Russia: Big Threat or Paper Bear? - March, 2009

The month of March saw a flurry of activity in the Russian military. As predicted, Western military analysts have taken notice. Some are brushing it off as Putin's propaganda, some are fear mongering towards political purposes, some are panicking due to their Russophobia and some are simply attempting to make sense out of it all.



Russia: Big Threat or Paper Bear?

Medvedev takes off in fighter-jet:

March, 2009

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! Or are they? That depends on whom you ask. President Dimitri Medvedev announced last Tuesday that Russia would modernize its large but decrepit armed forces, starting in 2011. New nuclear and conventional weapons systems will be acquired, but there will also be large cuts in Russia’s 1,027,000 armed forces, including large numbers of officers. Defense spending could rise 30%. Conservatives in North America and Europe are warning the Kremlin’s military overhaul threatens Europe and shows Russia has aggressive attentions. Eastern European capitals are particularly worried. But the facts tell a different story. According to Russia’s defense minister, Anatoli Serdyukov, only 10% of Russia’s current arms can be considered modern. The rest are outdated or obsolescent. His figures appear accurate. Serdyukov hopes to raise to 30% the number of modern weapons by 2015, provided Russia’s economy, badly battered by the nosedive in oil prices, can afford it. That remains in doubt.

President Medvedev claimed the defense buildup was due to the need to modernize aging nuclear forces, and growing threats to Russia around its borders. He particularly cited "attempts to expand the military infrastructure of NATO near Russia’s borders." Medvedev was expressing a deeply felt Russian anxiety. The US-led NATO alliance has pushed right up to Russia’s frontiers. Mikhail Gorbachev’s agreement with Washington to withdraw the Red Army from the protective glacis of Eastern Europe in exchange for NATO’s agreement not to advance east was blatantly violated by three US presidents as the alliance moved to the shores of Black Sea and Baltic. In recent years, the US has been expanding its influence into the Caucasian states of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. In addition, the US has set up bases in former Soviet Central Asia and Pakistan. What Medvedev did not mention was Moscow’s growing unease over its huge neighbor, China. There are only 20–25 million ethnic Russians in the distant, vulnerable Russian Far Eastern provinces facing 1.3 billion Chinese. Chinese-Russian relations are amicable, but tens of thousands of Chinese are steadily slipping across the border into Russia. At the same time, Russia’s Pacific region is being drawn ever deeper into China’s economic orbit.

Russia has announced defense modernization plans for the past two decades. The little war in Georgia last year showed that Russia’s ground and air forces badly needed new communications gear, modern command and control techniques, better tactical integration, drones, and improved space reconnaissance. So Moscow plans to downsize its land forces and try to make them more mobile and responsive by focusing on 3,500–4,000 man brigades provided with better air and land transport. These reforms make it clear that NATO in Europe will no longer be the "main enemy." Future military operations will focus on a new "Great Game" around Russia frayed borders in the Caucasus and Central Asia, as President Medvedev noted. To put all this in perspective, during the Cold War, Russia used to have 12 million men in 100 divisions (about a third immediately combat ready) and a stupendous force of 50,000 battle tanks. Today, Russia’s modest million-man armed forces are unable to defend or even properly monitor the immensity of the Russian Federation, which borders on 14 nations.

In fact, Russia’s borders, 57,792 km, are the world’s longest, encompassing an immense area almost twice the size of the United States. Scaremongers who warn of a new Russian military threat should do the math and study maps. Russia spent $40 billion last year on defense. Medvedev’s planned increases – if they ever materialize – will increase military spending to $52 billion. The United States will spend US $741 billion on its military this year. Add another $54 billion for the department of Homeland Security. President Barack Obama has just earmarked $200 billion this year to finance America’s occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. That alone is more than the combined defense budgets of Russia and China. The US accounts for almost half the world’s total military spending. Russia must also take into account the $330 billion military spending of America’s wealthy NATO allies and Japan. I think we can safely allow the Ruskis a few more modern weapons systems. The Red hordes are not at our gates quite yet.


Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Two recent news reports have drawn the attention to Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons. Earlier this week, RIA Novosti quoted Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, deputy head of the Russian Navy General Staff, saying that the role of tactical nuclear weapons on submarines “will play a key role in the future,” that their range and precision are gradually increasing, and that Russia “can install low-yield warheads on existing cruise missiles” with high-yield warheads. This morning an editorial in the New York Times advocated withdrawing the “200 to 300” U.S. tactical nuclear bombs deployed in Europe “to make it much easier to challenge Russia to reduce its stockpile of at least 3,000 short-range weapons.” Both reports compel – each in their own way – the Obama administration to address the issue of tactical nuclear weapons.

The Russian Inventory

Like the United States, Russia doesn’t say much about the status of its tactical nuclear weapons. The little we have to go by is based on what the Soviet Union used to have and how much Russian officials have said they have cut since then. Unofficial estimates set the Soviet inventory of tactical nuclear weapons at roughly 15,000 in mid-1991. In response to unilateral cuts announced by the United States in late 1991 and early 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin pledged in 1992 that production of warheads for ground-launched tactical missiles, artillery shells, and mines had stopped and that all such warheads would be eliminated. He also pledged that Russia would dispose of half of all airborne and surface-to-air warheads, as well as one-third of all naval warheads. In 2004, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that “more than 50 percent” of these warhead types have been “liquidated.” And in September 2007, Defense Ministry official Colonel-General Vladimir Verkhovtsev gave a status report of these reductions that appeared to go beyond President Yeltsin’s pledge. Based on this, Robert Norris and I make the following cautious estimate (to be published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in late April) of the current Russian inventory of tactical nuclear weapons:

Based on the number of available nuclear-capable delivery platforms, we estimate that nearly two-thirds of these warheads are in reserve or awaiting dismantlement. The remaining approximately 2,080 warheads are operational for delivery by anti-ballistic missiles, air-defence missiles, tactical aircraft, and naval cruise missiles, depth bombs, and torpedoes. The Navy’s tactical nuclear weapons are not deployed at sea under normal circumstances but stored on land.

The Other Nuclear Powers

The United States retains a small inventory of perhaps 500 active tactical nuclear weapons. This includes an estimated 400 bombs (including 200 in Europe) and 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles (all on land). Others, perhaps 700, are in inactive storage. France also has 60 tactical-range cruise missiles, including some on its aircraft carrier, although it calls them strategic weapons. The United Kingdom has completely eliminated its tactical nuclear weapons, although it said until a couple of years ago that some of its strategic Trident missiles had a “sub-strategic” mission. Information about possible Chinese tactical nuclear weapons is vague and contradictory, but might include some gravity bombs. India, Pakistan, and Israel have some nuclear weapons that could be considered tactical (gravity bombs for fighter-bombers and, in the case of India and Pakistan, short-range ballistic missiles), but all are normally considered strategic.

Implications and Issues

Whether Vice Admiral Burtsev’s statement is more than boasting remains to be seen, but it is a timely reminder to the Obama administration of the need to develop a plan for how to tackle the tactical nuclear weapons. Russia’s nuclear posture is now approaching a situation where there are more tactical nuclear weapons in the inventory than strategic weapons. And NATO’s remnant of the Cold War tactical nuclear posture in Europe seems stuck in the mud of nuclear dogma and bureaucratic inaction. None of these tactical nuclear weapons are limited or monitored by any arms control agreements, and – for all the worries about terrorists stealing nuclear weapons – are the most easy to run away with. In April, NATO is widely expected to kick off a (long-overdue) review of its Strategic Concept from 1999. It would be a mistake to leave the initiative on what to do with the tactical nuclear weapons to the NATO bureaucrats. The vision must come from the top and President Obama needs to articulate what it is soon.


