Russia: The Borders Are Burning


June 14, 2010:  Russia has sent another 150 paratroopers to Kant airbase, in northern Kyrgyzstan, where some Russian military personnel, and their families, are stationed. Meanwhile, the general situation in neighboring Kyrgyzstan has gotten worse. Ancient animosities between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the southern Fergana Valley have turned more violent, with close to 200 dead so far. The recently deposed president of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, had his greatest support among the Kyrgyz population of the country's second largest city, Osh, in the Fergana Valley. Bakiyev initially fled from the capital to Osh, but was then forced to flee the country. His Kyrgyz supporters in Osh were not happy about this, and began taking it out on the local Uzbeks. This ethnic strife is nothing new. The last major outbreak, twenty years ago, left over a thousand dead. The problem is that Kyrgyzstan is a large (200,000 square kilometers) country with a small (5.4 million) population. The armed forces are also small (15,000 troops) and many of the key officers were appointed by deposed leader Bakiyev. Most of the troops are not enthusiastic about going south and shooting at fellow Kyrgyz (about 70 percent of the population). Russia does not want to send in troops to do the dirty work for the Kyrgyz government, and would rather establish good relations with whoever comes out on top. But if it looks like the civil strife could develop into a destructive civil war, Russian intervention would be more likely (to prevent the country from turning into a chaotic sanctuary for criminals and Islamic terrorists). To make matters worse, Uzbekistan has received nearly a 100,000 Kyrgyz Uzbek refugees so far, and is under popular pressure to send troops in to protect ethnic Uzbeks (14 percent of the Kyrgyz population). Uzbekistan is more than twice the size of Kyrgyzstan, with five times the population. Russia does not want its Central Asian neighbors going to war with each other.

June 13, 2010: The government is making more public pronouncements that more money will be spent on new military equipment. While a few elite commando units have new gear, most of the armed forces are equipped with rapidly aging stuff that was manufactured during the late 1980s, or even earlier. The end of the Cold War (brought about by the collapse of the communist era, state-controlled, economy) halted most defense spending. The armed forces shrank 80 percent during the 1990s, largely because there wasn't even enough cash to feed all the troops, and heat their barracks in Winter (there were published reports of troops starving to death, or freezing in unheated living quarters.) More money was put into the nuclear weapons forces, with the realization that this was the only way to keep the Chinese, or any other potential invader, out. But now the generals and admirals are insisting that the conventional forces are rapidly crumbling, and without replacement weapons and equipment, there will be no Russian military capability available except nukes, or small commando units. The government now promises to halt the rot, via new purchases, within five years. The military leadership believes the nation faces some very real military threats. The generals are particularly worried about widespread Islamic radical unrest in the east, as well as possible Chinese attempts to regain territory lost, over a century ago, in the far east. In both these cases, nukes alone would not solve the problem. To emphasize the point, the major military training exercises this Summer have been held in the east, to work out the technical problems of dealing with a military crises there.

Part of the military rebuilding includes adopting Western weapons designs and manufacturing technology. To this end, Russia is negotiating with France, to obtain design and manufacturing technology so that Russian shipyards can build French Mistral amphibious ships. A similar deal is being sought with an Italian firm, so that Russian can build Italian LMV armored vehicles. Russia would also like access to Western aircraft manufacturing technology, but that stuff is rarely exported.

The NATO railroad supply line through Russia has become operational in the last few months, even though permission was granted two years ago. The delays were caused by the need to deal with disruptive, or corrupt, officials in Russia and other Central Asian countries the trains must move through. There are still some unresolved disputes over the size of bribes needed to allow the trains to keep moving.

Anger against corrupt police has been turning into violence in some parts of Russia. In some rural areas, police have been ambushed or sabotaged. In some cases, police blame the violence on criminal gangs angry at not being able to bribe or intimidate the cops into cooperating. But there is widespread anger at the often corrupt and ineffective police.

June 11, 2010: Russia has changed its mind again about shipping S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran. Newly enacted UN sanctions, and growing fear in Russia about Iranian nukes, are the apparent reason for this shift. The new UN sanctions actually allow Russia to ship the S-300 (considered "defensive weapons"), but Russia, after having fought hard for this designation, now believes Iran is too dangerous even for defensive weapons. This is a billion dollar sale, and some equipment deliveries have already been made, and some Iranian troops trained. The Iranians are not happy with this latest change in Russian policy.

Ethnic violence in neighboring Kyrgyzstan has left over three hundred dead or wounded in the last few days. The Kyrgyz government asked Russia to send in troops to help contain the growing violence between ethnic Kyrgyz supporters of recently (two months ago) deposed reformer-turned-corrupt-despot Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and ethnic Uzbeks in the south. This area is the center of Bakiyev support, and the local Uzbeks suffered at the hands of the Bakiyev cronies, including drug smuggling gangs, and criminals in general. Uzbekistan threatens to intervene, but all Russia will do now is send medical supplies and personnel, and evacuate injured Kyrgyz to Russian hospitals. Kyrgyzstan has declared a state of emergency, but Bakiyev supporters are getting weapons from security forces, and Russia wants to see who will actually win this dispute, before choosing sides.

June 9, 2010: Police commandoes in Ingushetia captured a local Islamic terrorist leader named Magas. The prisoner is actually a former Ingush policeman named Taziyev, who just disappeared in the late 1990s, and only years later was identified as an Islamic radical leader named Magas. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 raised hopes throughout Russia that things would get better. But corruption among police and government officials got worse, leading guys like Taziyev/Magas to seek solutions in Islamic radicalism.

June 6, 2010: Police in Kabardino-Balkaria (next to Chechnya) revealed that they had foiled an Islamic terrorist attempt to bomb a natural gas distribution facility. The 5 kg/11 pound bomb was discovered and disabled.

June 5, 2010: In Ingushetia, several Islamic terrorist attacks in the last two days left five people dead and 26 wounded.

May 30, 2010:  Russian firms signed a contract to upgrade 40 Indian Su-30 fighters with Russian electronics and mechanical enhancements. Western firms have been competing to get these upgrade contracts, and the Russians had to hustle to compete.

May 29, 2010: In Dagestan, police killed three Islamic terrorists, after stopping them at a checkpoint. Later that day, a bomb went off in the area, wounding two policemen.

May 26, 2010: In the southern city of Stavropol, a bomb went off at a Chechen dance performance, killing seven and wounding nearly 40.





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