Russia: A Traditional Game Of Chance

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November 16, 2017: Despite being under all sorts of sanctions for bad behavior Russia is backing the Assad government of Syria (subject to even more sanctions and war crimes charges) in its efforts to be considered the legitimate government of Syria and able to invoke international law to order American (and other unwanted UN member) forces out of the country. Even before the 2011 Arab Spring and subsequent rebellion against the Assad government it was generally agreed that the Assad clan were bad people with decades of well-documented misbehavior to prove it. The 2011 rebellion would have won had it not been for regional curse of fanatic factionalism within the Islamic world.

The center of this is Saudi Arabia, which only admitted its central role in creating and sustaining the problem in the last few years. In 2015 the Saudis formed the IMA (the Islamic Military Alliance), an anti-terrorist organization that tried to ignore all the other Islamic terrorists while concentrating on ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant). Saudi Arabia also considers Iran a terrorist organization, especially when Sunni nations are concerned. To many Saudis the Western nations are terrorists and many Arabs believe (and say so) that ISIL and al Qaeda were created by the United States and Israel. This sort of thing has kept the Islamic, especially the Arab Islamic, world divided and weak for over a thousand years. Until a century ago Turkey had controlled most of the Arab world as conquered provinces. For the last century these Arab provinces have turned into independent states that have not thrived. All are dominated by monarchies, dictators (religious or secular) or seemingly endless chaos. The Turks don’t want their empire back, but some more orderly disorder would be nice.

Saudi Arabia formed IMA to deal with a plague of Islamic terrorism that it played a major role in creating. While the Saudis never officially supported Islamic terrorism they were, at the same time, very much responsible for the increase in Islamic terrorist activity since the 1970s. That’s because in Arabia (where Islam first appeared in the 7th century) the locals believe they are more Islamic than other Moslems. After all, the Koran was written in Arabic and all the founders of Islam were Arabs. Yet for over a thousand years there has been a tradition of different factions in Arabia trying outdo each other to prove who is “more Islamic” than the other. This led to constant fighting and suppression of new ideas. One of those fanatic factions is the Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam in what is now Saudi Arabia. Wahhabis, who first appeared in the 18th century, are very conservative and very hostile to non-Moslems and Moslems who are not Sunni. This meant little to the non-Moslem world until lots of oil wealth appeared in Arabia after World War II. Suddenly it became possible for Saudis to show how pious they were by funding Wahhabi missionaries who went to other Moslem (and many non-Moslem) nations to preach, establish Wahhabi religious schools and mosques and create the current Islamic terrorism problem. Billions were (and still are) spent on this and the policy of getting the young boys into these free religious schools and turning many of them into hateful (towards anyone not like them) Islamic religious fanatics led to a major outbreak of Islamic terrorism in the late 20th century. Yet many Moslem nations resisted this as did many Moslem nations (like Iraq, Libya and Syria) resisted the Wahhabi missionaries and money.

The Wahhabi problem is most obvious in Saudi Arabia, which practiced what it preached. Saudis comprise the largest faction of ISIL and al Qaeda recruits because so many Saudis have been educated in Wahhabi run schools. The Saudi rulers control the clergy, to a point, and do not allow public expressions of anti-Saudi Islamic radical ideas. But many Saudis back ISIL goals (which include replacing the Saudi monarchy), even is many of them do not wish to live under ISIL rule. This ideological mess is something Arab rulers, particularly in Saudi Arabia, have been dealing with since Saudi Arabia was formed in the 1920s. Change comes slowly in religious matters but meanwhile religious zealots that Arab oil wealth paid to create threaten us all. After September 11, 2001 the Saudis reluctantly began cracking down on the Islamic terrorist monster they had created. This was difficult to do but the Saudis were largely persuaded by the growing number of Islamic terrorist groups that wanted to kill the Saudi royals and run all of Arabia as a religious dictatorship. Messing with religion is one thing but if you really want to get someone’s attention threaten to take away their wealth and power.