Russia to Unveil Spaceship Plans
Artist's impression of the future vehicle, equipped with a booster stage to escape the Earth’s gravity and to reach lunar orbit.

The Russian space agency is expected to unveil development plans for a next-generation manned spacecraft on Monday.

Roscosmos should name the ship's prime developer, which has competed to win government funds for the project. The proposed new spacecraft should enter into service sometime towards the end of the next decade. It will replace the venerable three-seat Soyuz capsule, which has carried Russian cosmonauts into orbit for more than four decades. Although Roscosmos has remained tight-lipped about the upcoming presentation, the agency has quietly released its requirements for a future manned transport system to the Russian space industry. In doing so, the agency has shed some light on the ship's likely design and its possible missions. The spacecraft, currently known only by the Russian abbreviation PPTS, for Prospective Piloted Transport System, would be able to reach low-Earth orbit or to enter orbit around the Moon.

Several configurations

The Earth-orbiting version of the ship would have a mass of 12 tonnes, carry a crew of six, along with no less than 500kg of cargo; while its "lunar cousin" would weigh 16.5 tonnes, have four seats and be capable of delivering and bringing back 100kg of cargo. The unmanned cargo version of the vehicle would be required to carry no less than 2,000kg to Earth orbit, and return at least 500kg back to the planet's surface. Roscosmos has reserved the option of making the crew module of the spacecraft reusable, reckoning that a cone-shaped capsule could fly up to 10 missions during its 15-year lifespan. In providing the technical specifications for the new spacecraft, the agency has also given a glimpse of its vision for the future of the Russian space programme. Although the most capable version of the ship is meant to support expeditions to the Moon, "intermediate" configurations are intended for a variety of other tasks. For example, the agency wants the future developer to evaluate the possibility of sending the ship into high-inclination orbits extending towards Earth's poles, usually frequented by Earth-observation and spy satellites. While in Earth's orbit, the new spacecraft would have to be able to fly 30-day-long autonomous missions; or stay no less than a year in space when it is docked to the International Space Station, or to a possible future Russian space station. (Currently, Soyuz spacecraft, which serve as "lifeboats" for the International Space Station, have to be replaced roughly every six months due to potential deterioration of some of their systems, such as batteries and propellant).

Martian possibilities

In addition to docking to the station, the spacecraft would have to be able to conduct servicing of unmanned vehicles in space and even remove pieces of space junk from their orbits, as well as conduct unspecified military tasks. The lunar version of the ship would be capable of flying no less than 200 days in space when docked to a space station in orbit around the Moon. A number of Russian reports have described recent studies looking at the possibility of a lunar orbital station, LOS. Such an outpost would also serve as a hub for lunar modules, which would deliver crews from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon. The 200-day mission requirement probably provides some hint about Russian plans to eventually build a permanently occupied lunar outpost, similar to Nasa's lunar base developed under its Constellation programme. In a recent interview with the ITAR-TASS news agency, Aleksei Krasnov, the head of the manned space flight directorate at Roscosmos, said that the future spacecraft could serve as the "core" technology for a future Martian mission. This apparently referred to the role that the vehicle might play as a delivery and return craft for the large complex that would be needed to raise a manned assault on the Red Planet. By the time the new Russian spacecraft could enter service around 2018, the Soyuz family will have logged more than half a century in service. In recent years, Russia and Europe did look at the possibility of developing the next-generation vehicle together, but the two parties could not agree on the work share. Europe will now separately pursue the possibility of upgrading its robotic ATV space freighter to a manned ship, but still using some Russian technology.

Powerful launcher

As reported by BBC News last month, Roscosmos has already completed a tender for the new rocket that would carry the future manned vehicles into space. Although the agency has delayed the announcement of the winner until at least 6 April, many unofficial sources in Russia maintain that TsSKB Progress, based in Samara, will lead the development of the new rocket. It is believed that the launch vehicle will feature a three-booster first-stage, each booster equipped with powerful RD-180 engines, burning a mix of liquid oxygen and kerosene. The engine was originally developed by Moscow-based NPO Energomash for the US Atlas 5 rocket and its performance to date has been impressive. Ironically, Russian officials rejected a design of the yet-to-be flown Angara rocket that featured the RD-180. Now, the power plant, which has earned such a fine reputation across the Atlantic, could return vindicated to its native land. The second stage of the new manned rocket would probably sport a pair of RD-0124 engines, currently in use on the Soyuz-2 rocket. Thus, both stages of the future launcher would be equipped with the newest existing power plants, greatly reducing the cost and the risk to the overall project.

In related news:

Russia Deploys New Nuclear Cruise Missiles

Six new atomic submarines, armed with improved nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, will join the Russian navy. The Defence Ministry said the first, the Severodvinsk, will be launched in 2011 and at least five others of the same type will be built by 2017. The new hypersonic cruise missiles with increased range are designed to strike "aircraft carriers of the potential enemy if they pose a direct threat to Russia's security," the ministry said. It added that the missiles are also capable of hitting land targets. Russia has increasingly relied on nuclear weapons to compensate for the decline of its conventional forces. In December, the chief of the Russian general staff, General Nikolai Makarov, said Russia will keep its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, which he said were necessary to counter a massive Nato advantage in conventional weapons. Tactical nuclear weapons have a much shorter range compared to strategic nuclear weapons. They are intended for use within a theatre of battle. Earlier this week, the Russian navy's deputy chief of staff said the role of tactical nuclear weapons in the Russian navy may grow. Vice-Admiral Oleg Burtsev said the increasing range and precision of tactical nuclear weapons makes them an important asset.


US Says Russia Buzzed its Aircraft Carriers

Russian planes have reportedly buzzed American aircraft carriers amidst a joint US-South Korea military drill in the Sea of Japan. The US aircraft carrier Stennis on Monday was overflown by two Russian Ilyushin IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft within 500 feet, US military officials were quoted by CNN as saying. The USS Stennis was about 80 miles east of Pohang, South Korea, in the Sea of Japan partaking in the joint military exercise when the flyover occurred. On Tuesday, two Russian long-range bombers overflew the Stennis and the USS Blue Ridge several times at about 2,000 feet, US military officials said. On both occasions, the US navy flew their aircraft to meet up with the Russian planes, and tried contacting the Russian pilots without getting a response from them. The Pentagon also considers such actions nothing more than the flexing of military muscles by Russians. While the Russian overflights are not considered illegal actions, many believe it to be a reminder to the US that Russia is aware of the Eastward proliferation of the US and NATO and will not allow any encroachment of its sphere of influence and sovereignty.


Medvedev to Bolster Military in Russia - March, 2009

Medvedev to Bolster Military in Russia

Medvedev takes off in fighter jet:

NATO is main obstacle in US-Russia relations:

March, 2009

President Dmitri A. Medvedev said Tuesday that Russia would begin a “large-scale rearming” in 2011 in response to what he described as continuing threats to the country’s security. In a speech before generals in Moscow, Mr. Medvedev cited encroachment by NATO as a primary reason for bolstering the armed and nuclear forces. Mr. Medvedev did not offer specifics on how much the budget would grow for the military, whose capabilities deteriorated significantly after the fall of Soviet Union. Russia has increased military spending sharply in recent years, but with the financial crisis and the drop in the price of oil, the country’s finances are under pressure, suggesting that it will be hard to lift these expenditures further. Even so, Mr. Medvedev’s timing was notable. He is expected to hold his first meeting with President Obama in early April in London on the sidelines of the summit gathering of the Group of 20, which comprises industrialized and developing countries and the European Union. He has said recently that he is looking forward to the meeting, and both he and Russia’s paramount leader, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, have expressed measured optimism about improving relations with the United States under the new administration.

