Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"...Russia’s ambition to field a powerful military, at a time of demographic pressure, is tempting it towards leapfrogging forward into drone and robot warfare." - Russia’s shiny new weapons by Mark Galeotti

Viable Opposition: The History of Russian Involvement in Chechnya 

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mikenova shared this story from  Opposition in Russia - Google Blog Search.

This move to independence was strongly opposed by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin. After accusations of corruption by Russia, on November 26, 1994, domestic opposition forces aided byRussian Army units, ...

Natasha's Guide to the Russian Opposition - Fluent Historian

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mikenova shared this story from  Opposition in Russia - Google Blog Search.

One thing we Russian students can't escape hearing about the “opposition” in Russia. People in the field talk about it all the time. Journalists talk about the opposition, too: they'll mention how the US ambassador met with ...

Russia at home and abroad: past successes, future challenges

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2013 produced several foreign policy successes for President Putin, increasing Russia’s prominence on the international stage. At home, the Volgograd suicide attacks brought the year to a sad and worrying conclusion. Margot Light reflects on 2013 and wonders about Russia’s 2014, including the G8 presidency and the Sochi Winter Olympics.
President Vladimir Putin had the slightly smug look of a man who has had a good year when he was photographed at his annual press conference on19 December. Forbes had recently listed him the most powerful man of 2013. The performance of the Russian economy has been mediocre, so it was clearly Putin’s foreign policy that impressed Forbes.  Russian foreign policy was, indeed, very successful in 2013.  What was particularly striking was that in a number of foreign policy encounters, Russia seemed to occupy the moral high ground, compared with the positions taken by most Western leaders. It was also remarkable that Russia’s public relations machine which, in the past, has so often undermined Putin’s foreign policy, seemed far more skilful in 2013.
Russian foreign policy was very successful in 2013.
In an interview with Interfax News Agency on 21 December, Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, listed Syria and Iran, and advances in Eurasian integration as exceptionally important achievements of Russia’s foreign policy in 2013. But he also mentioned Russia’s presidency of the G20 in 2013 as worthy of note. 

Vladimir Putin had the slightly smug look of a man who has had a good year at his annual press conference on 19 December. Photo Kremlin.ru
Russia’s G20 agenda concentrated on igniting a new cycle of economic growth in the world economy by fostering jobs and investment; improving regulation; and increasing ‘trust and transparency.’ Perhaps the most interesting development was Russia’s expansion of the traditional G20 dialogue with civil society: as well as the usual G20 meetings of working groups, Sherpas and ministers throughout the year, Russia also convened a G20 Civil Summit which took place in Moscow in June. The climax of Russia’s presidency was the G20 summit in St Petersburg in September. However, a slight pall was cast by the US administration’s cancellation in August of a bilateral meeting between Presidents Obama and Putin, which had been planned to take place in Moscow ahead of the summit. 

Syria and Iran

In retrospect, it turned out that Obama and Putin did meet, not in Moscow but on the sidelines of the St Petersburg summit. Their discussion about placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control led to Russia’s most significant foreign policy achievement of the year. For two and a half years Russia and the United States – and Russia and most of Europe – had been at loggerheads over what to do about the civil war in Syria. Now there was a breakthrough. The Russians persuaded Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to avert a US military strike by handing over his chemical weapons to be destroyed, while Obama postponed a vote by the US Congress on military action.
On 14 September the US and Russia agreed a Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons in Geneva. On the same day Assad announced that Syria was acceding to the Chemical Weapons Convention. This committed Syria not to use chemical weapons, to destroy its chemical weapons within ten years, and to convert or destroy all its chemical weapons production facilities. Within a week, Syria had handed over a complete inventory of its chemical arsenal. On 1 October a disarmament team arrived in Damascus to start work on destroying the weapons and production facilities. The weapons are scheduled to have been completely destroyed by the middle of 2014.
Putin was adamant that Russia’s stance on Syria was right, but the impasse affected all his other foreign policy initiatives.
There is general agreement that Putin got Obama off the hook over Syria.  The British House of Commons had already voted against military action; Obama felt constrained to act on a declaration he had made a year before that there would be military consequences if chemical weapons were used. However, there was little US public support for military action and, in any case, it was unlikely that a US military strike would end the war. So Putin did help Obama. It is equally true, however, that Assad’s agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons let Putin off the hook – although he was adamant that Russia’s stance on Syria was right, the impasse affected all his other foreign policy initiatives.
Of course, despite the agreement on chemical weapons, the Syrian civil war has continued. A peace conference, Geneva II,  is scheduled to begin on 22 January, but there is no guarantee that it will produce a political solution, or even end the bloodshed. Nor will it reduce the number of displaced Syrians living in poverty and hardship.
Foreign Minister Lavrov claimed credit for the improvement in US-Iranian relations and the landmark interim nuclear agreement with Iran reached in Geneva on 24 November. While Russia certainly welcomed and encouraged the deal (and is a member of the P5 +1 group that negotiated it), the election of President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013 and a change of policy authorised by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, had rather more responsibility for the success than Russia.


The reason for the cancellation of the Obama-Putin September summit was the offence caused by Russia’s offer of temporary asylum to Edward Snowden. Snowden had arrived in Moscow on 23 June, apparently on the way to Ecuador. While he was en route, the US revoked his passport (a strategy the Soviet Union frequently used, but rare in the post-Cold War world), thereby stranding him in the transit lounge of Sheremetyevo international airport. On 1 July, President Evo Morales of Bolivia, in Moscow for a conference, suggested that he might consider a request from Snowden for asylum. The following day, Morales' return flight to Bolivia was re-routed to Austria and apparently searched, in case Snowden was on board. Morales blamed the US for this extraordinary diplomatic incident. The US successfully persuaded a number of European countries to reject Snowden’s application for asylum, enabling Russia to assume the gallant role of whistleblowers’ defender by offering Snowden temporary asylum, on condition that he agreed he would not further harm US interests.

US treatment of Edward Snowden allowed Russia to assume the gallant role of whistleblowers’ defender. Photo via YouTube.


Russia’s policy towards Ukraine in 2013 was rather less heroic. To discourage President Viktor Yanukovych from signing a Partnership agreement with the EU at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November, Moscow first used economic sanctions, and then offered Ukraine a massive bribe. In July, following a series of trade restrictions imposed on Ukrainian goods ranging from steel pipes to cheese, Russia banned imports of confectionery produced by Roshen, allegedly because they contained carcinogens. Russian customs officials then blocked other Ukrainian exports by introducing time-consuming and expensive inspections, ostensibly necessary because Ukraine has not joined the Russian-Belarusian-Kazakh Customs Union.
On 21 November Yanukovych succumbed to the pressure. To the consternation of Europeans and pro-EU Ukrainians, Kyiv announced that it was suspending its trade and association talks with the EU. At the Vilnius summit, Moldova and Georgia signed up to EU Association Agreements, while Yanukovych defended his refusal to sign on the grounds that the EU was not offering adequate financial aid. Russia immediately offered to buy US$15bn-worth of Ukrainian government bonds and to cut the cost of gas supplied to Ukraine from more than US$400 per 1,000 cubic metres to US$268.5. 
Russia’s 2013 Ukrainian triumph might turn out to be an extremely expensive Pyrrhic victory.
It is not at all clear, however, that this will persuade Yanukovych to join the Customs Union, or theEurasian Union, which is officially programmed to emerge by January 2015. Kyiv has a long history of playing Russia and the EU off against each other and public opinion in Ukraine is so divided that there is every reason for Yanukovych to attempt to continue this policy. Russia’s 2013 Ukrainian triumph might turn out to be an extremely expensive Pyrrhic victory.