This Saudi reform effort reached a crescendo recently when a young (the youngest ever) crown prince, known as an innovator, carried out a major crackdown on corruption. The crown prince had already lifted some of the more unpopular lifestyle rules (like not permitting women to drive) and replaced many of the more inept government ministers. He also proposed a real plan to prepare Saudi Arabia for a future where oil income was not the main source of wealth. But corruption was at the core of all these problems. Not only in Saudi Arabia but throughout the region. Some smaller Arab nations had made progress in reducing it but the major powers, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, had not. Russia knows all about the curse of corruption and seems to be taking the Saudi reforms as a very positive sign.

Syria has always been a majority Sunni Arab area but the Assads belonged to a Shia minority and have been able (since the 1970s) to manipulate factional disputes in Syria and, with the backing of Iran (since the 1980s) remain in power. Russia and Iran have already come out and declared their support for the Assads as the legitimate government of Syria and with ISIL gone the rebellion is being declared over. Neither statement is true. There are many Syrian rebels who have little or nothing to do with Islamic terrorism (like the Kurds and FSA). The rebellion is very much alive.

Then there is Israel and the Israelis keep pointing out that Iran and their dependency Syria have, since the 1980s, openly called for the destruction of Israel. Many Westerners saw this as absurd while Russia sees it as an opportunity and the Israelis point out that they have nukes, the most effective military (and economy) in the region and no tolerance for more Iranian forces moving into Syria or agreeing that the Assads are a legitimate government. For Russia this is a challenge since as outsiders they realize that Israel is right and long-term a more dependable and desirable ally. But the current Russian government is getting by on uncertainty, deception and hope that this approach will work. There are reasons why Russian roulette is accepted as a typically Russian form of whatever.

Israel has some very public backing from Russia despite the fact that this puts Russia at odds with their two other allies (Turkey and Iran) in Syria. The Russians see the Israelis as a more powerful and reliable ally than the Turks or Iranians. Russia is also backing the Kurds in Syria and that is causing problems with Turkey. For example on October 31st Russia invited the Syrian Kurds to a November 18th “Syrian Congress on National Dialogue” conference in Russia. The Kurds were among 33 groups invited to a UN backed effort to work out a peace deal for post-war Syria. Russia has long tried to play peacemaker even though to make any progress it must offend its new allies Turkey and Iran. Russia is recognizing the key role the Syrian Kurds played in defeating ISIL in Syria and driving ISIL out of Raqqa. In contrast Turkey and Iran want to attack the Syrian Kurds and force them to submit to Assad rule. A week later Turkey said it had convinced Russia to ban the Syrian Kurds. That was incorrect but Russia did postpone the conference until it could deal with Turkish objections. This version of Russian roulette is not only dangerous but difficult to keep track of.

Ukraine

The latest ceasefire agreement is about three months old and so far local and foreign ceasefire monitors have counted about 15-20 incidents a day where rebel or Russian forces fired on Ukrainian troops. All that firing (or machine-guns, mortars, rocket launchers and artillery) has caused about 5-10 casualties a week, very few of them fatal. Russia is stalemated in Ukraine but there is still the fear that Russian backed violence will increase once the Islamic terrorist threat in Syria is completely crushed. Yet so far there is no indication of that and at the same time Russia is trying to repair some of the economic links that were severed after the 2o14 Russian invasion began. Like many Russian foreign policy decisions, they are often not announced in advance, in part because the Russians tend to keep strategy discussions secret. In the West these debates are often reported on regularly or leaked to the press. That approach never caught on in Russia so the Ukrainians are left to speculate. One thing the Ukrainians are certain of is that the Russians have made little, or no, progress in Donbas since Russian forces entered Syria in late 2015 and over the last few months more Russian firms have apparently received permission to discuss resuming economic ties.

The Purge

Several prominent Russian journalists are not hiding the fact that they are getting out of the country until after the March 2018 presidential elections. The government has made it clear that it does not want any Russian journalists investigating anything on their own and, worst of all, talking to foreign media. Disobeying these unofficial threats can have fatal consequences. Since 2014 the government propaganda effort has included increased efforts to stifle critics both foreign and domestic.