The Obama administration played down the significance of Mr. Medvedev’s remarks, with the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, saying they were “largely for domestic consumption.” He added that “NATO and the United States have worked and will continue to work with Russia on issues of mutual concern, specifically in areas like terrorism and proliferation.” Nevertheless, Mr. Medvedev’s comments on Tuesday indicated that the Kremlin did not want the United States and its NATO allies to presume that Russia was coming to the table in London from a position of weakness. "An analysis of the military and political situation in the world shows that there are a range of regions where there remains serious potential for conflicts,” Mr. Medvedev said. “Threats remain that can bring about local crises and international terrorism. NATO is not halting its efforts to widen its military infrastructure near the borders of our country. All of this demands a quality modernization of our armed forces.” Mr. Medvedev emphasized that Russia would not be deterred in this plan by the financial crisis.

The announcement underscored how the Kremlin has offered the new administration a calculated mix of positive pronouncements about relations and policies that could be described as unfriendly. The day after Mr. Obama won the election in November, Mr. Medvedev declared that Russia would deploy missiles on its western border aimed at Europe if the United States proceeded with an antimissile system proposed for Poland and the Czech Republic by the Bush administration. Mr. Medvedev later seemed to soften the threat, though he did not withdraw it. Last month, apparently at the urging of the Kremlin, the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia announced that it would close an important American air base that is used to assist NATO forces in Afghanistan. But the Kremlin said it would allow NATO to transport non-lethal supplies by railroad across Russian soil to Afghanistan. And last week Mr. Medvedev said, “We have every possibility of opening a new page” in relations when he meets with Mr. Obama. Mr. Medvedev’s announcement on Tuesday comes as the Kremlin has already begun an effort to overhaul the operations of the armed forces, which are still run largely according to Soviet-style dictates. While Russia’s far larger military easily triumphed over Georgia’s in the conflict in August, the fighting exposed what many experts described as flaws in training, weapons and equipment.


Russia Announces Rearmament Plan

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said Moscow will begin a comprehensive military rearmament from 2011.

Mr Medvedev said the primary task would be to "increase the combat readiness of [Russia's] forces, first of all our strategic nuclear forces". Explaining the move, he cited concerns over Nato expansion near Russia's borders and regional conflicts. Last year, the Kremlin set out plans to increase spending on Russia's armed forces over the next two years. Russia will spend nearly $140bn (£94.5bn) on buying arms up until 2011. Higher oil revenues in recent years have allowed the Kremlin to increase the military budget, analysts say. But prices have averaged $40 a barrel in 2009 compared with $100 last year.

Outdated equipment

In his first address to a defence ministry meeting in his capacity as supreme commander, Mr Medvedev said considerable sums are being channelled towards developing and purchasing modern military equipment. "Despite the financial problems we have to cope with today, the size of these sums has remained virtually the same as planned."Analysts say the brief war in Georgia exposed problems with outdated equipment and practices within Russia's armed forces and led to calls for military modernisation. President Medvedev's remarks also appear significant for what they say about the diplomatic game between Moscow and the new administration in the United States, says the BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow. Both sides are looking for a solution to issues - such as US missile defence plans in Europe - which bitterly divided the Kremlin and the White House during the Bush administration. Neither, though, seems willing simply to abandon previously-held positions, our correspondent adds. The Russian Security Council is currently developing a new military doctrine which is expected to reflect current and forthcoming international developments, including any changes Nato may set out this year, missile defence deployments and WMD proliferation. "The Security Council will approve Russia's national security strategy until 2020 in the near future," President Medvedev said.


Despite Economic Crisis, Medvedev Pledges Military Buildup

It seems that the long-awaited thaw that many observers had expected from an Obama-Medvedev partnership just got doused with a cold glass of reality. Citing US and NATO military expansion up to its borders, President Dmitry Medvedev announced at a meeting with defense ministry officials on Tuesday that Russia must quickly enact a “large-scale rearmament.” “Attempts to expand the military infrastructure of NATO near the borders of our country are continuing,” Medvedev told an annual meeting with the Defense Ministry’s top commanders. “A modern military well trained and well equipped with modern weapons… is a guarantee of our protection from any potential threat or attempts to pressure our country. The transition of all military units to a level of combat readiness is number one on the agenda.” The Russian president’s tough words show that the Kremlin is taking no chances with its security, despite Washington’s recent declarations of friendship and renewed trust. Before US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ceremoniously pressed the “reset” button together with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, Clinton told a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that Washington wanted “a fresh start” in relations with Moscow.

“We… must find ways to manage our differences with Russia where they persist, and stand firm where our principles or our vital interests are at stake,” Clinton remarked. It was probably the “vital interests” part of Clinton’s speech that rang some alarm bells in Moscow. Indeed, ‘standing firm on vital interests’ may be loosely interpreted to mean just about anything, including the spread of democracy, acquiring new pools of non-renewable resources and seizing new slabs of geopolitical real estate in Central Asia. Other equally important issues, for example, the possible inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine into the Cold War military organization, continues to rankle the Kremlin. The Russian president hinted at precisely such a possible future scenario when he said that the US and NATO are beefing up their forces not simply over ideological considerations, as was the case during the Cold War, but in a strategic maneuvering for diminishing natural resources, namely oil and gas, which Russia has in tremendous amounts. Tiberio Graziano, editor of Eurasia magazine on geopolitical studies, echoed these sentiments in a recent interview with RT. Asked about the recent gas crisis between Kiev and Moscow, Graziano put the blame on NATO and EU expansion.

“The origin of the gas dispute… is actually a reflection of NATO enlargement in Eastern Europe as well as EU expansion into Eastern European countries,” Graziano said. “This kind of enlargement began in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. From that moment the United States had decided to manage the whole planet. They chose Western Europe as a starting point to move in the direction of Russia and Central Asia, as it’s known that Central Asia has huge resources of gas and oil.”

Presently, Moscow continues to watch developments in Eastern Europe, specifically in Poland and the Czech Republic where Washington, on the pretense of an Iranian missile threat, plans to install components of its missile defense system. Although US President Barack Obama has sent signals to Moscow that he is prepared to abandon the missile brainchild of the Bush administration, any sort of a deal will probably require that Moscow exert some influence on Tehran, which is suspected of pursuing a nuclear weapons program. But it is not simply western expansion that prompts Russia to begin a military rearmament, which is to start in 2011. In an apparent reference to Russia’s last year’s five-day war with Georgia, which was sparked after Tbilisi launched a morning assault that killed hundreds of South Ossetian residents and 12 Russian peacekeepers, Medvedev made reference to “local crises” that also threaten Russia’s peace and prosperity. “An analysis of the military-political situation… has shown that a serious conflict potential remains in a number of regions; threats are persisting that cause both local conflicts and international terrorism,” the president said. Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told RIA Novosti that «70 percent of its weaponry would be modern by 2020.» Next month, the dialogue will continue as Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama meet for the first time in London for the G20 summit.


In related news:

Russia's Submarine Fleet Has 60 Vessels in Active Aervice

The Russian Navy maintains a fleet of about 60 nuclear-powered and diesel-electric submarines, a senior Navy official said on Thursday. "These 60 vessels include 10 nuclear-powered strategic submarines, over 30 nuclear-powered attack submarines, diesel-electric submarines and special-purpose subs," the source said. Delta-IV and Delta-III class subs form the backbone of Russia's strategic submarine fleet. They each carry 16 ballistic missiles with multiple warheads, and feature advanced electronics and noise reduction. "The world's largest Typhoon-class submarines also remain in service with the Russian Navy," the official said. The Dmitry Donskoy submarine has been modernized as a test platform for Russia's new Bulava missile. Two other subs, the Arkhangelsk and the Severstal, remain in reserve at a naval base in Severodvinsk in north Russia. "They will most likely be modernized to carry new-generation sea-based cruise missiles to match the U.S. Ohio class submarines," he said.

