Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to rattle his sabre, letting the world know that the Russian bear of yesteryear remains very much with us. And that means an uglier, more corrupt and more dangerous world.
Among the recent items to go into the "Russia watch" category are:
* Just a couple of days ago, Putin, a former KGB head himself, addressed a group of fellow military and intelligence officers, telling them that Russia must strengthen both its military and espionage capacities in response to the planned U.S. missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. He also expressed the fear (fear long being a Russian social staple) that the U. S. might move to deploy troops in Eastern Europe.
* Radio Free Europe is reporting that "Britain and the United States recently reported increases in Russian espionage activity to Cold War levels." Putin has increasingly played the role of a tough-talking defender of the Motherland in recent months (talk that The Economist describes as "neurotic bluster." However, Putin follows an old script for Russian dictators in always suggesting that Russia is merely an innocent, injured victim before announcing one of their own aggressive political or military maneuvers. Russia is never the reason for the tension; rather, she is only defending herself from the mean-spirited provocation of the United States.
* Putin added in his remarks to the officers that an "all-round strengthening of our military forces is one of our indisputable priorities" even as he reminded them of his recent withdrawal of Russian compliance to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe.
* On July 25, the weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta published "No Longer Ashamed Of Our Country," an article that boldly favors Russia's suspension of the CFE Treaty. Retired Major General Aleksandr Vladimirov (a leading military commentator known for parroting the hardball attitudes of his bosses) was cited in the piece as saying, "We need to show everyone that the era of humiliation and collapse associated with [the 1990s] is gone and won't come back. We should not join any dubious alliances or comply with treaties of dubious origin. Our task, and our right, is to follow our security strategy precisely. I hope that a program for such a strategy [to cover the period] up to 2050 will soon be adopted by our state and military leadership."
* A Russian research ship which began an expedition from Murmansk to the Barents Sea earlier this week will lay claim to the North Pole. State Duma deputy and famous explorer Artur Chilingarov of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party [shown at left] is leading the expedition. Chilingarov said recently on state-run television, "The Arctic is Russian. We must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian coastal shelf." Of course, the Arctic Sea bed is believed to be rich in mineral wealth. Under international law, Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, and Denmark control an economic zone within 320 kilometers of their continental shelf, but the exact size of that shelf is disputed by Russia. They want a lot more.
* In a related story, Belarus stole another page from the totalitarian history of Mother Russia by dealing with a planned opposition protest in Minsk by simply directing its KGB to arrest more than 60 of the rally's leaders before the event even occurred! Alyaksandr Milinkevich, leader of the opposition Movement for Freedom, told journalists that the arrests and unlawful detentions have been going on for 5 days.
(Sources: Radio Free Europe, The Economist, Barents Observer, BBC, and others. Generally, the latest and soundest coverage of such matters is RFE.)