A recent study found that in Russia 110 families control 35 percent of the personal wealth. That comes to $420 billion or nearly $4 billion per family. Worldwide billionaire families control less than 2 percent of personal wealth. This extreme concentration occurred because corruption in the 1990s program that privatized most of the economy in the wake of the communist government collapsed. Under the communists private businesses were illegal and everything belonged to the state. The privatization program was manipulated by former communist officials who rigged elections and got themselves elected and then steered the sale of state assets to cronies. The 100 families pay billions in bribes each year to government officials who see to it that the family fortunes are left alone. This concentration and abuse of wealth is very unpopular in Russia and there is growing popular anger demanding that it be fixed. Those in power fear another revolution, as the concentration of economic power today is much higher than it was in the 1920s when the communists first seized power.
Russia and Iran continue to prop up the Assad government in Syria. The 2 countries provide essential aid to replace the heavy losses in weapons and ammunition Syrian forces have suffered in the last year. The new supplies of weapons and ammo are essential. This aid is keeping the Syrian Air Force operational, although most of the bombing attacks are purely terror, with aircraft dropping bombs in towns and neighborhoods known to be pro-rebel. Meanwhile, Russia and Iran are divided over how far to go for the Assads. Capitalizing on its chemical weapons deal for Syria (which should take a lot of pressure off the Assad government), Russia is urging Basher Assad to make peace with some of the rebels. Assad is not enthusiastic about this because the Russians are comfortable with the Assads losing power and the Assads and Iranians are not. The Russian proposal involves offering the moderate (non-Islamic radical) rebels a deal that introduces fair elections and the suppression of Islamic terrorist groups. About the only thing the Assads and most of the rebels can agree on is that the Islamic radical rebels are a threat to everyone. Such an arrangement would leave intact the powerful commercial family organizations that the Assads long favored and which control much of the economy. It also assures the continued existence of minority (Christian, Alawite, Druze) communities in Syria and makes it easier to revive the economy. While the Assad family would probably lose in elections, and have to surrender many of the assets the clan acquired via corruption over the decades, they would be free from war crimes prosecution and still have a lot of their wealth. They would be able to find comfortable exile (many Syrians would still want them dead) because of the immunity any such deal would probably have to include. The post-Assad Syria would still be anti-Israel but would be without chemical weapons and thus less of a threat to Israel. The vast quantities of Syrian military equipment destroyed in the fighting would not be replaced because of the need for reconstruction. There might even be a peace deal with Israel eventually. The Russian version of a future Syria does not appeal to Iran because letting the Sunni majority vote in fair (or reasonably so) elections would mean an end to the Syrian alliance with Iran and the Iranian base for supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon. This would please all of Syria’s neighbors as well as the West. It would be a hard sell because most Syrians don’t trust the Assads or the Islamic terrorist rebels. The civil war has destroyed the artificial unity Syria had for the last half century, and putting most of the pieces back together again will be messy no matter how it’s done. Russia, like most non-Moslem nations, fears that Syria could become another Islamic terrorist haven. Russia wants peace in order to regain some clout in the Islamic world. Being a peacemaker in a vicious civil war that has killed over 100,000 Moslems so far would do it. It would also make it less likely that the media would spend more time on the fact that many parts of the rockets used to deliver the nerve gas in Syria (against civilians) were found to be 140mm and 330mm models with special (Russian made with Russian language markings) warheads designed to disperse nerve gas. The warheads were tested and showed evidence of sarin nerve gas.
Russian support for the Assads extends to the Mediterranean. Russia has 2 destroyers, a frigate, and 3 amphibious ships (there to evacuate civilians) off the Syrian coast. There are also several support ships, including an electronic surveillance vessel, a tug, a repair ship, and a tanker. The Russians have been maintaining a force this size off Syria for most of this year and relieves ships after a few months with ships from various parts of their fleet (Black Sea, Baltic, far north). Technically, the ships are there to rescue Russian citizens if the rebels overrun most of the country. In fact, the ships are also there to try and intimidate the more numerous foreign warships in the area, in case the West decides to intervene in favor of the rebels. That probably won’t work when you consider the array of ships the Russians and Syrians would be facing. NATO countries have 10 times as many warships in the area. Syria itself only has 2 elderly frigates and about 30 missile patrol boats. Israel has a larger force of more modern ships, as does Turkey. Greece is also very close, with dozens of modern ships and patrol boats. The Turks, Israeli, Greeks, and the U.S. can put a lot of warplanes into the air over the eastern Mediterranean.
The Russian answer to the American F-22, the “5th generation” T-50 (or PAK-FA), is in big trouble. Several key components are facing serious development problems. The major problem is the new engine, which is still stuck in development. Russia always had problems building competitive engines. In the past to get the power needed they built engines that lasted only a fraction as long as Western engines. There are also problems with the stealth technology and the new electronics.
The military rebuilding effort is moving slowly. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the post collapse lost 80 percent of the military manpower the Soviets maintained and over 90 percent of the combat capability that had made the Soviet Union a superpower. Getting the military power back has proved difficult. This has caused some problems with allies like China. For example, while China has the largest military in the region and is the most aggressive in using it, the devil is in the details. Most Chinese military personnel belong to the army. This is a threat to all neighbors China shares land borders with, especially Russia. While much is made of Chinese efforts to upgrade their navy and air force, these two services are still inferior to the Japanese navy and air force. The Japanese have more modern and effective ships and their crews are far more proficient than their Chinese counterparts. Same thing with the Japanese Air Force. Moreover, the Japanese naval forces are themselves overshadowed by American warships assigned to the Western Pacific. In addition to the Japanese and American forces, the Chinese have to worry about the formidable Taiwanese air and naval forces, as well those of South Korea. Technically Russia is an ally, but the Russians keep most of their air and naval forces out of the Pacific and are inclined to continue their tradition of never having been at war with the United States. So China has to be careful. Any confrontations with Japan at sea or in the air have to be handled carefully because China is still playing with a weak hand.