Russia never stopped playing rough with local journalists who spoke frequently to foreign media. By the late 1990s more of these journalists were threatened, beaten up and even murdered. Not by the government (as during the Soviet Union) but by “criminals” or “patriotic Russians.” Russian leaders had adapted to democracy and the need for plausible deniability. Thus the government continues by trying to ban foreign NGOs that promote democracy or freedom of expression. Local groups with similar attitudes are also under attack. This includes election monitoring organizations, stoking fears that even the elections will become manipulated by the government and former KGB officer Vladimir Putin will be able to remain president-for-life.

Thus it was no surprise when Ukraine supplied a steady flow of details (many of them verifiable by other sources) of how Russia used they purge tactics and heavy-handed discipline (assassination and so on) to keep Donbas rebel leaders in line. This sort of thing also benefits from increased efforts to keep foreign journalists out. While that works in most of Russia too many people in Russian occupied Donbas were willing to talk with foreign reporters. These journalists and neutral observers (Russia allowed in as a gesture they now regret) capture and pass on evidence about what is really going in eastern Ukraine. Recently that policy delivered yet another PR disaster as an EU expert panel confirmed that SS-21 ballistic missiles launched from Russia were indeed used against Ukrainian forces in Donbas.

When it comes to press manipulation and control Russia believes that it is best to never quit. This the latest ploy is to require foreign news organizations to register as “foreign agents.” Russia has taken the initiative here and ordered its state owned media organizations, like RT (Russia Today) to go along with American efforts to get foreign state owned media organizations to admit they are agents of a foreign government and register as such. By quickly agreeing to this (as of November 13th) Russia is able to justify (in their eyes) a similar program in Russia that forces all foreign NGOs (Non-governmental organizations), including most foreign news organizations, to register or be barred from Russia.

This is part of a longer term Russian effort to revive the state monopoly the government enjoyed in the pre-Internet days. For example in mid-2014 Russia put a new law went into effect that gave the state control over blogs. The new law stipulated that any blog with more than 3,000 visitors a day must register with the government, providing the true identity of the owner and operator of the blog. Russia already has a bunch of laws allowing the government to punish misbehaving journalists (who say anything the government does not like.) While there are many ways Russian bloggers can get around this new censorship that may not be necessary. Blogging is being replaced by other forms of social media. That, and the availability of so many Internet tools to get around censorship attempts make the latest government ploy more of an annoyance than a step towards effective censorship of the web. Russia is trying to crack down on the Internet but is having limited success. Going after foreign media organizations is seen as frivolous as those traditional media, state owned or not, are also at war with the Internet.

Practical Paranoia

Russia is delaying making repairs to a Russian nuclear sub India leased and the reason appears to be Russian suspicion that India is violating the lease agreement and allowing American naval personnel to get a close look at the Russian submarine tech. This is prohibited by the lease agreement, which included a clause that called for a Russian naval officer to be aboard the leased sub at all times to prevent such snooping and to provide technical assistance as well as regular reports to Russian intelligence about whatever. There is also a dispute over the extent of the damage and how it happened. The sonar dome has a hole in it and this occurred while the sub was at sea in August 2017. But it is believed the damage may have been made worse, or be entirely because of a collision while the sub was navigating the narrow channel it has to pass through to reach its southern India base at Vizag. If the damage is too extensive the sub would have to return to Russia for repairs and be out of action for a lot longer. The Indian inspection team has already delivered its report but Russia insisted on sending its own inspection team to examine the damaged sonar dome. Meanwhile negotiations to lease another Akula II sub are not making much progress and Russia recently admitted that the rumors of India allowing American naval officers aboard the leased Russian sub were apparently spread by the French, who are competing with Russia to provide equipment and technical assistance to India for submarine design and construction. In 2013 India asked Russia about leasing a second nuclear sub, in part because of the recent loss of a Russian made Kilo sub to an accidental explosion and continuing delays for Indian efforts to build new diesel-electric and nuclear subs. India offered to supply the cash to complete an Akula class nuclear sub that Russia halted work on in the 1990s because of money shortages. India believed that work could be completed in about four years and then that sub would enter Indian service. India believed this would cost about a billion dollars but now India has found that the work would take six years and cost over $2 billion. This has stalled negotiations and Russia now accuses the French of trying to exploit that. Russia also suspects that a growing number of Indian naval officers have become so dissatisfied with Russian ships and poor Russian workmanship and repairs that they might pass details of the Akula II India already has to U.S. Navy officers they work with. But the Americans point out that Russian nuclear submarine tech is no mystery to them as the Americans contributed a lot of the cash and expertise to the 1990s effort to disassemble and decommission nearly a hundred retired Russian nuclear subs that were threatening northern Russia with a massive nuclear pollution disaster. This entire situation makes Russia look worse to the Indians, who have been loyal customers for Russian technology and military equipment for over half a century but are losing hope that the Russians will ever be competitive with Western (or even Chinese) tech.