What does the future hold in store?

So what awaits Russia in 2014? Putin hopes to expand the new working relationship between the Russians and Americans produced by cooperation over Syria and Iran. According to Lavrov, Russia also intends to develop interaction in the BRICS format in 2014, building on the 2013 Concept of the Participation of the Russian Federation in the BRICS and preparing for its chairmanship of the association in 2015. Lavrov also wants Russia to improve its use of soft power as an instrument of foreign policy. 
More specifically, it is clear that Putin sets great store by the success of the Winter Olympics which will open in Sochi on 7 February. The December amnesty for more than 20,000 prisoners, including Pussy Riot, Greenpeace activists, and more surprisingly, the pardon for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, means that Western leaders will not be able to cite human rights as a reason for not attending the opening.  
But the suicide attacks in Volgograd last week remind us that terrorism is still rife in Russia, and the success of the games is not entirely within Putin’s control. Moreover, Sochi is the venue not just for the Winter Olympics. The G8 summit (Russia assumed the chairmanship on 1 January) is scheduled to take place in Sochi in June.  Putin must hope that Russia’s G8 agenda – which focuses on fighting terrorism (as well as drug trafficking, and managing conflicts and disasters) – will produce a rapid and fail-safe solution to keeping the Winter Olympics and the G8 summit safe from terrorism.  
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Lukashenka as Machiavelli 

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mikenova shared this story from  openDemocracy.

For those who assume that the Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenka long ago lost his freedom of action vis-a-vis Moscow, his recent bout of assertive behaviour was unexpected. It delivered the desired result, though.
Tension in the relationship between Russia and Belarus has remained in the shadow of the more newsworthy relationship between Russia and Ukraine, stemming from the latter’s now-spoiled efforts to sign an Association Agreement with the EU at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November [where Belarus was participating as one of the six Eastern Partnership countries, that also include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova].
Lukashenka perceived an opportunity to increase economic subsidies.
The latest spat between Belarus and Russia arose from a bout of assertive behaviour on the part of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka. For those who assume Lukashenka long ago lost his freedom of action vis-a-vis Moscow, this was unexpected. Yet it is easy to explain: Lukashenka perceived an opportunity to increase economic subsidies, by exploiting his status as Russia’s most valuable ally; subsidies he needed to secure re-election in 2015. Given Russia’s strong and publicly declared interest to proceed rapidly toward the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union, Lukashenka’s gambit was likely to succeed – and it did. Russia has now agreed to give Belarus a new loan of 2 billion dollars.

Lukashenka's direct challenge to Russia's business elite may have seemed reckless to outsiders, but ultimately worked in his favour when he met Putin in October 2013. Photo Kremlin.ru

The ‘Baumgertner case’

The immediate cause of the current stand-off in Russian-Belarusian relations is the so-called Baumgertner case, named after Vladislav Baumgertner, a top manager at the Russian potash company Uralkali, who was arrested in Minsk in August. Uralkali and the Belarusian company Belaruskali had a cartel agreement, but this year their cooperation unravelled, to the severe detriment of Belarus. Minsk interpreted the collapse of the cartel as a plot by Russian economic actors.
Baumgertner had been invited to Belarus for negotiations with Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich. The meeting yielded no tangible results except that Baumgertner himself was detained and placed in a detention cell; and then placed under house arrest. Embezzlement charges were next brought against him. Meanwhile, an international warrant was issued to arrest one of the co-owners of Uralkali, Suleiman Kerimov, one of Russia’s richest businessmen and a Federation Council member for Dagestan.
Four other citizens of Russia were implicated in the case; reportedly, the Belarusian secret services tried to abduct one of them in Moscow in October. As a precondition of Baumgertner’s release and transfer to Russia, Lukashenka publicly demanded full compensation of the damages Belarus had allegedly incurred. Baumgertner was extradited back to Russia at the end of November, but only after a criminal investigation was instigated against him back home and, upon his return, Baumgertner found himself again behind bars. Meanwhile, Kerimov’s assets in Uralkali were sold to new owners who were evidently more to Lukashenka’s liking.
Lukashenka scored public relations points on the domestic front as an anti-oligarchic campaigner.
How was Lukashenka able to issue such an open challenge to Moscow and, indirectly, to the Russian business community? He scored public relations points on the domestic front as an anti-oligarchic campaigner—he took a Russian citizen hostage, demanded ransom, and played a ‘cat-and-mouse’ game that went unpunished. He was also able to paint Moscow’s inaction as a sign of Russia’s weakness when dealing with Belarus, rather than a sign of strength.

Lukashenka’s Machiavellian diplomacy

In the meantime, Lukashenka has stepped up criticism of Russia’s most important contemporary foreign policy project, the Eurasian Customs Union (CU). In October, Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko blamed CU regulations for losses to the country’s auto and agriculture machine-building industries. In particular, he criticised the introduction of a new recycling fee on all cars (it was previously levied only on cars imported from outside the CU). This was estimated to cost Belarusian companies $350 million a year. Lukashenka himself has spoken out against Russian duties on crude oil imports, which are refined for export (only crude oil refined for domestic consumption is exported from Russia to Belarus duty-free). For this the price tag is far higher ($4 billion). Lukashenka’s political message is unambiguous: if Russia wants the CU to grow into a meaningful economic union, money has to stay inside Belarus.

Vladislav Baumgertner had the misfortune to become a pawn in Lukashenka's Machiavellian power play. Photo via Facebook.
Minsk’s motivations are classic Machiavellian.
Furthermore, Minsk has not sided with Russia in its conflict with Ukraine. In line with a foreign policy tradition that included good relations with Mikheil Saakashvili’s Georgia (2004 – 2013) and non-recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Minsk has demonstrated an adroit understanding of Ukraine’s desire to turn toward Europe. Lukashenka paid a productive visit to Kyiv in June 2013, and warmly received Ukraine’s Prime Minister Mykola Azarov in Minsk in October. Significantly, Belarus did not join the ban that Russian authorities imposed on the import of Ukrainian chocolates in August. In this case, Minsk’s motivations are classic Machiavellian – if Ukraine were to join the Russia-led Eurasian integration project, Belarus would then have to compete with Ukraine for Russia’s benevolence, and would thereby lose in importance.