Russia has started mooring trials of the first Borey class nuclear-powered strategic submarine, which will be equipped with Bulava sea-based ballistic missiles. The Yury Dolgoruky submarine, built at the Sevmash plant in northern Russia, was taken out of dry dock in April 2007. The vessel is 170 meters (580 feet) long, has a hull diameter of 13 meters (42 feet), a crew of 107, including 55 officers, maximum depth of 450 meters (about 1,500 feet) and a submerged speed of about 29 knots. It can carry up to 16 ballistic missiles and torpedoes. Two other Borey class nuclear submarines, the Alexander Nevsky and the Vladimir Monomakh, are currently under construction at the Sevmash shipyard and are expected to be completed in 2009 and 2011. Russia is planning to build a total of eight submarines of this class by 2015.

Russia's nuclear-powered attack submarine fleet comprises vessels of the Oscar II and Akula class. Each sub is equipped with 24 SS-N-19 Shipwreck long-range anti-ship cruise missiles. A fourth-generation Graney class nuclear-powered attack submarine will be delivered to the Russian Navy in 2010-2011. The Severodvinsk submarine combines the ability to launch a variety of long-range cruise missiles (up to 3,100 miles) with nuclear warheads, and effectively engage hostile submarines and surface warships. "The tests of the cruise missile for the submarine are under way," the source said. Diesel-electric submarines in the Russian Navy are represented by Kilo class vessels. They will be gradually replaced by Project 667 Lada class submarines. The sub features a new anti-sonar coating for its hull, an extended cruising range, and advanced anti-ship and anti-submarine weaponry, including Club-S cruise missile systems.

The first submarine of the Lada class, named the St. Petersburg, is undergoing sea trials and may enter service with the Russian Navy this year. A second Lada class submarine, the Kronshtadt, which is the first in the production series, is also being built at St. Petersburg's Admiralty Shipyards and will be commissioned in 2009. A third submarine, whose keel was laid in November 2006, is named after a city associated with Russian naval glory - Sevastopol - and is expected to be launched in 2010. The source also said the Russian Navy has several 'special purpose' submarines designed for testing of new technologies and weaponry. Some open sources earlier reported the existence of Project 20120 B-90 Sarov diesel-electric submarine, which has a nuclear reactor as a supplementary power generator. The vessel was commissioned in 2007 and according to some reports may be used by Russia's Northern Fleet as a spy vessel in northern waters.


Russian Army Creates 20 Motorized Infantry Brigades

Russia has created 20 motorized infantry brigades as part of ongoing military reforms, the commander of the Ground Forces said on Friday. Russia's military reforms are focused on the reorganization of the military command and control system from a four-tier (military district - army - division - regiment) to a more flexible and battle ready three-tier structure (military district - operational command - brigade) and are due to be completed in the next 3-4 years. "The Ground Forces have already formed a number of combat units, including 20 brigades that are similar to the one taking part in the military drills in the Kemerovo Region," Gen. Vladimir Boldyrev said. According to the general, the Russian Ground Forces will hold about 30 military exercises involving the newly-created brigades in 2009. "During the exercises we will study the effectiveness [of new units] in terms of operational control, mobility and fire power," Boldyrev said. In addition, Russia is planning to conduct large-scale theater-level exercises with Belarus and in the Caucasus region this year.


Russian Navy to Commission First Lada Class Diesel Sub in 2010

The first Lada class diesel-electric submarine featuring extended noise reduction will be commissioned with the Russian Navy in 2010, deputy head of the Navy General Staff said on Friday. The St. Petersburg is a Project 677 diesel submarine developed by the Rubin design bureau, whose export version is known as the Amur 1650. It features an advanced anti-sonar coating for its hull, an extended cruising range, and advanced anti-ship and anti-submarine weaponry, including Club-S cruise missile systems. "The sub is undergoing sea trials to test new propulsion, electronics and weapons systems," Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev said. The construction of the sub began in 1997 at the St. Petersburg's Admiralty Shipyards. Two other submarines of the same class - the Kronshtadt and the Sevastopol - are being built by the company. The Lada class vessels will gradually replace the Kilo class submarines, which are sometimes called "Black Holes" for their uncanny ability to "disappear," and are thought to be one of the quietest diesel-electric submarine classes in the world. The Russian Navy is planning to commission a total of eight Lada class submarines in the future, the admiral said.


Russia Continues Air Surveillance Over Sea of Japan

Russian Pacific Fleet aircraft have been conducting scheduled patrol exercises this week over the Sea of Japan, where U.S. Navy ships have been holding exercises, the Pacific Fleet said on Friday. Maritime patrol Il-38 May planes from the Pacific Fleet have been making routine flights over the sea, but have not flown close to the U.S. vessels, the Fleet's headquarters said. CNN earlier reported that on Monday and Tuesday, several Russian Il-38 aircraft flew over the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier, at an altitude of just 150 meters (492 feet). The news network said that on Tuesday, two Il-38s flew within 600 meters of the USS Blue Ridge. "The Pacific Fleet pilots have been conducting exercises to ensure the security of Russia's border near the Sea of Japan, where U.S. Navy vessels are located," the spokesman said. "The aircraft have remained at a safe distance from the U.S. vessels, adhering strictly to international laws."


Up to 10 Russian Subs at Sea Around World - Navy Source

About 10 submarines from the Russian Navy are accomplishing various tasks throughout the world's oceans, a source in the Navy General Staff said on Friday. "Up to 10 submarines are conducting various missions around the globe, including training and combat patrol missions with nuclear weapons on board," the source said, adding that most of them are from the Northern and the Pacific fleets. The Russian Navy maintains a fleet of 60 nuclear-powered and diesel-electric submarines in active service, including 10 nuclear-powered strategic submarines, over 30 nuclear-powered attack submarines. Under a new military doctrine, the nuclear triad of ballistic missiles, nuclear-powered submarines and strategic bombers will remain the core of the Russian armed forces for the next two decades. "The Navy General Staff believe that strategic submarines will continue playing an important role in safeguarding Russia's national security because they remain one of the key components of Russia's military might and serve as a reliable deterrent to potential threats and aggression against the country," the Navy source said.

Russia has recently started mooring trials of the first Borey class nuclear-powered strategic submarine, which will be equipped with Bulava sea-based ballistic missiles. The Yury Dolgoruky submarine, built at the Sevmash plant in northern Russia, was taken out of dry dock in April 2007. The vessel is 170 meters (580 feet) long, has a hull diameter of 13 meters (42 feet), a crew of 107, including 55 officers, maximum depth of 450 meters (about 1,500 feet) and a submerged speed of about 29 knots. It can carry up to 16 ballistic missiles and torpedoes. Two other Borey class nuclear submarines, the Alexander Nevsky and the Vladimir Monomakh, are currently under construction at the Sevmash shipyard and are expected to be completed in 2009 and 2011. Russia is planning to build a total of eight submarines of this class by 2015. In addition, a fourth-generation Graney class nuclear-powered attack submarine will be delivered to the Russian Navy in 2010-2011. The Severodvinsk submarine combines the ability to launch a variety of long-range cruise missiles (up to 3,100 miles) with nuclear warheads, and effectively engage hostile submarines and surface warships. The second submarine of this class is expected to enter service by 2015. Russia is planning to completely modernize the naval component of its nuclear triad by 2016.