Iran

Russian efforts to maintain its alliance with Iran continues to be very difficult and quite an accomplishment that it exists at all. Russia also needs to remain on good terms with Israel and the Arab oil states in the region. This is a major problem for Iran. But then Russia has always been a problem for Iran since the two empires collided in the 18th century. That collision, which Iran got the worst of, has created some long term grudges, most of them Iranian. Throughout the Cold War Iran saw Russia as a threat and the West as a useful antidote for the Russian threat. At the same Russia and Israel have cooperated with each other since Israel was created in the late 1940s. Even during the communist period (especially from 1948 to 1991) Russia often worked closely with Israel while also courting Arab states that wanted Israel to disappear. Russia continues this policy of maintaining multiple alliance with Turkey and Iran while also remaining on good terms with Israel and the Arab oil states in the region. This has extended to recent discussions between Russian and American leaders that apparently resulted in agreement on the need to support Israel. Give the Russians credit, they are getting away with this dangerous mixture of allies. But it is becoming increasingly difficult and Iran realizes that if it comes to a showdown the Russians will probably prefer Israel to Iran. But in the meantime Iran sees an opportunity is making the most of it. That what has made the Iranians/Persians so dangerous for so long.

North Korea

Russia has agreed to strictly enforce the latest round of sanctions on North Korea, including the ones aimed at North Korean use of Russian and Chinese banks to avoid detection by sanction investigators. But considering the degree of corruption in Russia (compared to China, which is cracking down on corruption big time) it is believed North Korea has found ways to continue doing business via Russia. So far Russia, and foreign observers, have been reporting failed North Korean attempts to continue doing business in Russia and not having much success. Another problem is the North Koreans keep trying despite getting caught. This may be due to the fact that Russia is the only neighbor where North Korea has any chance at all of rebuilding smuggling networks. Russia is content to let China and the West take the lead in dealing with North Korea. That’s ironic because post-Cold War revelations documented how it was Russia that ordered the newly created (by Russia) North Korea to invade South Korea in 1950 and then persuaded China to go in and try to prevent a total defeat and occupation of North Korea by the UN approved and American led counterattack. The Chinese never forgave the Russians for this manipulation but the North Koreans, or at least the Russian-backed Kim dynasty, made nice with Russia because Russian economic aid made possible the reconstruction of North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean war and those generous annual gifts continued until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Over the next decade everyone in the region saw how important those annual gifts (of food, industrial equipment and weapons) was to the development of North Korea into the mess it is today.

November 15, 2017: Six Tu-22M3 bombers hit ISIL targets in eastern Syria, flying from Russian bases and then over Iran and Iraq on their way to and from the target. Tu-22s have been doing this since mid-2016. That’s a lot of work for the ten or so Tu-22M3Ms in service that have to fly all the way from southern Russia to Syria and back to deliver a few tons of bombs, many of them unguided. The Tu-22M3M proved to be very good at it and the Syrian missions were the first sustained combat experience the Tu-22 has had since Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Tu-22s are often, as in this latest mission, escorted over Syria by four Su-30SM fighters operating from an Iranian airbase at Hamadan (in northwest Iran). Iraq does not object to Russian warplanes flying overhead to and from targets in Syria. Russian bombers are hitting ISIL as well as other rebel groups in Syria. Use of this Iranian base is safer and cheaper than operating from a base in Syria, where attacks from Islamic terrorists and rebels in general are much more likely. Russia can get a lot of supplies locally and easily ship in stuff from Russia via ship (the Caspian Sea) and Iranian railroads.