High stakes

This was not the first time Lukashenka had employed the tactic of creating a problem in relations with Russia that could only be solved by granting Belarus additional economic benefits. His motivation this time was clear: from January to September 2013, Belarus’ GDP grew only 1.1% rather than the ‘planned’ 8.5%, and its trade deficit increased substantially. The country’s economic situation was troubling: without massive Russian subsidies Lukashenka’s political support was likely to suffer, complicating prospects for his re-election in 2015.
But the real question is not why Minsk wants more from Russia, but why Lukashenka believes Moscow would be receptive to his demands at this time. One reason for Minsk’s confidence is clear: after it became apparent that Ukraine would not join the CU—regardless of whether it signs an Association Agreement with the EU—Belarus found itself in a key position with respect to the fate of the Eurasian integration project. For Moscow, it has become imperative to make sure Belarus stays on board. Minsk and Astana both have numerous complaints about (and demands on) Moscow’s Eurasian project; it was obviously easier for Moscow to pay off Minsk alone than to face any type of united resistance.


A similar dynamic holds in the matter of CU enlargement. For now, the prospects for enlargement are uncertain. Armenia’s accession to the CU is much less important for Moscow than simply securing its rejection of an Association Agreement with the EU. It is also doubtful that Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, both potential CU members, would be able to guarantee the implementation of any commitments they might make, but if either of them were to become a serious candidate, Moscow could expect a ‘bill’ from Minsk. This is particularly true in the case of Kyrgyzstan, given the open diplomatic conflict between Minsk and Bishkek that resulted from the former’s granting of political asylum and citizenship to overthrown Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev. The leaders of the two countries have gone so far as to boycott meetings in their respective capitals: Lukashenka did not attend the CSTO summit in Bishkek in May 2013, and Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambaev ‘reciprocated’ by not coming to Minsk for a top CIS gathering in October.
Belarus’ role as a Russian military ally is increasing in importance.
Belarus’ role as a Russian military ally is increasing in importance. A Russian air base will be established in Belarus in the near future. Three C-300 air defence complexes have already been deployed in the country and four more are on their way. A large-scale joint exercise (‘Zapad-2013’) was conducted in September and there are plans to hold another (‘Union Shield–2015’). Traditionally, the Belarusian leader has been very skilful at playing on Moscow’s geopolitical phobias and in appealing to the Russian defence establishment. It is likely that Minsk will again be able to turn Russia’s growing military-political dependence on Belarus into benefits for the Lukashenka regime.
Furthermore, Minsk is well aware of the infighting among Russia’s ruling elites, including their divided feelings toward Belarus, which makes it impossible for Moscow to have a coherent Belarusian policy. There have always been quarrels between ‘financial pragmatists’ and ‘geo-politicians,’ as well as conflicting economic interests. The novelty of the moment is the interest of Rosneft president Igor Sechin, one of Putin’s closest collaborators and one of Russia’s most influential figures, to concentrate into a single company (Rosneft) all exports of Russian crude oil to Belarus. These flows are currently spread between eight companies. This gives Lukashenka an opportunity for lobbying and making deals (like trading exclusive privatisation rights in a Belarusian refinery, for increased and guaranteed deliveries) with one Russian leading political actor who would then protect his interests in Moscow, if necessary, against the position of the Russian government as a whole. Revealingly, when the Russian cabinet indicated that it was going to cut deliveries of oil to Belarus in connection with the Baumgertner affair, Sechin expressed displeasure with this, and even paid a visit to Minsk.
Moscow’s ability to challenge Lukashenka’s position within Belarus is very low, as is the credibility of any threat to ‘find a replacement.’ A defamation campaign that ran in Russia in 2010 did not affect the Belarusian president’s ratings. Moscow’s decision not to protest against political repression, which has included as its victims individuals who advocate retaining close ties with Russia, has undermined Moscow’s chances to create a powerful pro-Russian opposition grouping.
Minsk, moreover, currently requires less political protection from the West. EU policy toward Belarus has proved inefficient and uncoordinated. Targeted sanctions and demands to free political prisoners have gone hand-in-hand with economic co-operation, active diplomatic contacts, and, most importantly, the treating of Minsk as a partner in the context of the Eastern Partnership. This policy culminated in suspending the visa ban against Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makey, formerly the head of Lukashenka’s presidential administration, who shares political responsibility for repressions; and a search for a formula that would enable Belarus to participate in the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius at a high political level. Of course, even if EU economic sanctions were a reality, their impact on Russian-Belarusian relations would be unclear. The need to ask greater support from Russia might make Minsk less self-confident, but the perceived legitimacy of the claim of ‘a friend in need’ might also help raise subsidies even higher. Given the reality, however, Minsk is able to simply ignore any EU rhetoric about sanctions.

The scenarios

At present, the range of scenarios for the evolution of Russian-Belarusian relations in the short- to mid-term is quite narrow. Notwithstanding Lukashenka’s posturing, in general, Moscow ought to be satisfied with current developments. The possibility that Minsk might conduct a more balanced foreign policy has been eliminated; and even hypothetical pre-conditions for this are emerging very slowly, if at all. Although some actions by Lukashenka may be disturbing for the Kremlin, enthroning a more obedient figure in Minsk is impossible, and anyhow would be risky since a substitute would not necessarily be able to run the machinery built by and for the incumbent. If the current state of geopolitical affairs, Lukashenka’s loyalty, and the promotion of integration projects has a price, then it is one that must be paid.
Notwithstanding Lukashenka’s posturing, in general, Moscow ought to be satisfied with current developments.
The most likely scenario, therefore, was – and will continue to be – one of ‘status quo plus,’ which necessarily involves a bailing out of Lukashenka. In monetary terms, his needs are not exorbitant. Taking into account that in 2012 Russian oil and gas subsidies alone made up almost 16 percent of Belarusian GDP, a modest increase of one or two percentage points would hardly affect the Russian economy, provided oil prices stay high. In addition, some money could return to Russia if, as part of a package deal, Russian companies receive assets in Belarus, and some non-tariff export barriers are lifted. Thus, it was not surprising perhaps that at the October 2013 CIS summit in Minsk, Putin confirmed that Russia would be ready to abolish all oil export duties for Belarus beginning January 2015.
A less likely scenario is a ‘plateau scenario,’ which depends less on an active Kremlin and more on factors beyond its control such as the economic slowdown in Russia becoming protracted. If this were to happen, the project of creating the Eurasian Economic Union might have to be postponed. This, in turn, would cancel the urgency of buying Minsk’s consent. However, the level of Russian subsidies would still need to be high, otherwise Minsk could re-activate its search for other external sponsors, in the West or even in China, which might see Belarus as an attractive entry point into CU markets. Popular support for integration with Russia, already in decline, could then plunge abruptly.
Overall, it seems that a revision by Moscow of the current political paradigm is unlikely. Anything more would require a much broader overhaul of Russian foreign policy priorities, something absolutely not on the horizon. Lukashenka has long positioned Belarus as Russia’s last remaining geopolitical client state on its Western front; and that is where he intends to stay. For Moscow, the only question is ‘how much?’
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Russia’s shiny new weapons 

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mikenova shared this story from  openDemocracy.