Russia Could Focus on Tactical Nuclear Weapons For Subs

Russia may prioritize the development of nuclear-powered attack submarines armed with nuclear-capable cruise missiles in the future, while maintaining its fleet of strategic subs, a senior Navy official said. The Russian Navy maintains a fleet of about 60 submarines, including 10 nuclear-powered strategic submarines, over 30 nuclear-powered attack submarines, diesel-electric submarines and special-purpose subs. "Probably, tactical nuclear weapons [on submarines] will play a key role in the future," Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, deputy head of the Navy General Staff, told RIA Novosti. "Their range and precision are gradually increasing." "There is no longer any need to equip missiles with powerful nuclear warheads. We can install low-yield warheads on existing cruise missiles," he said. The admiral mentioned Russia's new Severodvinsk nuclear-powered attack submarine, which will be commissioned with the Navy in 2010-2011, as an example.

The fourth-generation Graney class submarine combines the ability to launch a variety of long-range cruise missiles (up to 3,100 miles) with nuclear warheads, and effectively engage hostile submarines and surface warships. However, Russia will maintain and upgrade its fleet of strategic submarines, carrying ballistic missiles, as a naval component of the nuclear triad. "In this regard, we will build at least six Borey-class strategic submarines to serve in the Northern and the Pacific fleets," Burtsev said. The first Borey-class submarine, the Yury Dolgoruky, was built at the Sevmash plant in northern Russia, and is undergoing mooring trials. It will carry up to 16 Bulava-M sea-based ballistic missiles. Two other Borey class nuclear submarines, the Alexander Nevsky and the Vladimir Monomakh, are currently under construction at the Sevmash shipyard and are expected to be completed in 2009 and 2011.


Russian Strategic Bombers Could Use Cuba Airfields

Russia expressed interest in using Cuban airfields during patrol missions of its strategic bombers, Russia's Interfax news agency reported. "There are four or five airfields in Cuba with 4,000-meter-long runways, which absolutely suit us," Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev told Interfax. Zhikharev, who is the chief of staff of the Russian Air Force's long-range aviation, said, "If the two chiefs of state display such a political will, we are ready to fly there." Zhikharev also told Interfax that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered a military airfield on La Orchila island as a temporary base for Russian strategic bombers. "If a relevant political decision is made, this is possible," he said, according to Interfax. Zhikharev said he visited La Orchila in 2008 and can confirm that with minor reconstruction, the airfield owned by a local naval base can accept fully-loaded Russian strategic bombers.


Russia Kicks Off Massive War Game in Siberia

Russia began an eight-day massive military drill in Siberia on Monday, local media reported. Around 5,000 service personnel and hundreds of armored tanks and fighter planes took part in the drill, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. The drill will last till March 23, said Colonel Igor Konashenkov, aide to the commander of Russia's ground forces.


Azerbaijan Says Russia Arming Enemy Armenia - March, 2009

Azerbaijan Says Russia Arming Enemy Armenia

March, 2009

Azerbaijan accused Russia on Friday of supplying arms to Armenia, its foe in one of the most intractable conflicts arising from the Soviet Union's collapse. Azeri Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov denied his country's oil-financed military expansion meant it was planning war to take back the region of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenians, and said there was "no miracle" in sight to resolve the dispute. "Armenia is being supplied by its military ally, Russia," Azimov, who is responsible for security issues at the foreign ministry, said in an interview with Reuters. He said Moscow was equipping Armenia, its closest ally in the Caucasus, under cover of restocking its military hardware at the Russian military base in the Armenian town of Gyumri.

"We know that from time to time Russia is maintaining its presence in Gyumri. When new pieces are brought in, what happens to the old ones?" he said. "Things are coming in, and nothing is coming out."

Both Moscow and Yerevan have vehemently denied that Russia is supplying a military build-up in Armenia. Russia says it moved some troops and equipment to Gyumri after they pulled out of bases in neighbouring Georgia under an arms control pact. Some analysts suggested last year's war between Russia and Georgia, also over an unresolved ethnic and territorial dispute, might revitalise efforts to resolve Nagorno-Karabakh, but diplomats say that beyond rhetoric there is little progress. Ethnic Armenian separatists, backed by Armenia, fought a war in the 1990s to throw off Azerbaijan's control over mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh. An estimated 30,000 people were killed. No peace accord has ever been signed, and the ceasefire is frequently tested by fatal exchanges of fire across the frontline. Armenia backs Nagorno-Karabakh's demand for independence, something Azerbaijan says it can never have.


But the balance of power in the region has shifted dramatically since the end of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan's economic and military growth, based on oil exported westwards, has rapidly outpaced that of Armenia. The mainly Muslim country, led by President Ilham Aliyev since he succeeded his father Heydar in 2003, refuses to rule out taking back Nagorno-Karabakh by force. Azerbaijan votes in a referendum next week on whether to scrap a two-term presidential limit, allowing Aliyev to run again in 2013. Azimov said Azerbaijan, by growing its economy, its military and its image as a stable partner for the West, was trying to convince Armenia of the need to compromise. But he denied Baku was looking for war, saying: "It's good to have a strong army, it's even better not to use it."

"We never said and we never say that we shall go to war with Armenia," he said. But with Armenia insisting on independence for the region, "I have to say that in all circumstances and by all means we will restore territorial integrity." Azimov said he hoped the global economic crisis would force Armenia to give up demands for independence for the region, adding: "The time has come to think realistically for them." Armenia has been hit hard by the crisis. Turkey's decision to close its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan has also taken its toll and shut Armenia out of lucrative energy transit deals currently enjoyed by Georgia.


Armenia - Hard Economic Times and Growing Russian Influence

Armenia’s currency was devalued by more than 20 percent March 3 as the country’s central bank suspended currency interventions to receive a loan from the International Monetary Fund. The move highlights the dire conditions of the Armenian economy as well as Yerevan’s lack of options. These conditions are quite likely to increase Russian influence in the small country in the Caucasus. Armenia’s currency, the dram, lost 22 percent of its value over the course of a single day March 3. The decline followed a decision by the Armenian central bank to halt its currency interventions in exchange for a $540 million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The devaluation has generated consumer panic, with many stores in the country closing for the day and others seeing long lines as the prices of certain products, like butter and gasoline, rose more than 30 percent during morning trading alone.

Whenever a country that has maintained a fixed currency for years decides to let its currency float, large crashes in the currency’s value are not uncommon on the first day, as long-ignored distortions are allowed to unwind. And Yerevan has not been spared by the financial crisis sweeping the globe, making the dram’s decline steeper. Armenia’s troubles are compounded by the fact that along with Belarus, it is among the last countries from the former Soviet Union to adjust from a centralized economic system. Much like Belarus, Armenia simply has not made the necessary transitions and reforms required to function as a viable, independent state.

Geographic disadvantages hobble Armenia’s economy from the outset. Armenia is a tiny, landlocked country in the Caucasus Mountains. Even if Armenia did have access to the sea, it has virtually no natural resources of value — and therefore nothing to export to the big powers in its neighborhood, like Russia and Iran. Armenia’s border with Turkey is closed, and its border with Georgia is partially closed. Yerevan also has a nasty longtime rivalry with its neighbor, the richer and more populous Azerbaijan. The two countries have fought numerous wars over the still-disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. To survive, Armenia needs a great power sponsor to sustain it economically and provide military support if push comes to shove.

Russia — and before it, the Soviet Union — traditionally has filled that role. That Armenia still exists as an independent country is no small accomplishment, one attributable largely to Russian aid. Russia provides Armenia with essentials like food and energy, and has recently promised to give Yerevan a “stabilization loan” of $500 million to help it cope with the recession. But this help, of course, does not come without strings attached. Russia has more than 5,000 troops stationed in Armenia and has been discussing deploying even more as part of its Collective Security Treaty Organization rapid-reaction force. Russia uses Armenia to project power in the region and to flank pro-Western Georgia, with which Russia fought a war in August 2008.

