Posts Tagged ‘russia’

The future of Russia

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

George Will, this morning, made an interesting comment on the Russian invasion of Georgia. It expands on something I commented about the other day. Russia has a serious demographic weakness. It’s losing 700,000 people every year. Soon, very soon, it will be smaller in population than Poland and Ukraine combined. Its industries are weak. George Will said that no one buys anything from Russia except vodka. Someone else, I can’t recall who, said that “Russia is Saudi Arabia with trees.” They have an abundant supply of natural gas and a less abundant supply of oil. The oil fields are not being well managed, and the price of oil has given Putin a boost in income that may not last. The oil is there. No one argues that. However, the Russian government is not cooperating with the companies that produce the oil and, unless Russia produces a better home grown oil industry, the reserves may not translate into as much wealth as Putin is counting on. There are signs this is happening.

Another commenter on the Sunday morning shows commented that “China has an economy; Russia has gas.” The Russians do not seem to be investing the oil wealth in the economy. Russia is a third world country except for the oil. They are reverting to the policies of Czarist Russia in the 19th century. Those policies were the product of a tiny wealthy elite supported by ignorant peasants. The result was failure of the modernization that began so well in 1900. Russia has lost a century and seems to have learned nothing. The internet is full of ads for Russian women seeking to marry western men. What do they know that Putin does not?

The Georgian counterattack

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

It looks as though the Russians are in no hurry to observe the alleged ceasefire and return to their territory, including the alleged Russian breakaway areas. The Georgians have not been able to counter the Russian tanks but there is something they could do. The Russian units that invaded Georgia are actually part of the small modern “spearpoint” of an underfunded and poorly trained Russian army. They were secretly transferred from their bases near Moscow to the Caucasus. If they were successfully attacked, there is little in reserve to support them. Ralph Peters has been scathing in his opinions about the Russian troops. His harshest words are for the Russian air force.

This campaign was supposed to be the big debut for the Kremlin’s revitalized armed forces (funded by the country’s new petro-wealth). Well, the new Russian military looks a lot like the old Russian military: slovenly and not ready for prime time.

It can hammer tiny Georgia into submission – but this campaign unintentionally reveals plenty of enduring Russian weaknesses.

The most visible failings are those of the air force. Flying Moscow’s latest ground-attack jets armed with the country’s newest precision weapons, pilots are missing far more targets than they’re hitting.

All those strikes on civilian apartment buildings and other non-military targets? Some may be intentional (the Russians aren’t above terror-bombing), but most are just the result of ill-trained pilots flying scared.

They’re missing pipelines, rail lines and oil-storage facilities – just dumping their bombs as quickly as they can and heading home.

Russia’s also losing aircraft. The Kremlin admits two were shot down; the Georgians claimed they’d downed a dozen by Sunday. Split the difference, and you have seven or more Russian aircraft knocked out of the sky by a tiny enemy. Compare that to US Air Force losses – statistically zero – in combat in all of our wars since Desert Storm.

What do we do ? Equip the Georgians to fight back.

Having pulled back from Ossetia and Abkhazia, the Georgians can now regroup and re-equip. They are in desperate need of two things: weapons to kill tanks, and weapons to kill or deter aircraft and helicopters. We can supply both. The Stinger missile, the bane of Russian Frontal Aviation in Afghanistan, is still the most potent shoulder-fired weapon around. It will cause Russian close support aircraft to keep their distance, or to attack from higher altitude. Providing Georgia with medium-range surface-to-air missiles which can be deployed from Georgian territory proper will further push back their high-altitude aircraft (e.g., Tu-22M Backfires).

Freed from aerial observation and the threat of air attack, Georgian forces could move dismounted over the mountains more readily than Russian mechanized forces can move along the roads. Which means that the Georgians would be free to set up ambushes to block further Russian advances and to interdict their lines of communication. We can provide the wherewithal for them to do this. First, we need to give the Georgians anti-tank mines, and not just any kind, but our latest “smart” off-route mines like the XM93 Wide Area Mine (WAM). These don’t have to be placed directly on the roads, but can be put off to the side, where built-in sensors can detect armored vehicles and launch explosive formed penetrator (RFP) warheads at them.