In the last decade the United States has come to overtake Russia and Saudi Arabia as the largest producers of oil and natural gas. This is largely the result of American entrepreneurs developing efficient new techniques (fraking) for getting to oil and natural gas deposits that were previously considered too expensive to recover. Russia long dismissed this threat, but now it has to pay attention because the American bonanza is keeping the price of oil and gas down and that hurts Russia (which depends on the oil and gas exports to keep an otherwise inefficient economy growing). There are no easy solutions to this new American threat. Many Russians believe the Americans came up with fraking just to hurt Russia. Paranoia is a popular activity in Russia.
October 4, 2013: Russia is sending 6 of its new Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft systems to the southern town of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics will begin in early February. Pantsir-S1 entered service in 2010, and has proved quite popular, with nearly a thousand ordered by Russian forces and foreign customers. Pantsir-S1 is a further development of the Cold War era 2K22 (SA-19) system that was mounted on a tracked armored vehicle. These air defense systems will guard against any terrorist threats from the air.
October 3, 2013: Russian embassy staff left Libya.
October 2, 2013: The Russian embassy in Libya was attacked by an armed mob. At least one of the attackers were killed but all embassy staff got away safely. The mob attacked because a Russian woman (a 26 year old professional weight lifter who came to Libya in 2011 to help defend the dictatorship) had murdered a Libyan pilot and his mother. The mob believed she was hiding out in the embassy. She wasn’t. The Libyan government apologized for the attack and promised to improve security around all embassies.
October 1, 2013: In the south (Dagestan) a clash with Islamic terrorists left 2 policemen and a civilian dead.
In Tajikistan the parliament approved an extension of the military cooperation treaty with Russia to 2042. This includes Russia continuing to station 4,000 troops there, mainly on the Tajik southern (Afghan) border, to help keep out drugs and Islamic terrorists. This involves running 3 Russian bases in Tajikistan. Russia also continues to train Tajik military personnel (mainly officers) and supply weapons and ammo at low cost or for free. In Afghanistan many Taliban operate to provide security for heroin smuggling. The Central Asian route (to West Europe and North America) is long, but for most of the way you can bribe your way past border security. The Taliban are much more unpopular in northern Afghanistan and are often informed on, or even attacked, by hostile tribesmen. With Russian help the Tajiks have made their border guards more resistant to Taliban bribes and more likely to prevent smuggling. This can be seen by the numerous seizures of drugs and gun battles with the heavily armed smugglers. A lot of drugs do get through, but for the Russians every ton that is stopped is helpful. Drug addiction is a big problem in Russia.
September 30, 2013: Russia recently announced that it had sold some Mi-17 helicopters to Cameroon. This was a big deal because it was the first sale of Russian military equipment to Cameroon. Russia sees this as a trend, as it seeks to revive Cold War era markets in sub-Saharan Africa. All that disappeared with the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union in 1991.
September 29, 2013: In the south (Kabardino-Balkaria) 2 Islamic terrorists were killed when they tried to shoot their way past a checkpoint. A third man was wounded and escaped.
September 28, 2013: In the south (Dagestan) a clash with Islamic terrorists left 1 policeman dead and 4 wounded.
September 27, 2013: In Moscow police broke up a group of 50 vigilantes who were violently searching an apartment building they believed was full of illegal migrants who were engaged in criminal activities. 4 of the vigilantes were arrested and the rest dispersed. Police checked the vigilante accusations and found 20 people in the building were illegals and a Ukrainian woman there was arrested for smuggling foreigners into Russia.
In the south (Dagestan) police raided an Islamic terrorist hideout on the Caspian coast and killed the 5 men who fired on them. One of the dead was a wanted terrorist leader.
September 24, 2013: The government is buying 16 MiG-29SMT jet fighters. The Russian Air Force does not want these MiGs and the government is making the purchase to keep the MAC (MiG Aircraft Corporation) from going bankrupt. That became a possibility earlier this year when it was revealed that Russia would not order 37 of MAC’s new (and still in development) MiG-35D fighters. Because of development problems, this order will now be delayed until 2016. Cancellation of this order put MiG in a financial bind and the best solution seemed to be the purchase of more of the existing MiG-29 models.
September 23, 2013: The government sold its 49 percent stake in Izhevsk Machine Works to private investors. The firm makes AK type assault rifles.
In the south (Krasnodar) an Su-25 crashed. All Su-25s were immediately grounded until the cause of the crash could be found.
Russia has completed a 54 kilometer rail line from Russia to the North Korea railroad system. This came after a decade of work and links North Korean railroads to the transcontinental Russian railroad, which gives North Korea a more direct link to Russia and Europe. The new rail link was built through some very rough terrain and required 18 bridges and 4.5 kilometers of tunnels to be built or rebuilt. Now it will take only 14 days to get cargo to Europe, compared to twice as long via Chinese rail links or 45 days by ship.
September 22, 2013: In the south (Dagestan) a suicide car bomber attacked a rural police station, killing a policeman and a civilian.
In Syria a rebel mortar shell hit the Russian embassy compound, wounding 3 people. http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/russia/articles/20131010.aspx