This Russian aid has cost Armenia dearly, as Yerevan has had to sacrifice much of its independence in exchange for assistance from Moscow. Russia essentially owns all of the strategic energy, rail and telecommunications assets (among many others) in Armenia. Moscow has consolidated its influence by taking control of any piece of infrastructure that could help Armenia break away from Russia’s grip, including a natural gas pipeline connecting the country to Iran. The only other significant source contributing to Armenia’s economy also comes from abroad, in the form of remittances from Armenians working outside the country. At 800,000 strong, these workers comprise more than 25 percent of the country’s population, and their remittances account for a hefty 20 percent of Armenia’s gross domestic product. Armenia traditionally was the No. 1 recipient of aid per capita from the United States, which is home to a large Armenian diaspora and a powerful Armenian lobby in Congress (deemed by many as even more influential than the Israeli lobby there).

But Washington now provides more support to energy-rich Azerbaijan, while aid to Armenia has slowed. Remittance flows have dropped by almost 25 percent since this time in 2008, according to the IMF, and foreign direct investment — largely dependent on Russia, which is facing its own economic problems — has slowed along with it. The country is clearly seeing its already-meager sources of money dry up. This reality forced Armenia to stop its currency intervention in order to acquire more outside financing, thus causing the drastic single-day currency drop. Ultimately, Armenia at some point may have to abandon its increasingly devaluing currency. Yerevan would then need to use an alternative currency to achieve any semblance of economic stability. Due to its large-scale dependence on Moscow, this alternative currency could well turn out to be the Russian ruble. Though this outcome is hardly certain, Yerevan without a doubt is in a tight spot.


Armenia Wants to Use Rubles to Deal With Russia

Armenia is interested in paying off its debts to Russia in rubles, not in dollars, the nation’s Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said. "It leads to the diversification of our external assets and currency transactions for our businesses which reduce our dependence on external changes", the head of the Armenian government said in an interview with the Armenian television. The Russian authorities repeatedly declared their intention to make ruble the regional reserve currency. At the beginning of February Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that it was quite realistic to use the ruble as the reserve currency within the neighbouring states.

Such a step will be very useful both for the Russian economy, and for CIS countries. In a February 11 interview with the Russian news agencies, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said that there is "a real chance" for such a move "if by ruble zone it is meant countries that use the ruble in their trade with Russia." The prime minister added that "if one means a union similar to the euro zone, so it is too early to speak about this." Today the situation in Armenia appears to be the following: Armenians rushed to buy bread, butter and other staples Tuesday and stores shut down in panic after the government announced it would let the national currency fall and was seeking a bailout from the IMF. Banking authorities said the national currency — the dram — could sink up to 24 percent with the decision. The devaluation was sure to hurt ordinary Armenians, with prices for imported goods expected to rise sharply, the AP reports. The Armenian Central Bank decided to limit currency interventions and return to free float policy "due to the financial and economic crisis, worsening terms of trade and slowing capital inflows," bank chairman Artur Dzhavadian told reporters Tuesday.

Armen Gevorkian, a 33-year-old engineer, was stocking up on food in downtown Yerevan, where staples typically include bread, butter, sugar, salt and vegetable oil. "I'm buying food with all the drams I have because the dollar is going to rise and then the situation will be very difficult," he said. Prices at some grocery stores shot up 20 to 30 percent on Tuesday. One of Yerevan's largest grocery chains, Star, closed all of its stores shortly after the Central Bank's announcement.


Putin to the West: Take Your Medicine - March, 2009

Putin to the West: Take Your Medicine

US Saying One Thing, Doing another:

March, 2009

We’ve truly entered a Bizarro World universe, where up is down, right is left – and the Russians, of all people, are now lecturing us about the virtues of free enterprise. Yes, it happened at the Davos conference of bigwigs, insiders, and their sycophantic hangers-on, where the elite meet to munch canapés and discuss the way the world works, or, in this case, the way it isn’t working. The conference was heavy with the sort of pessimism that doesn’t usually accompany a gathering of the rich and pompous, yet instead of the usual self-congratulatory vaunting of their own virtue and “concern” for the world’s peasants, these aristocrats of the conference table were less than ebullient about the downward spiral of the global economy – which, you’ll remember, yesterday was touted as the savior of us all, but these days is portrayed as the instrument of our collective doom.

While the walkout of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan grabbed the biggest headlines – he didn’t like it when David Ignatius of the Washington Post shushed him in favor of letting former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres drone on uninterrupted – the real shocker was Vladimir Putin’s peroration, which sounded more like Ron Paul than the leader of a nation that has intruded the state into the economy and polity in a big way. Putin likened the economic crisis the world is facing to “the perfect storm, which denotes a situation when nature’s forces converge in one point of the ocean and increase their destructive potential many times over.” This is very similar to the apocalyptic tone not only of Rep. Paul, but of gold bugs and libertarians outside the Beltway: save your candles, the dark ages are coming!

Yet our leaders were unprepared: in spite of strong indications that the crisis was breaking over our heads, only a prescient minority realized that our chickens were coming home to roost, while the “majority strove to get their share of the pie, be it one dollar or a billion, and did not want to notice the rising wave.” As the Remnant looked on, Western elites were oblivious to their onrushing doom: “I just want to remind you that, just a year ago, American delegates speaking from this rostrum emphasized the U.S. economy’s fundamental stability and its cloudless prospects. Today, investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist. In just 12 months, they have posted losses exceeding the profits they made in the last 25 years. This example alone reflects the real situation better than any criticism. “The time for enlightenment has come. We must calmly, and without gloating, assess the root causes of this situation and try to peek into the future.”

Well, perhaps he was gloating just a little, but who can blame him? After all, the high-and-mighties of the West had recently undergone a spasm of unrestrained hubris, from which we have only just begun to recover. This manic mood was given expression not only by the Bush Doctrine and its attendant military campaigns, but also by a mad triumphalism that predated 9/11 and really started with the fall of the Soviet empire. The “unipolar” delusion distorted our thinking and gave rise to all sorts of grandiose projects that wound up costing us dearly. One of those projects was – and is – the encirclement and economic strangulation of Russia: the ill-fated “color revolutions,” the deployment of “soft power” in the service of penetrating the former Soviet republics with “civil society” organizations, funded and directed by Western governments, and the challenge to Russian predominance in the “near abroad” of the Caucasus and central Asia, where the U.S. seeks to build bases ostensibly to fight the “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That this dagger pointed at the throat of Kremlin leaders will have to be withdrawn, albeit reluctantly and temporarily, is doubtless where the gloating comes in.

So far, Putin’s critique is pointed, yet hardly shocking. Well, hang in there, dear reader, because we’re just getting to the good part: “Add to this colossal disproportions that have accumulated over the last few years. This primarily concerns disproportions between the scale of financial operations and the fundamental value of assets, as well as those between the increased burden on international loans and the sources of their collateral.”

This realistic perspective is in sharp contrast to the frantic gyrations of our own political and financial leaders, who are wholly invested in maintaining that disproportion in all its gargantuan perversity. Collateral? Real value? Such bothersome impediments to omnipotence have long since been thrown overboard by the Washington-Wall Street crowd. As a top White House aide once told journalist Ron Suskind, guys like him – disdainfully dubbed “the reality-based community” – who “believe that solutions emerge from [their] judicious study of discernible reality” aren’t clued in to the new reality: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

The same hubris that drove the Iraq war and led us to believe we could “transform” the Middle East, as some of the more perfervid neocons insisted, drove our financial leaders over a similarly steep cliff. The empire is now crumbling, along with the economic assumptions that financed it, as Putin points out: “The entire economic growth system, where one regional center prints money without respite and consumes material wealth, while another regional center manufactures inexpensive goods and saves money printed by other governments, has suffered a major setback.”