Second, we need to give them our best anti-tank guided missile, the FGM-148 Javelin. This is a “fire and forget” weapon:
once the operator lines up the target in his sights and locks on, he can fire the missile and get away, while the missile will fly autonomously to the target. With a range of about two kilometers, the Javelin also uses a “top attack” profile, diving down onto the roof of the tank where the armor is thinnest. In action in Operation Iraqi Freedom, javelins were devastating against

If we see this sort of response coming in the next few weeks, we will know that Bush finally decided he cannot allow another Russian aggression in the 21st century. If he does, the Iranians will get a lesson about their ally, Russia.

The Russian bear is back

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

UPDATE: Zbignew Brzezynzki may be starting to rejoin the earth after years far to the left of 99% of humanity.

The Cold war ended with the fall of the USSR in 1991. Boris Yeltsin courageously stopped the KGB apparatchiks from taking back control of the country. Unfortunately, Boris was a drunk with lots of corrupt relatives. His administration was riddled with corruption and it is widely suspected that there was a deal between Yeltsin and Putin to leave Yeltsin alone as long as Putin was given a cloak of legitimacy.

Having surrounded himself with corrupt cronies and financiers, Yeltsin paid only lip service to fighting crime and corruption. He presided over an unprecedented deterioration in Russia’s internal security and law enforcement. The population became disgruntled as bandits ruled the streets and businesses, while businesspeople, foreign and domestic, balked at investing. Taken together, the failures of the post-communist transformation and the inability to construct even a minimal social safety net lowered the already meager standard of living of tens of millions of Russians and helped make Boris Yeltsin as unpopular at the end of his term as Mikhail Gorbachev was at the end of his.

At first, Putin cleaned house.

Thus far, Putin’s political and public relations instincts have been astute. He was filmed giving out hunting knives to Russian officers and troops in the trenches of Chechnya the morning of New Year’s Day, when most Russians were sound asleep after having spent the night toasting the new millennium. He sent Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Diachenko, packing on his first day on the job. The notorious Diachenko not only was her father’s Kremlin advisor, but is also alleged to have spearheaded many of the corrupt financial dealings attributed to the Yeltsin family. He fired Yeltsin’s presidential property manager, Pavel Pavlovich Borodin, who is now being sought by police in Switzerland. He demoted Nikolai Aksenenko, first deputy prime minister in charge of the economic portfolio, to preside over the railways, while elevating a tough debt negotiator, former Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, to the No. 1 economic position. Watching their dynamic new acting president, many Russians quoted their proverb, “a new broom, which sweeps clean.”

However, Putin is not a democrat.

Vladimir Putin will be strongly tempted to revert to the traditional paths of autocracy and statism. As a former intelligence officer and head of the secret police, he has the right profile to emerge as a centralizing, strong leader in the tradition of Peter the Great, or even worse, Nicholas I, the preeminent monarch-policeman of the first part of the nineteenth century. Putin’s entry into the political scene is inescapably connected to the war in Chechnya, which, the critics say, was engineered to launch the “Putin for President” campaign. He may see both the fate of Russia and his rule through the traditional prism of military prowess and conquest.

Russia has two major problems; one is a very low birthrate.

The Russian population is expected to drop by 700,000 in 2001 and will
total 144.5 million, according to the state statistics committee quoted by

Over the past eight years, Russia’s population has decreased by close to
two percent with 2.8 million fewer people, according to official figures.

Deaths far outpace births by a ratio of 14.7 in 1,000 compared to 8.4.

Only 1.2 million children are born each year in Russia, well below the two
million needed to keep the population at existing levels, said Kulakov.

The second is an unstable economy, dependent on energy exports. Attempts to build a modern, high technology sector is failing, stifled by the authoritarian rule of Putin and the FSB (formerly KGB).

But the big problem for high technology in Russia is neither money nor ideas. It is the country’s all-pervasive bureaucracy, weak legal system and culture of corruption. This may explain why the nanotechnology corporation has so far found only one project to invest in (and that is registered in the Netherlands). The share of high-tech products in Russia’s exports is only 0.6%, “a shameful rate” according to Vladimir Fortov, a member of the Russian Academy of Science. Over the past 15 years, he says, Russia has not brought to the market a single significant drug. The average age of Russia’s scientists is well over 50. One of the main commercial activities of Russian research institutes is leasing or selling their property and land.