‘Drones are not toys,’ says Vladimir Putin, and ‘we are not going to operate them as other countries do. It is not a video game.’ Maybe so, but military men the world over love their hardware…
‘Drones are not toys,’ says Vladimir Putin, and ‘we are not going to operate them as other countries do. It is not a video game.’ Maybe so, but Russia’s ambition to field a powerful military, at a time of demographic pressure, is tempting it towards leapfrogging forward into drone and robot warfare. This already seems to be the idea, reflecting the internal security agencies’ enthusiastic adoption of these remote little helpers, although it remains to be seen if the Russian budget and Russian technology are up to the task.

The thin green line

Although claims of an imminent demographic disaster are overblown, for the near future Russia will have to cope with a shortage of draft-age young men. Efforts to make up the shortfall—and the qualitative problems caused by a reduction of national service to just one year—by recruiting more volunteers are also making little headway. Although the ambition is to raise the total numbers of thesekontraktniki [contract soldiers] by 50,000 a year, from 2013’s 241,000 to 420,000 by 2017, it is clear that Russia has a long way to go: even this year’s recruitment tallies are falling short, especially given that most either refuse or are refused re-enlistment after their first three-year term. Ironically, the prospect of a future economic slowdown might make a military career a little more appealing, but for the present, the lifestyle, prestige and pay simply fail to attract and retain enough Russians with the right skills and attributes needed.

Many Russians refuse re-enlistment after their first term, so Russia's military is only at 82% of its proper establlishment strength.
For the present, the lifestyle, prestige and pay simply fail to attract and retain enough Russians with the right skills and attributes needed.
As a result, Russia’s military is at only 82 percent of its proper establishment strength. An obvious response to quantitative inadequacy (although that raises the wider question of whether the county needs or could afford the million-man-army that appears to be the Kremlin’s absolute and totemic necessity) is qualitative improvement. Ideally, this would mean increasing the skills of regular soldiers, introducing a corps of seasoned non-commissioned officers—their role as the backbone of Western armies is as real as it is a cliché—and improving the training and professionalism of an officer corps that, at its best is extraordinarily good, but at its worst terrifyingly bad.
There certainly are efforts to make such changes within the context of the wider military modernisation plans. Indeed, there have been for years, which perhaps is testament enough to just how difficult and slow the process can be. The brutal hazing of raw recruits or dedovshchnina is still endemic, most NCOs are still conscripts, and the country’s one and only aircraft carrier is so prone to mechanical problems, it has to travel with an escort of tugs, just in case.
The tempting alternative to quantitative improvement is to buy newer, bigger, shinier weapons and equipment. This tends to appeal to a variety of constituencies: the generals enjoy the gung-ho thrill of ordering and deploying these exciting symbols of martial virility; politicians get dynamic photo shoots in aircraft cockpits and firing ranges; and, perhaps most important of all, the mighty military industrial complex gets a continued stream of orders needed to keep its factories running (and with them the cities depending on these subsidised conglomerates). No surprise, then, that the workers at tank producer Uralvagonzavod were Putin’s ultimate partisans when he began to face protests in the streets.

The procurement of Tank Support Fighting Vehicles such as this one reveals a Russian tendency to prioritise firepower over protection and reliability. Photo cc: SNAFU
The generals enjoy the gung-ho thrill of ordering and deploying these exciting symbols of martial virility
The massive procurement budgets earmarked for the military— $650 billion in the period to 2020—inevitably means a buying spree of new weapons and equipment. Many of these items are, indeed, overdue and needed. Individual soldiers’ personal equipment and armour lags behind Western counterparts in many ways, and the Ratnik ‘future soldier’ complex of uniform and equipment would indeed be a great step forward. Many others, however, betray a Russian tendency to prioritise firepower over protection and reliability, such as the mighty BMPT (Boyevaya Mashina Podderzhki Tankov, Tank Support Fighting Vehicle), a tank chassis loaded with two automatic cannons, four missile launchers, two automatic grenade launchers and a machine gun.

Droning on

One response in particular to the manpower shrinkage of the military is a renewed interest in drones and robotic weapons systems. In an address to the Duma, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin — whose portfolio includes the defence industries — listed robotic weaponry, drones and advanced automated combat management systems as priorities for the new state arms procurement programme for 2016-25. He wants to see a rapid expansion of Russia’s use of military drones on land, sea and air. Defence minister Sergei Shoigu seems to agree: he has ordered a doubling of the speed of the research and procurement of drones.
Russia has lagged behind the United States and even countries such as Israel and Italy in developing and deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
Russia has lagged behind the United States and even countries such as Israel and Italy in developing and deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Only in 2012 did the Defence Ministry form a division to manage drone research and development. This explains why, in the Chechen war, while Pchela-1T and Stroi-P drones helped helicopters and artillery fire on rebels, their success was limited by crude sensors; and they had the advantage of fighting enemies with no anti-air capability beyond just shooting into the skies. Russian-made drones certainly proved relatively ineffective in the 2008 Georgian War.

Catch up

Russia is trying to catch up: some dozen or so Zala-421 and Gorizont-Air-S100 drones will be deployed in the skies over Sochi during February’s Winter Olympics. However, many of these systems are relatively simple or else foreign-built or –designed. For advanced designs, Moscow has had to look abroad. Russia bought Israeli Bird Eye-400, I-View Mk. 150 and Searcher Mk. 2 UAVs, for example, following the effectiveness of these designs when used in the Georgian War; and in 2012 Rogozin discussed a Russo-Israeli joint venture to produce new models. In 2012, the Russian navy ordered eight Teledyne Gavia submarine drones from Iceland; and in 2014, Moscow is apparently planning to trial UAE-built United 40 Block 5 long-range reconnaissance UAVs.

In the 60s and 70s the Soviet Union was leading the drone game, but in the modern era Russia has been lagging seriously behind.
However, Rogozin is an outspoken nationalist who has made much of the need for the Russian military to buy Russian weapons, so he is also pushing the country’s domestic robot and drone sector. A wide range of new designs are emerging, from the wheeled Kompas RURS Reconnaissance and Strike Robot, able to patrol areas autonomously, through to the Altius-M attack drone, Russia’s answer to the missile-armed US MQ-9 Reaper. In between, is a design based on the Berkut VL superlight two-seat helicopter, in partnership with the UAE; and the Eleron-3SV scout drone (with thirty-four on order for 2014), while dwarfing them all is the 20-tonne combat UAV being planned, based on the Sukhoi T-50/PAK FA fifth-generation fighter. Given that the T-50 is still in testing, it remains to be seen whether it will indeed be in the air by 2018, as promised.

