Don't Destabilize Russia, Putin Warns Foes
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Russia's foes on Friday against trying to destabilize a country facing broadening economic crisis, Russian news agencies reported. Putin did not specify who might pose a threat to Russia's stability. But in the past, he has often blamed Western security services of trying to destabilize the country using opposition groups and non-governmental organizations as their instruments. "Any attempts to weaken or destabilize Russia, harm the interests of the country will be toughly suppressed," they quoted ex-KGB spy Putin as telling an annual meeting of top spies and security officers ahead of their professional holiday. Putin, who was the Russian president in 2000-08, has contributed greatly to the growth of influence of Russia's FSB federal security service, a successor of the Soviet-era KGB. Many ex-KGB officers became key government and regional officials during his presidency forming his power base, which largely remained intact after Putin handed over powers to his successor Dmitry Medvedev in May. Critics say that under Putin, security services have become excessively influential and expressed fears Russia could one day become a police state. Rights campaigners have urged Medvedev to veto a cabinet bill ordering that professional judges rather than juries run trials involving terrorism, civil unrest and several other serious crimes. They also urged Medvedev to block government attempts to impose high treason charges on people accused of "harming the constitutional order," which critics believe could lead to a political witch-hunt. Analysts say the role of the security services is likely to grow even further as Russia plunges into an economic crisis marked by rising unemployment and financial woes that threaten the popularity of the government. Avoiding civil unrest and maintaining political stability is viewed by the government as a top priority.
The Day of Security Officers is marked annually on December 20, a day when in 1917 Bolshevik rulers created the CheKa secret police to suppress their foes. After a string of transformations, the Cheka became the KGB. As president, Putin always personally attended the holiday meetings of security officials. Medvedev, a former corporate lawyer with no security background, stayed away and sent his chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin to deliver his greetings. Medvedev, who faced the challenge of a brief war with Georgia soon after becoming president which soured Russia's ties with the West, said security concerns remained paramount. "In the past 20 years the world has changed but has not become a quieter place," Naryshkin said, reading out his letter, according to Interfax.
In other news:
Russian Push on Treason Raises Fears
In a country where government critics already feel vulnerable, legislation to expand the definition of treason has inspired a new round of hand-wringing about how far the state will go to rein in dissenters and regulate Russians’ contact with foreigners. Even certain conversations with a foreign reporter could be “considered treason under the new legislation,” contended Ernst I. Chyorny, the leader of a human rights group in Moscow, because they could be seen as “consultative” support to a foreign entity. And that, he says, could land a violator in prison for as long as 20 years. As with existing law, the legislation would forbid actions considered detrimental to Russia’s security. But the legislation, if passed, would remove qualifiers that require such actions to be “hostile” and directed against the “external security” of Russia before they are considered illegal. In addition, it would prohibit Russians from passing certain information not only to other countries, but also to foreign nongovernment groups. Many of those groups, which the Kremlin often accuses of fronting for spy agencies, have been among the most vocal critics of the government’s curtailment of media and civic freedoms and the consolidation of power under Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s former president and now prime minister.
Taken together, critics say, the changes could further muddle what they say are already ambiguous espionage laws and perhaps — at worst — presage a return of the Soviet-era practice of prosecuting government critics as traitors. But it remains unclear if the bill will pass Parliament in its current form and, even then, whether and how the government would employ the rules — to crack down on dissent or merely as a warning to opponents not to go too far. Gennadi V. Gudkov, a former intelligence officer who is a deputy chairman of the security committee in the lower house of Parliament, said some elements of the new legislation were unclear and could be amended during deliberations. Government officials have defended the proposed changes, backed by Mr. Putin and his allies in Russia’s security services, saying they are needed to clarify and update current laws that have failed to keep pace with the law-dodging ingenuity of modern spies, who, officials say, increasingly work through foreign nongovernment organizations. The government became especially concerned about such groups because it is suspicious of their ties to the protagonists in the so-called “color revolutions” that toppled Kremlin-friendly governments in Georgia and Ukraine.
