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Russia Bombing Over and Over

from the December 31, 2013 eNews issue



The attack on Sunday was not enough. The day after 17 died from an explosion in Volgograd’s train station, another bomb on a No.15 trolleybus killed 14 people and injured 41 others as the trolley passed a market. Five weeks before the 2014 Winter Olympics open in Sochi on the Black Sea, the town of Volgograd is getting slammed by terrorists who want, if nothing more, to destroy Russia’s chance to throw a winter party for the world. And even while Russia flashes an occasional smile at the West, the deeply entrenched distrust between Moscow and Washington continues.

The Olympics are coming to Russia February 7th–23rd, the biggest show on earth with all the international distinction and honor and revenue that hang on the games’ shoulders. Moscow wants the event to go off beautifully, to show the world that Russia can have a pretty face after all. Sochi is a comfortable resort town on the Black Sea on the western side of the Caucasus Mountains. Its weather is pleasant, one of the few locations in Russia that enjoys a subtropical climate with mild winters. Russia is spending $2 billion on security for the games in Sochi, but Chechnyan rebels hiding out in neighboring Dagestan would like nothing better than to throw a brick through the whole black tie affair.

Whether or not there is anything to be gained from the terrorism isn’t the issue. The Chechnyans hate once-again President Vladimir Putin. The Russian forces acted with cruel brutality when Putin sent troops into Chechnya in 1999 and afterward. His security forces slaughtered prisoners without trial, used torture and rape as weapons, and ravaged the capital city of Grozny. The Chechnyans countered with acts of terrorism and the government responded with even more harsh policies to put down the rebellion.

Sochi sits west of Chechnya and Dagestan, just over the Caucasus Mountains. Volgograd sits in an exposed position on the Volga River a convenient few hundred miles to the north.

The terrorists have little hope of establishing an independent state in Chechnya, but they still can take out their revenge on the unwitting civilians of Volgograd, thrust fear into the hearts of would-be Olympics spectators, and so destroy Putin’s hopes for a grand and prosperous fete in Sochi.

GPS and The U.S.

Russia has frustration on several fronts. For the past week, a Russian ship has been stuck in the Antarctic ice and, so far, efforts to free it have failed. Early summertime smiles on Antarctica, but that hasn’t helped the ice breaking ships to rescue the Russian research vessel and the 74 people on board. Since efforts to crunch through the ice have been unsuccessful, the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long will send a helicopter on multiple trips to collect the 52 research scientists and tourists stranded on The MV Akademik Shokalskiy, leaving behind the 22 members of the crew. The Australian supply ship Aurora Australis will then send its barge for the passengers.

While most countries would be willing to help Russian scientists stuck on an ice-bound ship, the U.S. is not so keen to help Russia improve its own global positioning system (GPS) by allowing domed antenna structures to be placed on American real estate. Two years ago, Russia asked if it could put up half a dozen or so monitor stations in the United States as a means of improving its Global Navigation Satellite System “Glonass.” It would offer valuable navigation information to the Russian military and civilian populations. While the U.S. State Department encouraged the cooperation with the Russian government, the Pentagon and security agencies said, “Not on your life.”

Congress has responded to the issue by presenting a new law that requires the secretary of defense and the director of national intelligence to verify the stations could not be used to spy on the United States. Anybody involved in building or using the stations would have to be an American and the data collected or transmitted from the stations could not be encrypted. The stations would not be allowed near sites deemed a national security concern.

“The provision,” said Roger Zakheim, a former general counsel of the House Armed Services Committee, “certainly creates a high bar for the secretary of defense and the director of national intelligence to authorize or permit this type of construction.”

“The idea was to make it next to impossible, if not impossible, to do this,” a House Republican aide, “We also took the State Department out of the loop since they were the ones who caused all the trouble in the first place.”

Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the current cause of cold relations between the American and Russian governments, although the fall of the Soviet Union has never guaranteed great warmth between the former enemies.

ICBMs

To underline the obviously meager trust between Russia and the United States, the Russian Defense Ministry will be updating a rail-mounted missile system for Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles “as a potential response to the United States’ Prompt Global Strike program,” according to RIA Novosti. The U.S. intends to have the capability to deliver a conventional weapon to any spot on the globe, and the Russian response to the improved technology is to have ICBMs ready to move on railways, ready to be launched from a remote location in case Russia sustains a first strike.

The U.S. and Russia have made agreements to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the possession of each country, but mutual distrust and a security need to deter the other guy have prevented either from cleaning out its weapons closet.

“It is necessary to have about 1,500 nuclear warheads in the shock troops of the Russian strategic nuclear forces in order to resolve tasks of strategic deterrence. The United States have approximately the same number,” Col. Gen. Sergei Karakayev told Interfax.

Mighty Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics and a future host of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, continues to wrestle with its insecurities. It faces terrorists within its borders, suffers as a government that rules by brute force rather than justice and equity, and remains locked in a constant glaring contest with the world’s surviving superpower. Insecurity rarely results in healthy decision-making processes, and poor decisions often lead to more causes of insecurity. While the world enjoys the 2014 Winter Olympics, it is wise to keep an eye on the turmoil beyond the friendly Black Sea beaches of Sochi.

Notes


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