The age of the drone

Russian drone technology is far behind that of the United States—according to some, perhaps bytwenty years. However, Rogozin is looking to the long term, and Shoigu seems to share his enthusiasm for drones. A specialised military Bezpilotniy Letayuschiy Apparat [Pilotless Flying Equipment, the Russian for UAV] operator training centre has been opened on the outskirts of Moscow. The MiG Skat (‘Stingray’) stealth drone is also now under development. By 2040, Moscow may be deploying massive, long-range nuclear drone bombers, although Rogozin has cast doubts about the survivability of such weapons.
Russian drone technology is far behind that of the United States—according to some, perhaps by twenty years.
Of course, this is the age of the drone, and Moscow must be wanting to achieve parity with its rivals, especially as China is not only developing its own drones: it is has even, provocatively, demonstratedits maritime attack Blue Shark in simulated action against Russian (or at least Russian-built) ships. Back in 2012, Putin acknowledged that ‘unpiloted aircraft are being used more and more actively in armed conflicts; and I must say, they are being used effectively’ and so ‘we need the full line, including automated strike aircraft, reconnaissance drones and other systems… It is imperative to involve best engineering and science bureaus and centres in this effort.’ To this end, more that 400 billion rubles ($12.2 billion) were allocated toward this through 2020.

Not enough

This might sound like a lot, some $1.5 billion a year, but the US military has been spending some $4 billion on drone research, operation and procurement. Neither does the allocation of resources guarantee results. In 2009, Moscow had spent more than $3 billion on the Bulava submarine-launched nuclear missile programme; today, the weapon still has not been perfected, and estimates of the total project cost are rising towards the $5 billion mark.

Putin says that, for Russia, drone warfare is not a video game.
Ironically, the Soviets were ahead of the drone game, back in the 1960s and 1970s
Ironically, the Soviets were ahead of the drone game, back in the 1960s and 1970s, now, there are serious concerns about Russia’s near- and medium-term capabilities. Vladimir Anokhin, vice president of the Russian Academy of Geopolitical Issues, has said that while Russia has ‘wonderful teams that have spent decades working on this… we do not have enough hands. We do not have the industrial base, we do not have skilled workers who could produce a massive amount of those drones that we need so much now.’
Even if Russia can build or buy these drones, they require highly skilled technicians and operators to use them to their full potential. Thus, while the potential force multiplier effects of drones and robotic systems might seem a tempting answer to the inevitable dwindling of Russian military manpower, they are not a panacea, certainly not while the generals and political elite remain resistant to recruiting women to combat roles, and unhappy about large numbers of conscripts from the North Caucasus.
Putin says that, for Russia, drone warfare is not a video game; he has to hope that’s true.
Country or region:
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· · · · · · · · · · · ·

Кремль вбивает клин в отношения Беларуси с НАТО - Белорусские новости

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Кремль вбивает клин в отношения Беларуси с НАТО
Белорусские новости
Если пользоваться исключительно официальными сообщениями, то может сложиться впечатление, что в отличие от прежних времен во взаимодействии Беларуси с НАТОсовершенно отсутствуют негативные моменты. Так, в январе первый заместитель министра обороны Беларуси...

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Page 2

Russia's Unpragmatic Turn in its Near Abroad: Is Putin's insecurity ... - New Eastern Europe

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Russia's Unpragmatic Turn in its Near Abroad: Is Putin's insecurity ...
New Eastern Europe
Leon Aron argues, in his conceptualisation of the Putin doctrine, that the reestablishment of Russian hegemony (cultural, economic and political) in the former Soviet territories is a key foreign policy objective for Putin. This sentiment was echoed by ...

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Putin's Amnesty Is an Opening for the West 

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There are plenty of reasons to be cynical about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motivation in announcing an amnesty last month for more than 20,000 prisoners, including the dissident punk rockers Pussy Riot, detained Greenpeace activists, some leaders of last year’s Bolotnaya Square protests, and most surprisingly, oligarch turned anti-Kremlin icon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has languished in prison for more than a decade.

Analyst Brian Glyn Williams Discusses Volgograd Bombings on Huffington Post

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Russia Enters a Year of Post-Olympic Blues

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mikenova shared this story from  Eurasia Daily Monitor - The Jamestown Foundation.

Seasonal festivities have been unusually subdued in Russia this year—families at every income level and of any ethnic composition are finding it difficult to forget their worries and focus on positive prospects for the coming year. One interval in the new calendar is clearly marked, however: The Winter Olympic games will happen in Sochi from February 7 to February 23. But this long-expected mega-event comes so early in the year that most of 2014 will, in fact, be spent in post-Olympic hangover. So much political attention and hectic preparations are concentrated on this spectacularly expensive project that it sets a horizon of sorts, beyond which it is hard to see a meaningful agenda—except for the inevitable reflections on whether the two weeks of sport competitions (many of which are not particularly popular in Russia) were worth the money on reproducing in Sochi the extravaganza typical for the Moscow Olympic games in 1980 (http://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/76382).

It was the war in Afghanistan that spoiled the Soviet propaganda offensive in 1980. And presently a different menace casts a shadow over the hugely expensive demonstration of Russia’s revival—and over the joy of the New Year holiday. The deadly suicide explosions in Volgograd on December 29 and 30 shocked the country, which had already seen too many terrorist attacks, and proved yet again that the smoldering civil war in the North Caucasus keeps evolving (Novaya Gazeta, January 2). The mainstream media ignored the data showing that 15 people had been killed in armed clashes in this “war zone” in the week preceding the Volgograd tragedy because it was a normal level of casualties (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235993/). Every possible order-enforcement mechanism was exploited to the maximum capacity in order to deter rebels and to isolate this “theater of special operations” from the Olympic “safe haven” around Sochi, but the risk of spill-over from the critically unstable Dagestan and uncontrollable Chechnya remains disturbingly high (http://politcom.ru/16961.html). President Vladimir Putin could not make any meaningful statement on this escalating terrorism threat, but he had to alter his pre-recorded New Year’s message and pay a brief visit to Volgograd (http://echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/1230744-echo/).

Up until that turn of events, Putin had sought to project the impression of confident hands-on leadership uniting the deeply corrupt elites and the predominantly illiberal electorate under the newly-minted slogan of “conservatism” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 30). This rhetoric was supposed to justify both the tough persecution of “saboteurs” of various persuasions and the indefinite continuation of Putin’s unilateral control over Russian politics. Frequent references to Christian values in this discourse have been underpinned by the tight union between the Kremlin and the strictly hierarchic institution of the Russian Orthodox Church. Seeking to prove the moral superiority and the political power of this patrimonial construct, Putin opted for a closure in the most controversial political trials, granting amnesty for such “hooligans” as the Greenpeace activists and the Pussy Riot “blasphemers” (http://slon.ru/russia/psikhologicheskaya_lomka_putina_ili_kakoy_dorogoy_idem_tovarishchi_-1039963.xhtml). His most benevolent gesture—issuing a pardon for imprisoned former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky—was a huge surprise but hardly made the desired impression of solid stability, particularly as Khodorkovsky argued that a continuation of the ruling regime would inevitably lead to Russia’s collapse (Novaya Gazeta, December 27).