“Individual international organizations have repeatedly attempted to gain access to information classified as state secrets through illegal means,” said a statement posted to the government Web site, explaining the bill. “The proposed changes are intended to create a legal basis for holding criminally responsible individuals, who pass on information considered a state secret to international organizations in violation of the law.”
The new bill comes amid other legislative changes proposed recently that appear intended to strengthen the control of the authorities as Russia succumbs to the effects of the global financial crisis. Some see the maneuvers as part of a strategy by Mr. Putin, a former officer in the K.G.B. and then director of its successor, the F.S.B., to further expand the authority of his former security service colleagues, who have come to dominate the government since he came to power as president in 2000. “The secret police de facto captured the government a long time ago,” said Lev A. Ponomaryov, who leads the Moscow-based group For Human Rights. “Now they want to capture it de jure.” Critics say changes in the treason law would be especially problematic in combination with other legislation passed last week that eliminates jury trials in treason cases. Under that bill, which hinges on the signature of the president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, the cases would be handled by judges who are beholden to the government for their jobs. Even Russia’s Public Chamber, a civic group that includes many Kremlin-appointed members, has condemned that measure.
“The legislation is motivated by the interests of the security services, which seek to eliminate the need to investigate criminal cases without legal violations as well as the need to prove the guilt of suspects in a real contest with defense attorneys before courts that involve representatives of the people able to hand down not only guilty verdicts, but also acquittals,” the group said in a statement last week. People on both sides of the debate about the latest legislation agree that the old laws on treason and espionage were too vague. But critics say the proposals could further endanger those who run afoul of the security services, including journalists and academics, especially scientists. Scientists have suffered the brunt of what critics have deemed “spy mania” by the security services in recent years, largely because their work often involves sharing information with foreign colleagues — something that was intensely regulated in the Soviet era.
At least a dozen scientists have been charged with espionage and several have been jailed since Mr. Putin took power. Prominent academics and human rights groups in Russia and abroad have accused security service officers of being overzealous and fabricating evidence in many of these cases. In a rare embarrassment for the security services, investigators last year were forced to dismiss a case against two Siberian physicists, the brothers Igor and Oleg Minin, who were accused by the F.S.B. of revealing state secrets in a book, even though their manuscript had been cleared by their university as containing no classified materials. Mr. Chyorny, whose human rights group has defended scientists at the European Court of Human Rights, said he feared that the new legislation would make it much more difficult to overcome such accusations.
Russia to Allocate $35.3 Billion For Arms Production in 2009-11
State capital investments into serial production of armaments and military hardware in 2009-2011 will total about $35.3 billion, a first deputy chairman of Russia's military-industrial commission said Monday. "In practice, over three years these expenditures will total about 1 trillion rubles," Vladislav Putilin said. Putilin also said the government had approved the state defense order for 2009-11 worth a total of 4 trillion rubles ($141 billion). Russia plans to put into service more than 400 new weapons, materiel and other pieces of military equipment, the official added. In the period of 2009-2011, Russian armed forces will receive 70 strategic missiles, 30 Iskander missiles and a number of carrier rockets and spacecraft. In addition, "Russia will buy 38 military aircraft, six drones, over 60 helicopters, 14 ships, almost 300 tanks and over 2,000 vehicles," Putilin said.