Russia has agreed to revise the terms for $3.15 billion of the debt Venezuela owes, reducing payments to token amounts for the next six years. But Venezuela would then have only four years to repay the full $3.15 billion. This is less helpful than it appears. China is owed $28 billion and Russia $8 billion while other countries are owed another $114 billion. About $45 billion of the $150 billion is owned to the Venezuelan state owned oil company. For Venezuela the worst aspect of this is the prospect of the state oil company bonds defaulting. If any debt connected with the state oil company is declared in default bondholders can go to foreign courts for authorization to seize overseas assets of the Venezuelan state oil company. That sort of thing tends to work. Once that happens Venezuelan oil revenue drops sharply and so does what is left of the Venezuelan economy. China and Russia are trying to come up with some way to help but so far they have no workable plan either. For example, none of the $3.15 billion in debt Russia revised terms on has anything to do with the Venezuelan oil company.

On November 10th the long feared default of Venezuelan foreign debt officially began as the state oil company was declared in default on $650 million borrowed (at 8.5 percent) in 2008 by a Venezuelan electrical power producer that is now owned by the state. The interest payment was due October 10th, was not made and despite a 30 day grace period is still not paid. Thus the default begins and debt holders agree that more of the $150 billion in debt will follow over the next few months and that will wreck the ability of Venezuela to pump, ship and sell its oil.

Neighbors Colombia and Brazil are lining up foreign help for the millions of Venezuelans who may try and flee the starvation and record crime rates in Venezuela. Colombia has counted at least half a million Venezuelans arriving (not all of them legally) in the last six months. Fewer have gone to Brazil but that is mainly because it is easier to get to the Colombian border. The UN is limited in what it can do because Russia and China continue to use their vetoes to block UN efforts to do anything the current Venezuelan government objects to.

November 13, 2017: The government revealed that air defense units in the Eastern Military District, which is adjacent to North Korea had their air defense forces upgraded to S-400 systems during 2017. S-400 offers some protection against ballistic missiles.

November 11, 2017: In southern Syria Israeli air defenses show down a Russian UAV carrying out a surveillance mission of the Israeli Golan Heights. Apparently Hezbollah was controlling the UAV.

November 10, 2017: West European pollution monitoring organizations report detecting a cloud of radioactive pollution over that indicates some kind of nuclear accident in late September and the likely location is somewhere between the Russia or Kazakhstan. Neither country has reported any such incident, but that is why West Europe still maintains efforts to monitor the atmosphere coming out of Russia. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster was too large to conceal and West European nations are still monitoring areas in Scandinavia and Scotland where the Chernobyl fallout still persists in the form of vegetation radioactive enough to contaminate animals that consume it.

Chernobyl was one reason the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. After that it was possible to identify and confirm other nuclear disasters the Soviet government had managed to keep out of the news. There were “rumors” of such disasters but Chernobyl forced the Soviet government to go public with its shabby record of pollution control and nuclear safety. Chernobyl also provided an opportunity to see exactly what the long-term impact of low-level radiation was. While a lot of radiation in a short time will kill you, non-lethal doses were known to have long-term effects. When the Russian Chernobyl nuclear power plant experienced a fire and explosion in 1986, 134 firefighters and plant workers got high radiation doses during the first week or so. Of these, 28 soon died from radiation sickness and the rest were expected to have shorter life spans as a result. Hundreds of thousands of people got non-fatal doses of radiation that caused the cancer rate to increase ten times, especially among those who were young children in 1986. Chernobyl was the first time since 1945 (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) that there large numbers of people exposed to a wide range of radiation doses. Unlike 1945, there was more, and better, radiation measuring equipment in 1986. Much more was known about radiation, and the Chernobyl radiation victims are being carefully monitored (if not adequately treated) over the years. This is important, as some of the studies of Japanese radiation victims were perplexing. For example, overall, Japanese radiation victims seemed to be living longer than those not exposed to radiation. This may be because radiation victims got better medical care right after the war, or for other, as yet not understood, reasons. Another lasting lesson of Chernobyl was that you can’t trust a police state (which Russia has reverted to) when it comes to accurately reporting local environmental disasters. The more accurate monitoring equipment indicates that the current radiation threat may be from an accident at a non-military nuclear facility, like one producing radioactive materials for medical uses. In any event the most recent radioactivity coming out of Russia is a much less dangerous type and may soon disappear completely.