Whether the Russian leader has been boning up on the works of the Austrian economists and has absorbed or at least understood their critique of central banking as the flaw in the otherwise beneficial ointment of Western-style capitalism, or has independently come to similar conclusions, is open to speculation. Suffice to say that the parallelism is astonishing. For the long period of American economic and imperial expansion, the dollar was the reserve currency of choice, its markets the freest and most profitable in the world. As we enter a perhaps even lengthier period of decline, the leading indicator of our protracted contraction is the end of the dollar-denominated world economy. Whereas the Chinese premier, in his Davos speech, merely called for closer monetary regulation and restraint on the part of his American trading partner, Putin called on the markets to dump the dollar.

Putin accurately describes the bubble of American supremacism and diagnoses its cause. It was “brought about ,” he avers, “by excessive expectations. Corporate appetites with regard to constantly growing demand swelled unjustifiably. The race between stock market indices and capitalization began to overshadow rising labor productivity and real-life corporate effectiveness.” The industrial West engaged in an orgy of consumption, without producing any more – indeed, while producing much less. Our entire system was and is based on the generation of “unearned wealth, a loan that will have to be repaid by future generations.” It all “would have collapsed sooner or later,” and “in fact, this is happening right before our eyes.”

As America’s political leaders rush to reinflate the bubble, Putin would let it pop: “This means we must assess the real situation and write off all hopeless debts and ‘bad’ assets. True, this will be an extremely painful and unpleasant process. Far from everyone can accept such measures, fearing for their capitalization, bonuses, or reputation. However, we would ‘conserve’ and prolong the crisis, unless we clean up our balance sheets.”

In short, the malinvestment engaged in during the bubble years must be liquidated. The longer we try to conserve enterprises supposedly “too big to fail,” the more painful and prolonged will be the process of economic recovery. This is precisely what libertarians such as Ron Paul and analysts such as Peter Schiff have been saying all along. Unlike Barack Obama and his advisers, whose faith in government action is near religious, Putin warns against “excessive intervention in economic activity and blind faith in the state’s omnipotence.” It may be a “natural reaction” to turn to an increased state role in such times as these, yet “instead of streamlining market mechanisms, some are tempted to expand state economic intervention to the greatest possible extent. The concentration of surplus assets in the hands of the state is a negative aspect of anti-crisis measures in virtually every nation.” Oh, but this is my favorite part: “In the 20th century, the Soviet Union made the state’s role absolute. In the long run, this made the Soviet economy totally uncompetitive. This lesson cost us dearly. I am sure nobody wants to see it repeated.”

I lived to see an American president red-baited by the Kremlin! That, in itself, is utterly amazing, and proof positive that we have indeed slipped into an alternate universe, a Bizarro World where history runs backward – and in reverse. Sounding more like Barry Goldwater than any Russian leader I ever heard of, Putin took aim at the Obama-commies: “Nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that the spirit of free enterprise, including the principle of personal responsibility of businesspeople, investors, and shareholders for their decisions, is being eroded in the last few months. There is no reason to believe that we can achieve better results by shifting responsibility onto the state.”

Those remarks would not be out of place coming out of the mouth of a Republican congressman – and a fairly conservative one – inveighing against the “stimulus” package. Putin goes beyond even this, however, when he warns against the danger of military Keynesianism: “Unfortunately, we are increasingly hearing the argument that the buildup of military spending could solve today’s social and economic problems. The logic is simple enough. Additional military allocations create new jobs. “At a glance, this sounds like a good way of fighting the crisis and unemployment. This policy might even be quite effective in the short term. But in the longer run, militarization won’t solve the problem but will rather quell it temporarily. What it will do is squeeze huge financial and other resources from the economy instead of finding better and wiser uses for them.”

Paul Krugman and his media echo chamber happily inform us that it doesn’t matter how or where we spend the money, just as long as we “stimulate” the economy with massive injections of monetary steroids. So why not military spending – lots more military spending? After all, this is a point both conservatives and liberal Keynesians can agree on, as Putin surely realizes. I suspect his call for disarmament will be largely ignored, along with his insight that demilitarization will “bring significant economic dividends.” That a Russian leader is now telling Americans that their turn toward statism and militarism is harmful both to themselves and to the world is a turn of events no one of my generation could possibly have imagined, certainly not anyone of libertarian inclinations. It is a sad and telling commentary that no American leader of any stature, aside from the previously mentioned Rep. Paul, has the courage to tell us what we need to hear.


'Back Off And Stay Out of Our Airspace,' Russia


Four Canadian and U.S. fighter jets were scrambled to meet two Russian bomber planes found flying on the edge of Canada's Arctic airspace hours before President Barack Obama arrived in Ottawa for his first foreign visit, Canada's defence minister said yesterday. Peter MacKay wouldn't say whether he thought the Feb. 18 flight of the two TU-95 Bears, long-range Russian bombers, was designed to create mischief for a Canadian security system already stressed by the presidential visit. But he said the response of Canadian pilots operating under the command of NORAD sent a clear message to Moscow. "I'm not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of deliberately doing this during the presidential visit, but it was a strong coincidence which we met with the presence ... of F-18 fighter planes and world-class pilots that know their business and send a strong signal that they should back off and stay out of our airspace," he told reporters.

In Moscow, an unnamed government official called MacKay's statement a "farce" and said the Russian government was reacting to Canada's objections with "astonishment," news agency RIA-Novosti reported. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in Saskatoon that the incident was a real cause for concern that will not intimidate Canada. "This government has responded every time the Russians have done that. We will continue to respond. We will defend our airspace." The Russian planes broke no international laws when they encroached on the 200-mile (320-kilometre) Canadian perimeter, 190 kilometres northeast of Tuktoyaktuk, but experts say it is a clear attempt to test defence systems in the disputed Arctic territories.

NORAD spokesperson Michael Kucharek said Canadian and U.S. fighter jets have been scrambled more than 20 times since early 2007 to perform visual identification of Russian bombers and to direct them away from North American airspace. "Russia has become more active than in the past," said Ray Henault, formerly Canada's chief of defence staff. Henault, who served as chair of NATO's military council until last year, said the bomber flights are a "legitimate activity" that have nonetheless complicated relations with other Arctic nations in recent years. "To call it a threat is probably a little bit stronger than I would call it."

It's not clear why Canada chose yesterday to draw attention to what is a fairly common occurrence. A senior government official said highlighting the mid-air meeting was a good way to show the worth and relevance of NORAD while its commander, U.S. Gen. Victor Renuart, was visiting Ottawa. It's also a good way to "get some ink" for Canada's contribution to continental security, the official said. In addition, it's a diplomatic rebuff to Russian officials who have complained in the last week about nations "militarizing" the Arctic to bolster claims to valuable energy and mineral resources beneath the thawing tundra and the seabed. "We know that the waters are opening up, we know that other countries have expressed interest in the Arctic and that we intend to have a very real and current activity and presence in the Arctic," MacKay said yesterday. MacKay has asked Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Russia's ambassador to Canada to give Ottawa notice when such flights are planned. "To date, we have not received this type of notice," he said.

Renuart has also asked Russian officials to file formal international notice of the flights, but to no avail, said Kucharek. The RIA-Novosti agency quoted Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky, a defence ministry spokesperson, saying that neighbouring states had been previously notified of the bomber flight. The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989 crippled Russia's economy and brought such long-range flights, a staple of the Cold War, to an end. But the flights have resumed in recent years.