Russia to Get 70 Nuclear Missiles in 3 Years
The Russian military will commission 70 strategic nuclear missiles over the next three years, a senior government official said Monday, according to Russian news agencies. The statement by Vladislav Putilin, a deputy head of the Cabinet's military-industrial commission in charge of weapons industries, indicates the government's intention to significantly increase the tempo of rearming Russia's Strategic Missile Forces. Since the late 1990s, Russia has commissioned more than 50 new Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles at a pace of several missiles a year. Soviet-built nuclear missiles continue to account for the bulk of Russia's strategic nuclear forces, and the military has repeatedly extended their designated lifetime to maintain the nation's nuclear deterrent. Putilin, who spoke after a government session chaired by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that discussed the weapons purchases, said the Cabinet has decided to spend about 4 trillion rubles, or $141 billion, on new weapons over the next three years, Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies reported. Putilin said that in addition to 70 strategic missiles, the military will also get 30 short-range Iskander missiles, 48 combat jets, 60 military helicopters, more than 300 tanks and 14 navy vessels in the next three years. Putin urged Cabinet officials Monday to quickly transfer the funds allocated for the military-industrial complex and closely control the quality of new weapons and pace of their production. Russia's oil bonanza allowed the Kremlin to continuously boost military budgets during Putin's eight-year presidential tenure, but Soviet-built weapons have remained the core of the nation's armed forces. Experts have warned that the Kremlin's goals of military modernization may now be stymied by the nation's economic crisis.
Russia to Upgrade Strategic Bombers in 2009
Russia's and Tu-95MS Bear strategic bombers and Tu-22M3 Backfire long-range bombers will undergo major modernization in 2009, a strategic aviation commander said on Tuesday. "Our aircraft have been in service for about 15 years, which is only a fraction of their lifespan. So next year we plan to conduct a deep modernization of our aircraft," said Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov, commander of the 37th Air Army. He said the bombers would be provided with new targeting and navigation systems, which would enable them, in particular, to use unguided bombs with a very high degree of accuracy - effectively engaging any target within 20 meters. He added that the strategic bombers would have their operational range increased and their onboard defense systems significantly upgraded. The general said that more than 60 strategic and long-range bombers, as well as 15 fuel tankers, had flown patrol missions in 2008. He said they had carried out more than 60 sorties, launching over 100 tactical missiles and clocking a total of 660 flight hours. He added that, for the first time in the history of Russia's strategic aviation, Tu-160 bombers had made two 15-hour flights with midair refueling of up to 25 tons of fuel on each mission. The commander said that in 2008, Russian warplanes had accomplished successful patrol missions in various parts of the world, including over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, as well as the Black Sea.
Topol-M ICBMs Enter Service With New Missile Regiment in Russia
A complex of Topol-M (SS-27 Stalin) ICBMs entered service on Wednesday with another missile regiment in central Russia, a Strategic Missile Forces spokesman said. The SMF spokesman said the sophisticated Topol-M road-mobile missile system, which "has no match in the world," had been "put on combat duty" at the Teikovo missile unit in the Ivanovo region. The first two missile battalions were armed with six Topol-M systems at the 54th Strategic Missile Division near the town of Teikovo, about 150 miles (240 km) northeast of Moscow. Topol-M missiles are the mainstay of the ground-based component of Russia's nuclear triad. As of 2008, the SMF operated 48 silo-based and six road-mobile Topol-M missile systems. The missile, with a range of about 7,000 miles (11,000 km), is reportedly impervious to any current or future U.S. missile defenses. It is also shielded against radiation, electromagnetic attack, and nuclear blast, and is designed to survive an impact from any known weaponized laser system.
Russian Pacific Fleet Ships Near Indian Ocean For Drills in 2009
A group of Russian Pacific Fleet vessels will reach the Indian Ocean in two days, where joint Russian-Indian naval exercises are to be held next year, a fleet spokesman said Tuesday. "The Pacific Fleet task force is in the area of the Singapore and Malacca straits. After negotiating their waters in the next two days, it will reach the Indian Ocean," Captain 1st Rank Roman Martov said. The group, comprising the Admiral Vinogradov destroyer, the Fotiy Krylov salvage tug, and the tankers Pechenga and Boris Butoma, has been running training drills during the two-week voyage. The task force is scheduled to make a visit to the Indian port of Marmagao in late January jointly with the Northern Fleet's Pyotr Veliky nuclear-powered missile cruiser.