November 7, 2017: Russia celebrated the 100th anniversary of the communist coup that took control of the Russian government, triggered a civil war and democide (killing your own citizens) on an unprecedented scale and ultimately caused the collapse of the economy and the Russian empire. With access to more communist era records in the 1990s Western scholars found that 80 years of communism had left at least 100 million dead. The Russian government now considers that number a fraud and accuses the West of killing 100 million people during the period communism ruled Russia.

November 6, 2017: In the east (Siberia) local officials in the city of Chelyabinsk not to wear gasmasks during the upcoming visit of president Putin (and the many photographers that accompany this visit). Air pollution was a well-guarded secret during communist period when foreign access to polluted industrial cities like Chelyabinsk was forbidden. During the 1990s the pollution became widely publicized and Chelyabinsk residents stayed because there was work in the many metal related industries. People found that wearing military surplus gas masks outside on days of very high air pollution was beneficial. The government says it will do something about the pollution but not much has happened yet.

November 5, 2017: In eastern Syria a roadside bomb wounded five Russian soldiers and four Russian journalists accompanying them. All nine casualties were taken to a Russian base in western Syria for treatment. Russia has lost over 130 soldiers in Syria in 2017.

Russia made it clear their forces in Syria will not be reduced anytime soon because with the rebels defeated Russia has two military bases in Syria to develop and agreements to continue training and rebuilding the Syrian military. Opinion polls in Russia show 54 percent of Russians approve of the Russian efforts in Syria, but 34 percent oppose the Syrian operation and that percentage is increasing. While the government has kept Russian casualties down it has not demonstrated how the expensive operations in Syria are helping the average Russian.

November 4, 2017: Russia has delivered the first batch of 64 T-90S and T-90SK tanks Vietnam ordered (and paid about $4 million each for). The T-90S is what India uses (with local modifications) while the T-90SK is the export version of the T-90 “command tank” but without the latest Russian communications and security systems installed. Older equipment is included or none at all so the buyer can purchase such gear from other (usually Western) suppliers.

November 3, 2017: In eastern Ukraine (Donbas) the Russian backed rebel government sentenced a local man to ten years in jail for distributing a cell phone photo via twitter that showed Russian Army vehicles and other equipment in the rebel controlled half of Donbas. Russia denies they have troops there but it has been an open secret because of cell phones, Internet access and most Ukrainians there want the Russians gone. Sending this guy to prison and publicizing it is expected to make the population less ready to do this sort of thing.

November 2, 2017: Navy officials revealed that Russian warships continued to spend more time at sea. So far in 2017 navy ships have spent 17,000 ship days at sea. That is up from 15,600 for all of 2016, 14,200 in 2015 and 12,700 in 2014. This increase in time at sea has improved seagoing skills of crews and was not much done, even during the communist period, because of the expense. Left unsaid was the fact (that is no secret) that most of the warships are from the Cold War period and Russia cannot afford to replace them as they wear out. What the Russian navy is really doing is “use it or lose it” and sending its ships to sea even if they are barely capable of doing so.

November 1, 2017: Russia revealed that its army had received the first batch of production model T-72B3 tanks. This version of the T-72 first showed up in 2015 when a Russian motorized infantry brigade in Western Siberia fifteen T-72B3 prototypes for testing. This is a much modernized version of T-72 with an improved fire control system and next-generation communications equipment. The T-72B3 is one of the Russian efforts to modernize its armed forces at a price it can afford. Russia has over 5,000 T-72 tanks in use (2,000 in active service and 3,000 in reserve) and most of them are Cold War (pre-1991) vintage and seriously out-of-date compared to American, European and Chinese tanks. Modernizing these Cold War era tanks has been underway for a decade but is proceeding very slowly because of money shortages. Recently Russia admitted that it could not afford to buy many T-90 tanks or the even more modern (and expensive) T-14 and that instead it would modernize about 2,000 T-72s to the T-72B3 standard. Experienced Russian tank officers and crews appear to view the T-72B3 as one of the more successful T-72 upgrades.