Such predictions might appear far-fetched, particularly as Putin prepares to convert a series of foreign policy achievements, including preventing Ukraine from signing an association agreement with the European Union, into an assertive chairmanship of the G8 this year (http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2013/12/27_a_5822317.shtml). It is the “triumph” in Syria that Putin believes to be a turning point in claiming for Russia the role of “indispensable power.” And if at the last G8 meeting in Northern Ireland he was isolated and criticized for opposing intervention, at the forthcoming Sochi summit of this “club” he expects to see more respectful attention to Russia’s position. He might be surprised, however, to discover that the plan to strengthen Russia’s influence by advancing a massive rearmament program—which has experienced many setbacks—can backfire strongly, not least in the fiasco of a new “reset” in relations between Russia and the United States, where arms control used to be the key driver (http://ej.ru/?a=note&id=24071). Iskander missiles deployed in the Kaliningrad exclave deliver a warning message to Russia’s European neighbors. But what really alarms them is Putin’s “conservatism” with its condemnation of such values as tolerance and multiculturalism (http://www.gazeta.ru/comments/column/lukyanov/5810649.shtml).

As demonstrated by Moscow’s success in the “battle for Ukraine,” which the Kremlin secured by granting Kyiv an emergency $15 billion loan and cutting the price on exported natural gas, foreign policy maneuvering needs a solid economic foundation. But 2013 revealed this economic foundation to be quickly and progressively eroding in Russia (Kommersant, December 27). The Russian economy has decelerated from feeble growth to undeniable stagnation as well as highlighted the massive outflow of capital guarantees that this trend is set to continue. The revenues from oil and gas export have started to shrink, and the “shale gas revolution” is increasingly perceived as a threat to Russia’s national security (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, December 27). The government has abandoned the attempts to implement the proposition of “modernization,” which answers neither the interests of the self-serving state corporations nor the greed of the corrupt siloviki (security forces personnel) (http://www.forbes.ru/mneniya-column/siloviki/249120-silovoi-otkat-pochemu-rossiya-legko-otkazalas-ot-medvedevskikh-reform). The stagnating economy thus becomes the main generator of discontent, adding new urgency to the demands for delivering on Putin’s generous social promises and re-energizing the divided liberal opposition (http://www.gazeta.ru/comments/column/novoprudsky/5821449.shtml).

President Putin has no trust in the economists, who keep arguing that the investment climate cannot be improved without political reforms; and he has no clue about how to overcome the economic recession, insisting in vain on a repatriation of the evacuated fortunes, thus annoying his loyal lieutenants and court oligarchs. The Olympic fanfares can distract the populace for only a few more weeks. And the stubborn Ukrainian Euro-Maidan demonstrations remind the anxious Kremlin inhabitants of the specter of revolution that so scared them two years ago. Putin’s siloviki can no longer exploit the threat of terrorism for mobilizing the masses because the challenge of radical nationalism has become too explosive. Indeed, the planned one-million strong rally in Moscow organized by Muslim communities against xenophobia and Caucasus-phobia is growing into a serious challenge for the authorities (Moskovsky Komsomolets, December 24). Khodorkovsky has expressed a firm intention to stay away from politics, but his analysis of Russia’s inherent fragility rings truer than Putin’s bragging.
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· · · ·

Russia’s Navy Inches Forward

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Russia’s Navy entered 2014 with some small signs of progress, while the Ministry of Defense faces significant challenges centered on the development of the Bulava sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) for a new generation of submarines. The Navy also operates under the condition of raising the international profile of the country, with its vessels being sent to “strategic areas” of the world’s oceans (Interfax, December 30). Nonetheless, the Russian Navy is currently witnessing the entry into service of new-generation submarines that are unequipped with their primary missile system.

On December 30, following repairs, the Northern Fleet’s nuclear-powered missile submarine Smolensk returned to its base at Zaozersk, Murmansk. Northern Fleet spokesman, Captain 1st Rank Vadim Serga, told Interfax, “The Northern Fleet nuclear-powered missile submarine Smolensk is back to base in Zaozersk from Severodvinsk, where it was repaired and modernized at the Zvezdochka military shipyard” (Interfax, December 30).

According to the submarine commander, Captain 1st Rank Boris Morozov, the vessel successfully completed its first stage of sea trials and the submarine was considered to be operational with its crew “in good health.” The Northern Fleet has accepted three submarines back to base over the past 18 months: the Novomoskovsk and Verkhoturye submarines preceded the arrival of the Smolensk. However, the Smolensk repairs lasted around two years, during which its mechanisms, including the hull and main power unit, were renovated, while its radio-electronic, navigation and other systems were modernized (http://function.mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=11883602@egNews).

The Smolensk is a Project 949A (Antey) Oscar-II-class submarine. It has been in service for 24 years. According to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow will continue to invest in maintaining its numbers of Oscar-II-class nuclear submarines (SSN) through overhauls such as the recent example with the Smolensk. The Smolensk commander stated that in 2014 the submarine will surface at the North Pole in order to plant the Russian flag and the Cross of St. Andrew—the symbol of the Russian Navy (Interfax, December 23, 30).

On December 23, the Project 955 Borey-class Aleksandr Nevskiy ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN) joined the fleet. However, the Nevskiy and its sister ship, the Yuriy Dolgorukiy, still face the problem of the acceptance of their primary armament, the Bulava SLBM. The Nevskiy is scheduled to test fire the Bulava later this year. Meanwhile, the third Borey-class submarine, Vladimir Monomakh, will enter service in 2014. Thus the Nevskiy and the Monomakh will be in service without their complement of Bulava SLBMs (http://russianforces.org/blog/2013/12/yuri_dolgorikiy_and_alexandr_n.shtml). At the same time, the Project 885 SSN Severodvinsk, an advanced multipurpose attack submarine, is due to enter service shortly (RIA Novosti, December 30).

On December 27, the Northern Fleet’s heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy arrived on a Mediterranean mission as part of a Russian naval group to the Cypriot port of Limassol. The Northern Fleet’s spokesman, Captain 1st Rank Serga, told Interfax, “The visit of the heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy to Limassol is the first business visit of a Russian nuclear-powered warship in the history of international cooperation between Russia and the Republic of Cyprus. Russian Ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus Stanislav Osadchiy will visit the Russian ship anchored in the foreign port” (Interfax, December 27). Pyotr Velikiy departed from Severomorsk, the main base of the Northern Fleet, on October 22, 2013. It has covered around 8,000 nautical miles since the beginning of its voyage. The defense ministry stressed that such visits to foreign ports are consistent with the Kremlin’s directive to resume the regular presence of Russian warships in strategic areas of the world ocean. It is evident that these foreign port calls are intended to exaggerate the capabilities and capacity of the modern Russian Navy.