Now, Putin seems to be adopting the methods of Stalin, those of armed robbery writ large, as he seeks to control Georgia which has major pipelines and other economic attractions. The crisis has been building for months and exploded this weekend, probably to coincide with the Olympics. The USSR did much the same in the past, invading and crushing Hungary when Britain and France invaded Egypt in 1956. Unfortunately, we allowed a precedent in Kosovo during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, said Russia’s ambitions were even more extensive. He declared that Georgia was in a state of war, and said in an interview that Russia was planning to seize ports and an oil pipeline and to overthrow his government.

That is so much cheaper than actually building them. The oil price rise the past year has given Russia a huge boost in its cash flow but that may not be a long term solution to Putin’s problems. He may have decided to punish the west for its support of Georgia by interrupting the pipelines that pass through Georgia and precipitate a crisis in Europe. That would frighten Europe but would it solve his problems ?

Oil and gas have been the foundation of the regime of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s outgoing president, and are also a preoccupation of his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, who was chairman of Gazprom, the state-controlled gas giant. The flow of petrodollars has created a sense of stability, masked economic woes and given Russia more clout on the world stage. Yet the malaise afflicting its most important industry is almost entirely man-made. “Geologically, there is no problem,” says Anisa Redman, an analyst at HSBC, a bank.

In principle, Russia’s bonanza could continue for years: it has the world’s seventh-biggest oil reserves, at 80 billion barrels, according to BP, a British oil firm. And oilmen reckon there are 100 billion more barrels to find—“the biggest exploration prize in the world”, in the words of Robert Dudley, the boss of TNK-BP, BP’s Russian joint venture. But Russia has regulated the industry so poorly that production is falling despite the soaring oil price.

“Tax is the major impediment,” says Ms Redman. The government levies an export duty of 65% at prices over $25 a barrel. Add to that various corporate, payroll and production taxes, oilmen complain, and the state creams off as much as 92% of profits. Executives at TNK-BP have argued that rising costs across the oil industry will make many investments in Russia unprofitable unless the tax regime is changed. As it is, TNK-BP accounts for a fifth of BP’s production, but only a tenth of its profits.

The Russians still do not understand economics and that ignorance may be costly for everybody. In the meantime, it emphasizes the risks of a callow youth like Obama as president. McCain has been to Georgia multiple times and knows the people involved. He has never bought the line that Putin is a modern statesman. Obama supporters, as is so often the case, blame America and America’s friends for Russia’s actions. Those 1500 people killed thus far were “inconvenient.”

Administration officials have regularly cautioned Mr. Saakashvili to be patient on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, even as they have given private and public reassurances about NATO membership. It would, in fact, be surprising if Georgia had consciously provoked a war in South Ossetia, since Mr. Saakashvili understands that doing so would almost certainly put an end to the NATO bid; indeed, Russia may well calculate that NATO will continue to exclude Georgia so long as the country is embroiled in hostilities along its border.

Georgia’s predicament seems very simple from the vantage point of Tbilisi — 1921, 1938 — but extremely complicated from a great remove. Russia threatens Georgia, but Georgia threatens Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia looks like a crocodile to Georgia, but Georgia looks to Russia like the cats’ paw of the West. One party has all the hard power it could want, the other all the soft. And now, while the world was looking elsewhere, the frozen conflict between them has thawed and cracked. It will take a great deal of care and attention even to put things back to where they were before.

It will take a firm hand to avoid losing, not only Georgia, but Ukraine to Russian revanchism. Obama does not have that firm hand.

The intent of the Russian aggression is becoming more and more obvious. Georgia’s response is likely to be unsuccessful.

Russia and fascism II

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

I have previously posted what I believe to be evidence that Russia is evolving a nationalist and fascist form of government modeled on China, which managed to negotiate the transition from communism to a form of capitalism without collapse. Now, we see the efforts of Russia to regain some of its former “Soviet Republics” by harassment and subterfuge. Georgia and Ukraine are the two large republics that broke free from Russian control in the collapse of the USSR. Maybe we should sell the Georgians a few Predator drones that can defend themselves.