launch a
massive anti-corruption, "asset
recovery" effort. In other words, money that has been stolen by corrupt
officials will be identified and returned. Russia estimates that up to $200
billion was stolen in the Russia over the last two decades, and plans to get a
lot of it back. If all the major nations in the international banking system
cooperate, such large sums of money have a much harder time staying hidden.