These developments also raise the issue of where the Navy stands in the ambitious conventional rearmament program to 2020. CNA analyst Dmitry Gorenburg highlighted a Russian publication in November 2013 detailing contracts for naval shipbuilding projects. The total for the Russian Navy was “41 contracted combat ships, incl. 2 universal amphibious assault ships, 2 large amphibious assault ships, 14 frigates, 15 corvettes, 8 small missile boats. Of these, 24 ships are under construction, including 2 universal amphibious assault ships, 2 large amphibious assault ships, 9 frigates, 5 corvettes, 6 small missile boats. Six of these ships have been launched, incl. 1 universal amphibious assault ship, 1 large amphibious assault ship, 1 frigate, 1 corvette, and 2 small missile boats” (http://russiamil.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/summary-of-russian-navy-ship-construction/#). While the rearmament program to 2020 is clearly ambitious, the extent to which the Navy may actually gain is open to question.

In the meantime, Rogozin is pursuing his plans to maintain Oscar-II-class submarines, and progress is being made with refits. Raising the flag through high-profile foreign visits for the Navy and symbolically planting the Russian flag, at least during the Smolensk surfacing at the North Pole, suggests the political leadership wants to utilize the Navy mainly for PR purposes. The key conundrum remains squaring the circle with the Borey-class submarines and the troubled Bulava missile system. By any stretch of the imagination, the Russian Navy faces a challenging year ahead.
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· · · ·

In the Shadow of Sochi: The North Caucasus in 2013

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mikenova shared this story from  Eurasia Daily Monitor - The Jamestown Foundation.

Russian officials have repeatedly complained over the last 12 months that analysts in both Russia and the West will link, appropriately or not, everything that takes place in Russia before February 2014 with the Sochi Olympiad. There may be some justification for such complaints regarding events far from the site of the Games. But, as has become increasingly obvious, everything Moscow has done in Sochi itself or across the North Caucasus and adjoining regions was with an eye to its impact on the upcoming Winter Olympics. And indeed, the outcome depends, to an important extent, on the pacification of that region or at least the prevention of a major terrorist attack.

But Moscow has failed to achieve its goals either by force or by corruption, evident from the continuing violence in the region, the double explosions in Volgograd, and the obvious shortcomings in security arrangements at Sochi—as underscored during Russia’s November 2013 counter-terrorism exercise (http://blogsochi.ru/content/katok-antiterroristicheskikh-uchenii-%22olimpiada-2014%22-proekhal-po-kubani-i-adygee). Moreover—and this may prove to be the more important development—ethnic and religious mobilization and violence have intensified in many parts of the region. This has led some in the Russian community in Stavropol and other regions adjoining the North Caucasus to conclude that they need to take matters into their own hands (see EDM, November 11, December 11, 2013). Such an outcome will only make the situation worse, but it is another challenge the Russian authorities have not yet figured out how to respond to.

Indeed, at the start of 2014, fears are widespread that there will be more terrorist incidents in the coming weeks and that Russian President Vladimir Putin will launch a sweeping crackdown across the North Caucasus after the Sochi Games, once the attention of the international community has turned away (see EDM, January 6). Such an action is likely to trigger an explosive cycle of violence and even another post-Soviet war in the region. But Putin may face serious problems among Russians if he tries: nearly three out of every four ethnic Russians, according to Levada polls, is fed up with Moscow’s spending in the North Caucasus (see EDM, December 11, 2013).

Five major developments in the North Caucasus from the past year are likely to have a serious impact on the way in which these larger trends play out in 2014.

First of all, even before the first competitors take their mark, Sochi has been a disaster for Putin and Moscow in three ways. It has attracted international attention to the corruption and malfeasance that mark the Russian president’s rule and to the instability and fragility of Russian rule in the Caucasus. It has allowed the Circassians to attract international attention to their cause by pointing out to the world that the games are scheduled to take place on the site where Russian forces conducted a “genocide” against their nation 150 years ago. And it has led to a discussion of a variety of other issues where the government of the Russian Federation is out of step with Europe and much of the international community, including LGBT. What was supposed to boost Russia and Putin is thus having exactly the opposite effect (see EDM, September 5, November 6, 13, 26, 2013).

Second, Moscow’s efforts to control the situation by eliminating elections and replacing the leaders of some of the republics of the North Caucasus have backfired. Many analysts predicted in 2012 and even earlier that Moscow would avoid changing leaders in the North Caucasus before Sochi lest it lead to more instability. But the situation has deteriorated to the point in some parts of the region that the Russian authorities felt they had no choice but to replace the leaders of Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria and to eliminate direct elections of republic heads almost everywhere. Neither change has promoted stability; indeed, the earlier predictions of disaster seem to be playing out (see EDM, September 12, December 9, 2013).

Third, Moscow’s incautious handling of the drafting of North Caucasians not only has highlighted the extent to which Russians no longer view that region as part of their country but also has intensified the feelings of the residents of the North Caucasus that they are separate and should be independent. In recent years and in response to the concerns of Russian commanders that Caucasian draftees were nothing but problems, Moscow virtually eliminated the draft in that region. But regional leaders, concerned about massive unemployment among young men and the likelihood that they would join the militants if they were not drafted, forced Moscow to reconsider and draft some, although far fewer than their numbers justified. As a result, the Russian government faces the worst of all worlds: angry North Caucasians and angry Russians who resent that they are paying a tax the North Caucasians are largely exempt from (see EDM, October 4, 2013).

Fourth, the events of this year have discredited efforts by some in Moscow and in the North Caucasus to use “soft” approaches to re-integrate the opponents of the regime and thrown Russia back to near total reliance on force. Dagestan, for example, introduced and then dropped programs to re-integrate militants as well as to promote dialogue among representatives of the various trends of Islam (see EDM, November 22, 2013). Meanwhile, others in the Russian political firmament appear convinced that only force will work, even though it has not so far. Rather, Russia’s preoccupation with using force is further alienating North Caucasians and making it even less likely that they will make peace on Russian terms.

And fifth, violence has grown and militant groups have downsized from large units to smaller cells (see EDM, November 8, 2013). Consequently, Russia has found itself without the forces or at least force structures needed to combat the kinds of attacks—again on the rise in the region—that Moscow will invariably describe as terrorist and Islamist, even when they are in some cases neither.

The year 2013 was thus another step down in the decay of Russian power in the North Caucasus; 2014 appears set to become an even larger one.
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Page 3

RUSSIA: Iran Helps Keep Sochi Safe

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NSA phone record collection does little to prevent terrorist attacks, group says - Washington Post

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NSA phone record collection does little to prevent terrorist attacks, group says
Washington Post
Director of National Intelligence James RClapper Jr. calls that the “peace of mind” metric. In an opinion piece published after the release of the review group's report, Michael Morell, a former acting CIA director and a member of the panel, said the ... 

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Spy agencies' attorney has fiercely defended surveillance programs revealed by ... - Washington Post

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Washington Post

Spy agencies' attorney has fiercely defended surveillance programs revealed by ...
Washington Post
But others said Litt's abrasive tendencies — and the damaged credibility of his boss, James R.Clapper Jr. — have compounded the challenge of containing the Snowden fallout. This month, Litt sent letters to news organizations insisting that Clapper ...

