China has offered to help Russia rebuild its armed forces. China needs a strong ally and Russia needs help to become that kind of mighty ally. Currently, China is more of a superpower than Russia. Chinese GDP is more than three times Russia’s and China is spending more than three times as much on defense as Russia (which is trying to maintain defense spending at 2.8 percent of GDP). Current Russian GDP is nearly $2 trillion and 2.8 percent of that is $50 billion. The U.S. spends over three percent of a $15 trillion GDP on defense but is reducing that a bit. Economy is destiny, as the Russians have learned. With recent spectacular economic growth in China, the Russians see the possibility of a return to the status of a major military power. At the moment China has twice as many troops and most of them have better weapons. But the cost fixing this appears to be more than the Russians can afford. China is offering to help by spending billions more on Russian weapons (despite the flagrant Chinese theft of Russian military tech). As distasteful as the situation is, the Russians really do need some help. The Russians are also becoming aware that they were not much of a superpower back in the Soviet days.
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it was discovered (the communists were very bad at accounting) that actual Russian GDP was much lower (less than a tenth of the U.S., then six trillion dollars) than believed. The chaos of the 1991 collapse led to further economic contraction in the 1990s. By the end of the decade, Russian GDP was about $200 billion. But by then reforms and new ideas had taken hold. In the last ten years the GDP has grown to nine times its 1991 level. Even greater growth is expected. While there’s a lot of enthusiasm for rebuilding the armed forces, when it comes time to write the checks, other priorities, more immediate priorities, appear. The Soviet Union left a legacy of poor, or non-existent, infrastructure. For the economy to grow you need infrastructure (roads, utilities, ports, sanitation). Guns are nice, infrastructure is essential. There is talk of rearmament but in a democracy (despite the totalitarian aspects) the people’s needs cannot be ignored. This makes the Chinese offer to help attractive, even though many Russians fear that the rapidly growing Chinese economy is gradually making thinly populated eastern Russia (Siberia and the Far East) more Chinese than Russian.
Over the last few weeks the government has carried out raids (“inspections) on hundreds of the 2,000 NGOs (Non-Government Organizations, like the Red Cross and pro-democracy groups) in Russia to check their financial records and remind these organizations that they are not welcome. The government is angry at the NGOs and Russian pro-reform groups for publicizing corruption among pro-government politicians and senior officials. Last year new laws were enacted that declared foreigners working for NGOs as "foreign agents" who must register with the government and be subject to taxation and constant supervision. The FSB (the Russian FBI/CIA) has long accused Western nations of working with pro-democracy Russian NGOs to spy on Russia. Western states deny it. The government has been campaigning against NGOs and foreign influences in general over the last seven years. Now many NGOs are not being allowed to register and are being ordered out. Western countries see this as part of an effort to turn Russia back into a paranoid police state, as it was during the Soviet and Czarist periods (as in the last thousand years). China is fine with this and would prefer Russia be more like the Soviet Union than a Western democracy.
March 23, 2013: In the Caucasus (Dagestan) five Islamic terrorists and two soldiers were killed after troops stormed a terrorist hideout in a rural village. This came after a three day siege of the house the terrorists were in.
March 22, 2013: The government believes there are three million illegal migrants living in Russia. There are also two million legal foreigners, and the government believes that there are 14 percent more foreigners in Russia than there were a year ago. The illegal migrants make up about 7 percent of the Russian workforce. For over twenty years now the native Russians have not been having enough children to maintain population size. This has led to a labor shortage and people from less wealthy countries in the region have come in looking for work.
March 20, 2013: The navy announced that it is upgrading its nine Akula class SSNs (nuclear attack subs). The first of these entered service in 1984, and the latest one did so two years ago and was leased to India. These 8,100 ton boats are being complemented by the new Yasen class subs. Four years ago the U.S. announced that two Russian Akula class had been spotted off the coast of North America. Russia quickly confirmed this. Apparently this operation was to see if the most modern Russian subs (like the Akulas) could sneak into America's backyard, to scout around, and practice wartime operations that would result in the sinking of American commercial and military ships. A Cold War era U.S. submarine tracking system was still active and, much to the disappointment of the Russians, their Akulas were soon spotted and tracked by American and Canadian aircraft. Fifteen Akulas were built, several others were cancelled and some have been retired already.
March 19, 2013: The navy announced that it is establishing a permanent force of 5-6 ships in the Mediterranean in order to protect Russian interests there. First, Russia must arrange for local ports that will allow the Russian warships to drop by for supplies and shore leave for the crews. Russia has been building a base in the Syrian port of Tartus but the civil war in Syria is going against the Russian-backed government and the Syrian base will soon have to be abandoned.
March 17, 2013: The navy announced that its version of the French Mistral amphibious ships (the Vladivostok Class) will carry 30 helicopters (compared to 16 on the French version). This is mainly because the Russian helicopters are smaller. Two years ago France and Russia finally signed the deal that sold two French Mistral class amphibious ships, for $1.7 billion. This is the largest Russian purchase of Western weapons since World War II. The deal was delayed for a long time because the Russians demanded the transfer of shipbuilding and electronics technology (which is now agreed to).
March 15, 2013: The U.S. announced it was cutting back on the anti-missile system it was building in Poland. The reason given was lack of money. The Russian leadership long portrayed this anti-missile system (being built in Europe to defend against Iranian missiles) as, in reality, an attempt to weaken Russia's ability to attack European nations with nuclear missiles.