Last month the army returned to the Caucasus, (Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Chechnya) after a six year absence, for counter-terrorism operations. The government wants to eliminate or greatly weaken Islamic terror groups in the area before the 2014 Winter Olympics are held at Sochi (just north of the Caucasus). Thus, in the last few months counter-terror operations have killed over 300 terrorists and shut down over a hundred of their bases and weapons storage sites. While Islamic radicals are blamed for most of the violence in the Caucasus, local and national police officials admit that, in addition to religious extremism, there are also serious problems with corruption and unemployment. The corruption is an ancient problem, stemming from the hostility towards government and preference for clan based organizations.
Russia continues to oppose efforts (by Syrians and their foreign allies) to remove the Assad dictatorship from power in Syria. Russia blocks UN efforts to help the rebels and insists that the situation in Syria will be worse if the Assads are gone. State controlled media are running more paranoid anti-American stories similar to the stuff that was common during the Soviet period. For example, the U.S. is described as controlling the anti-Assad rebels in Syria. In the Western media the U.S. and other NATO nations complain that the Syrian rebels are unorganized and ideologically all over the lot.
November 10, 2012: Russia again grounded all its elderly Su-24 light bombers when another one of them crashed.
Iraq cancelled a recent $4.2 billion arms purchase deal with Russia. This was caused by accusations in Iraq that the deal included hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes for the politicians and officials who negotiated the deal. The Russians are known to be compliant when it comes to including bribes in export sales. Western countries have laws against such things, but the Russians consider it just another cost of doing business.
November 9, 2012: President Putin dismissed the Defense Minister and Chief of the General Staff. The dismissed minister (Anatoly Serdyukov) had been brought in five years ago to reform and revitalize the armed forces. He was the first civilian to head the ministry (which had always been led by a retired general). This angered a lot of vested interests, especially in the defense industries. Most of these organizations merged or disappeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (and an 80 percent decline in defense spending in the 1990s). The surviving defense industry managers have convinced Putin that the kind of rapid reform Serdyukov sought is not possible. That means there will be no Western quality weapons by the end of the decade. Russian troops will have to make do with less capable “Soviet” style weapons. Putin was convinced that this was not a problem because the Russian nuclear forces are still in good shape and capable of keeping invaders out. The military is effective enough to deal with patrolling the borders and dealing with outlaws in the Caucasus. Many military reforms will continue, adapting the smaller, post-Soviet forces to many Western innovations (brigade centric organization, battlefield Internet, and improved training). But the Russian forces will continue to have second rate gear, the kind that Russian manufacturers can produce and that won’t threaten the jobs of Russian workers. This means less importing of foreign weapons, except when it means getting new technologies for stuff to be built in Russia.
A new law in July allowed the government to block websites the public and government officials found offensive. The first 180 blocked sites were just announced, and most had to do with child pornography, drugs, and suicide. Many Russians fear that the government will eventually add political sites that call for less corruption and more freedom.
November 8, 2012: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) a roadside bomb killed a policeman and wounded seven others.
November 4, 2012: An anti-government rally by nationalists (including Cossacks and those calling for rebuilding the Russian empire that fell apart in 1991) was allowed in Moscow. It was peaceful, as opposed to pro-reform rallies that are usually met by riot police, violence, and arrests.
November 3, 2012: The Pacific Fleet has sent three ships (a destroyer, supply vessel, and sea-going tug) to serve on the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia. Russia has also offered to station two Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft in Djibouti, where over a dozen similar Western aircraft (and UAVs) carry out patrols off the Somali coast.
November 1, 2012: In the Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria) a policeman was shot dead, and Islamic terrorists are suspected.
October 30, 2012: In Dagestan a Salafi (radical) Islamic cleric was killed, apparently in retaliation for the earlier murder of a Sufi (moderate) cleric. In the last six years at least 37 Moslem clerics have died in the growing war between radical and moderate Islamic groups.
October 23, 2012: In the Caucasus (Ingushetia) a suicide car bomber killed himself and a policeman at a checkpoint.
In the east (Tatarstan) police killed three armed Islamic terrorists believed responsible for an attack on a pro-government Islamic leader last July.
Parliament has passed a new law broadening the definition of treason. The vagueness of the new rules makes it easier for the government to accuse anyone of treason.