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US issues travel alert for Sochi Olympics, includes warning to LGBT Americans about to visit Russia 

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mikenova shared this story from  Steve Rothaus' Gay South Florida.

WASHINGTON -- Americans planning to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, should be vigilant about their security due to potential terrorist threats, crime and uncertain medical care, the State Department advised Friday.
In a travel alert, the department said it was not aware of specific threats to U.S. interests related to the Games that begin next month. But it said large events like the Olympics are "an attractive target for terrorists" and Americans should be aware of their surroundings and take common-sense precautions to stay safe, notably on public transport.
The alert also advised lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to review the State Department's LGBT travel information page if they plan to visit Sochi for the Games, noting that Russia has in place a law that bans the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors. It said authorities have been vague about defining "propaganda" and that the law applies to foreigners. A conviction on the charge could result in a fine, a jail term and deportation.

Putin's attempt to recreate the Soviet empire is futile - Financial Times

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Al Jazeera America

Putin's attempt to recreate the Soviet empire is futile
Financial Times
According to Vladimir Putin, the “Eurasian Union” that the Kremlin hopes to forge with two of Russia's southwestern neighbours will be a family affair, drawing together like-minded states. Others are not so sure, fearing that the Russian president's ...
Can Putin be a US ally?Al Jazeera America 
Putin's Rearguard BattleThe Moscow Times

No Putin thaw in sightgulfnews.com
Hamilton SpectatortheTrumpet.com 
all 36 news articles »

Gay and lesbian people in Russia - in pictures

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The new law has made Aleksey, 36, and Aleksey, 37, who work in the music business and IT respectively, think of leaving their homeland: ‘If there is going to be more aggression against gay people supported by the state, it is the only way to survive.’ Together for 11 years, they are disillusioned by the increasing homophobia of a Putin-led government: ‘We travel and we see that things are changing for gay people in many countries in a positive way. In Russia, because of President Putin, his KGB wing and the Orthodox church, things are likely to become more tragic for gay people.’

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Page 4

Kerry 'Confident' That Opposition Groups Will Attend Syria Talks 

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday he was confident that Syrian opposition groups would attend peace talks in Switzerland later this month.

Kerry, Lavrov Say Broach Ceasefire Zone for Syria

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov discussed the possibility ofceasefires in parts of Syria, Kerry said on Monday after talks in Paris. 

Hungary PM to meet Russia's Putin, nuclear deal likely - Reuters

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The Star Online

Hungary PM to meet Russia's Putin, nuclear deal likely
Hungarian daily Nepszabadsag reported on Saturday that Hungary could soon sign a deal for Russia's state-owned Rosatom to build new blocks at the 2-gigawatt Paks nuclear power plant south of Budapest. The Kremlin said in a statement the two countries...
Hungary's PM Orban meets Russia's Putin for nuclear talksStraits Times 
Nuclear deal on the cards as Hungary PM heads to RussiaBusiness New Europe

all 20 news articles »

Putin Gets Into the 'Selfie' Game 

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<p>Though he may lack the Twitter following of his tech-obsessed Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin was social media star over the weekend, as a "selfie" photo of the president and a young boy made the rounds on the Internet.</p>

Russia's 'anti-gay' law pushes gay community into shadows - CNN

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Russia's 'anti-gay' law pushes gay community into shadows
Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- Pavel Petel was once an open, flamboyant bisexual man from Ukraine who built up a career as a model, performance artist and DJ in Russia. Photographs of him semi-naked while riding a horse and brandishing a gun are a feast for... 
Russia anti-gay propaganda law brings fear to communitySBS

all 8 news articles »

Lavrov and Kerry Meet Ahead of Syria Talks

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Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Paris on Monday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the long-awaited Syrian peace conference, which is scheduled for next week in Switzerland but still does not have the confirmed participation of Syrian opposition groups.
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Page 5

Another Bolotnaya Protester Amnestied 

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A criminal case against opposition activist Anastasia Rybachenko who left for Estonia when faced with charges under the “Bolotnaya Case,” has been dropped. Rybachenko told about that on Friday on her page in Facebook.
“As soon as we make sure that I’m no longer in international and federal databases as a person on a wanted list, I will be back, as I promised,” wrote Rybachenko later.
After the opposition rally on May 6, 2012 in Moscow, that ended in clashes between demonstrators and the riot police, police searched Rybachenko’s apartment, which prompted her to seek asylum in Germany. Later, she changed her mind and went to study at the Tallinn University of Technology. In the fall of 2012 she was arrested in absentia and put on the international wanted list.
The activist submitted her amnesty petition through her attorney, Vladimir Samokhin. Thus, Rybachenko is the sixth participant of the “Bolotnaya Case” released under the amnesty in connection with the 20th anniversary of the Constitution.
Previously released from criminal prosecution were Maria Baronova, Nikolai Kavkazsky, Leonid Kovyazin, Vladimir Akimenkov and Dmitry Rukavishnikov. All of them were accused of inciting and participating in mass riots. Those charged under these articles of the Criminal Code fall under amnesty.
Initially there were 28 defendants under the “Bolotnaya Case”. Three of them have already been convicted: Michael Lousyanin was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for taking part in the riots and violence against a policeman, Konstantin Lebedev got two and a half years for organizing riots, and Mikhail Kosenko who suffers from a mental disorder, was institutionalized for compulsory treatment.
There are eight defendants remaining: Andrey Barabanov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, Yaroslav Belousov, Artyom Savelov, Sergei Krivov, Alexandra Dukhanina, and Alexei Polihovich. With respect to several other defendants, including the leader of the “Left Front”, Sergei Udaltsov, the case is still under investigation.
Included in the amnesty on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Constitution are those who have been convicted or are under investigation under the high profile criminal cases. In particular, all the members of the Arctic Sunrise crew and the participants of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina have been released.
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· ·

US and Russia call for Syria truce - Aljazeera.com

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BBC News

US and Russia call for Syria truce
During Monday's meeting in Paris, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that President Bashar Al-Assad was willing to open aid access to devastated areas. The United States and Russia called for the ceasefires to start ahead of the so ... 
US, Russia call for trust-building ahead of Syria talks, spar over whether to ...Washington Post

US and Russia say Syria aid access and local ceasefire possibleReuters
Syria crisis: US and Russia discuss possible ceasefiresBBC News
Voice of America- Bloomberg-The Independent
all 493 
news articles »

John Kerry's gift to Russian counterpart? Two 'impressive' Idaho potatoes - NBCNews.com (blog)

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NBCNews.com (blog)

John Kerry's gift to Russian counterpart? Two 'impressive' Idaho potatoes
NBCNews.com (blog)
Secretary of State John Kerry drew a chuckle from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when he presented two large Idaho potatoes as a gift during a meeting in Paris on Monday. Kerry said Lavrov had mentioned Idaho's most famous export the last time...

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