October 31, 2017: Russia announced that one of its Kilo class diesel-electric submarines in the Mediterranean had launched three Kalibr cruise missiles against ISIL targets in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province). Russia makes these announcements as part of a promotional program for sales of its Kilo subs and various Russian made weapons they can be equipped with. This marketing approach is working and that is one reason Russia also revealed that it would not reduce its air force activity in Syria now that ISIL was beaten but would increase it. Russia is more confident of using its new aircraft models in combat now that it has found and fixed various minor problems with some of these aircraft and the smart bombs and guided missiles they use.

October 30, 2017: Sanctions have forced Russia to cancel many off-shore oil projects because the specialized equipment needed for this work was only available from the West. This is demoralizing to the Russians who worked in their oil industry in the 1980s and 1990s. Those Russians remember the dramatic impact access to Western oil production and exploration technology had on improving the reliability and profitability of the Russian oil industry (which produces 12 percent of world oil) back then. The collapse of the Russian oil industry in the 1980s was a major factor in the fall of communist rule in Russia and the introduction of Western tech made it clear why. But now the access to Western oil tech is gradually being eliminated because of disputes over Ukraine and other Russian aggression. Worse, during the communist period there were no modern accounting and financial auditing systems available (they were considered capitalist propaganda) but in the 1990s those financial tools became available and Russian oil experts confirmed their suspicions that communist era polices had crippled the Russian oil industry. Now it is happening again and the data is there daily to show the rot.

October 26, 2017: The UN released a report on an investigation into continued chemical weapons use in Syria. The report confirmed that the Assad government used nerve gas against a pro-rebel village in Idlib province during April 2017, an attack that killed over 83 (30 of them children) and left over 300 with nerve gas related injuries. This is a war crime that many UN members are demanding be prosecuted. As expected the Assads denied the charges safe in the knowledge that their ally Russia would use their veto to block any major war crimes prosecution. The UN investigators had concluded early on that the April attack used nerve gas but the latest report confirms that the nerve gas was delivered by the Assad forces. Another part of this report confirmed that ISIL used mustard gas in several September 2016 attacks.

October 22, 2017: India wants to leave the effort to develop the new Su-57 Russian stealth fighter. This departure has been threatened more frequently over the last few years but now it seems serious. Russia is trying to come up with a compromise Russia can afford. India is not only investing a lot of money in Su-57 but was to be the first and largest export customer.

October 21, 2017: Russia used its UN veto to block a proposal to continue investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The UN had investigated and confirmed accusations that Assad forces used nerve gas earlier in 2017.

October 20, 2017: Ukrainian military intelligence analysts have presented convincing evidence that a Russian military contractor (called “Wagner”) has become, in effect, president Putin’s private army in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. Ukrainians identified Russian Special Operations colonel Dmytro Utkin as the organizer of Wagner. The name “Wager” was originally the radio call sign for Utkin. The Ukrainians have a lot of experience with the Wagner company, which was used to restore discipline in rebel controlled areas of Donbas by kidnapping or assassinating rebel leaders who were not following orders from Russia. Wagner is believed to have over 2,000 highly skilled (and paid) personnel on the payroll. Ukraine and foreign analysts documented that the Wagner firm is a major Russian military contractor with thousands of personnel in Ukraine and Syria. What little is known about Wagner is collected from Internet posts (usually in social media) about the death of Wagner employees in Ukraine or Syria. There is so much data like that freely available that it is possible to get a good idea about the size and activities of Warner and other military contractors Russia uses.

October 19, 2017: In Yemen Saudi Arabia quietly lifted the air embargo on the capital (Sanaa) today and halted all air attacks on the city. This was to allow a Russian medical team to fly in and operate on former Yemen president Saleh who, at age 75 is still a powerful leader in Yemen. In mid-2017 Saleh began to discuss peace terms with the Saudis and this led to denunciations by Shia leaders but not effort to imprison or kill Saleh. Apparently Saleh still has his political skills and both sides see keeping him alive in their interest. Russia is on good terms with Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as Saleh. If Saleh sides with the Sunni Arab coalition the Yemen rebels will have to consider making peace, otherwise the war can go on for a while yet.

 


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