World Agenda: Russian Builds its New Empire With Finance, Not Bear

Whatever the economic calamities ahead, this year is proving an excellent one for the political project of forging a new Russian empire. A plethora initiatives from the of Kremlin is binding most of Russia's former Soviet satellites ever more tightly to Moscow. Only yesterday the Kremlin created a rapid reaction force with six of the states and an economic bailout fund with four of them. The reaction force will be under central command, which will undoubtedly be in Moscow since Russia is providing most of the troops. Soldiers from Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will once again learn to take orders in Russian. Russia is also putting up $7.5 billion (£5.19 billion) of a $10 billion mutual rescue fund it established with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Despite growing hardship for millions of Russians at home, the Kremlin also offered to throw billions of roubles at Belarus after both countries agreed to form a joint air defence system pointed at Europe.

He who pays the piper calls the tune as the United States learned painfully on Tuesday from President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan, who served notice to quit a key airbase for supplying Nato forces in Afghanistan. A gleeful Kremlin denied any link between that decision and the $2.15 billion in loans and aid it had given the impoverished republic just moments earlier. Washington is flirting with Tajikistan as another potential base for Afghan supplies. President Rakhmon, enjoying the attention, apparently felt emboldened enough to cancel his visit to Moscow initially, but quickly thought better of it. Having squeezed the US military out of Central Asia, Russia is determined to prevent the European Union becoming a rival for energy in its backyard. The EU is desperate to break Russia's grip on gas by securing new supplies from the region through the Caucasus. President Medvedev beat them to Uzbekistan where his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, pledged last month to double supplies to Russia, adding reassuringly that Uzbekistan "sells gas to Russia and to Russia only". Gas-rich Turkmenistan offers hope but only if the Caucasus remains open as a conduit for pipelines. Since the war with Georgia last summer and the de facto annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia has returned to the region with a bang.

Armenia is little more than a vassal state, having sold most of its economic infrastructure to Russian companies. The "frozen conflict" between Armenia and neighbouring Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh gives the Kremlin further leverage. Moscow denied Azeri claims last month that it had funnelled arms worth $800 million to Armenia, which is host to a Russian military base. But both sides understand that Russia could tip the balance of power in either direction if it chooses. From Belarus to the Caucasus and Central Asia, Russian power and influence is now at its greatest height since the Soviet collapse. While Kremlin ruled its old empire with fear, it is building its new one on finance. Only Ukraine remains beyond Moscow's so-called "sphere of influence" despite the recent bruising gas war. Presidential elections are just 11 months away, however, offering the Kremlin empire-builders a great opportunity to avenge the setback of the pro-western Orange revolution.


Russia to Beef up Military Capability in South, Black Sea Fleet

Russia will enhance the defense capabilities of its troops deployed in the country's "southern region," including the Black Sea Fleet, a deputy defense minister said on Thursday. Gen. Vladimir Popovkin said after thoroughly analyzing "the outcome of the South Ossetian conflict," the Defense Ministry had proposed an array of measures to strengthen its troops in the country's southern region, as well as the Black Sea Fleet. He said the Ground Forces would be provided with new multiple rocket launching systems and reconnaissance assets, while supplies of arms and military equipment would be generally increased. In the Air Force, the modernization of MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters and Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack planes and Mi-28H Night Hunger helicopter gunships is to be completed and new warplanes (including Su-27SM, Su-30MK-2) and combat helicopters (including Ka-52, Mi-28N, Mi-24M, and Mi-8MTB5) will be supplied. The Air Defense Forces will be provided with new Pantsir-S surface-to-air missile systems. Popovkin said naval units would be supplied with new Lada Project 677 diesel-electric submarines, modernized versions of the Varshavyanka-class submarine, and Bal-U mobile coastal missile systems. The Russian Navy dismissed last month media reports claiming that its Black Sea Fleet, based in Ukraine, had been put on alert and was preparing to urgently go to sea. Russia's Black Sea Fleet currently uses a range of naval facilities in Ukraine's Crimea as part of a 1997 agreement, under which Ukraine agreed to lease the bases to Russia until 2017. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced last summer that Ukraine would not extend the lease of the base in the Crimean city of Sevastopol beyond 2017, and urged Russia to start preparations for a withdrawal. Russian media previously reported that Moscow was also looking at possible naval facilities in Yemen, Syria and Libya, among other countries. Russian military officials are also on record as saying Moscow could build up its presence in the Mediterranean to make up for the possible loss of Sevastopol.

In other news:

Russia Pops Disney's Dreams

It will be awhile yet before Russian kids can enjoy the drip-feed of glutinous entertainment that is Disney television. Russia's anti-monopoly service has just blocked The Walt Disney Company's attempt to establish a joint venture with one of the country's leading media firms so that it could launch a channel there, Interfax reported Friday. Disney announced last year that it was planning to crack the lucrative Russian television market with a free-to-air Disney Channel, as part of a joint venture with Media-One Holdings. The Russian broadcaster runs 86 television and radio stations throughout the country and Disney was hoping to air its channel on 30 of its TV stations. The channel would include Disney shows aimed at children and families and would also air original Russian TV programs.

Disney was due to take a 49.0% stake in the joint venture, in return for an unspecified amount of funding and programming, while leading content acquisition and marketing to the channel's target audience. The halting of Disney's deal illustrates the difficulties even large multinational companies can have in navigating Russia's complicated regulatory system, despite Disney already operates local retail, theatrical distribution and Internet businesses in Russia. One of the Mouse's biggest competitors, News Corporation, has even been trying (unsuccessfully) to pull out of parts of Eastern Europe and Russia because of the difficult regulatory environment.

"They've been trying for more than a year to sell assets in Eastern Europe and Russia," said Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce. "They didn't like the way the operating or regulatory environment was starting to evolve and they were trying to sell to current managers and private equity. But the market wasn't letting it happen." Though Joyce said Friday's setback was not a major blow to Disney's growth prospects, it will upset the company's attempts to reach a broader audience in Russia. Back when Disney was announcing its joint venture in December, Walt Disney International Chairman Andy Bird said it wanted to reach a broader Russian audience because paid-cable and satellite TV subscriptions were "very limited." Shares of The Walt Disney Company slipped 1.6%, or 29 cents, to $17.41, on Friday afternoon in New York.


Soros Confirms Lindsey William’s Assertion Oil is a Weapon

George Soros Interview From World Economics Forum:

If you scrub the above YouTube video to 3 minutes, 45 seconds, you will hear the globalist George Soros at the elite confab last month in Davos, Switzerland, admit that the price of oil is being used as a weapon against the “enemies of the prevailing world order,” i.e, the New World Order. Soros pegs these enemies as Venezuela, Iran, and Russia. “Chavez,” declares Soros, “his days are numbered.” In Iran, the price of oil will lead to the defeat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and bring in a “more reasonable regime,” that is to say a regime that takes orders from the global elite. In the case of Russia, Soros is worried. He believes the falling price of oil and the resulting social and political chaos in that country will prompt Putin and the Russian leadership into “some foreign adventure… to divert attention,” possibly in Ukraine or elsewhere in the neighborhood. Soros confirms in spades the prediction of Lindsey Williams, who told Alex Jones on several occasions that the global elite have planned to drastically reduce the price of oil in order to take out the oil-producing states and also foment a world-wide economic depression. “America will see a financial collapse so great that it will take years to come out of it,” Williams told Alex Jones on November 21, 2008. On February 18, Pastor Williams, appearing on Alex Jones TV, updated and added details to his prediction, based on insider information (see video below). Listening to George Soros, one might get the idea that the radical drop in the price of oil is simply a result of market dynamics and a coincidental opportunity to deal a crushing blow to “enemies of the prevailing world order,” when in fact it is a carefully orchestrated event. George Soros knows this, but he is not about to tell you. See the rest of the interview on Civilian37’s YouTube channel.