Saturday, 11 May 2013

Russia - Seeking A Kinder And Gentler Tyrant

Despite growing government persecution (often using the same methods the Soviets invented), pro-democracy and anti-corruption groups continue to hold public demonstrations. There is also growing discontent among senior government officials about the return to the Soviet past. Unlike the Soviet bureaucrats, the current ones are more aware of the outside world and understand that police states are not as economically successful as true democracies. Early in the Soviet period those with knowledge of the outside world were purged (and usually killed) from the leadership. Currently pro-soviet style officials believe that police-state powers make it easier to take down corruption. This is depicted as a fantasy by reformers, who point out that communist police states only remain uncorrupt for a short period before the rot sets in. The big problem in Russia is that for centuries the government has been a police state, one imposed by “enlightened” czars. The Soviets dumped the monarchy, expanded the police state and suppressed the market economy. That did not work, but there’s not general agreement in the current leadership as to exactly why. Many Russians just feel more comfortable with a “strong man” in charge, be they czar, communist or the deliberately macho Vladimir Putin. Most Russians will tolerate a tyrant if there is peace and prosperity.  
 
Russia and China continue to agree on trying to keep Syrian dictator Hafez Assad in power. Russia and China are both run by authoritarian governments. China is an old-school communist dictatorship while Russia is a democracy that is rapidly evolving into a police state. Russia and China agree that international intervention against dictatorships (as in Libya) is a very bad thing, as the same logic could be applied to Russia and China and cause all manner of international unpleasantness. Russia and China also believe that dictatorships are better able to control Islamic terrorism, something both Russia and China are more concerned about than democracy. Despite this attitude, Russia realizes that the Assad government is on the losing side here and continues to push for a negotiated settlement to the rebellion even if that means the Assad crew is replaced by a rebel coalition. What the Russians want is to be on good terms with the new government and have the possibility of selling more weapons to Syria and continue to use Tartus as a naval base for their new Mediterranean Squadron. At this point the Russian policy towards Syria is damage control. 
 
The Russian war against Islamic terrorists in the Caucasus continues, as part of a centuries-long battle with unruly peoples there. In the first three months of this year 73 Islamic terrorists were killed in the Caucasus, compared to 88 for the same period last year. Arrests are also down (from 133 to 88). What has gone up is finding hideouts (up from 24 to 26) and caches of weapons and equipment (up from 59 to 115). The counter-terrorism leadership believes they are winning. But that’s a relative term because this sort of disorder has been standard in the area for centuries.  The three provinces (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan) have been unusually violent for the last decade, leaving over 10,000 terrorists, civilians and security personnel dead. This is not unusual for the Caucasus, as the Russians occupied the area two centuries ago because of the chronic unrest and banditry (which preyed on nearby Russian territory.) Nothing much has changed in all that time and the three provinces still see up to a hundred killed and wounded each month because of terrorist activity. The Soviets had suppressed the violence for many decades (via mass punishment, deportations and lots more arrests) and once the Soviet police state was gone, the people of the Caucasus went back to their ancient ways. The current Russian government is also turning back to their authoritarian past, which does not bode well for the Caucasus. 
 
May 10, 2013: The government confirmed that it is still sending anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria and that this does not violate international sanctions as the deliveries are for orders placed before the sanctions were imposed. Most nations disagree with this, but no one wants to use force against Russia to halt the shipments. The Syrian rebels may do it themselves by shutting down the main airports in Syria. 
 
May 9, 2013: In the Caucasus police killed seven Islamic terrorists in Dagestan and one in Kabardino-Balkaria. 
 
April 28, 2013: In the Caucasus police killed two Islamic terrorists in Dagestan
 
April 26, 2013: In Moscow police arrested 140 Moslems (including 30 foreigners) on suspicion that they were involved with Islamic radical activities. This came after a long investigation of several Moslem groups in the city.

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