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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2187

How Russia hides the true cost of its foreign wars;
An expanding footprint in the Arctic

Edited by Ilan Berman and Zachary Popovich
February 15, 2018

January 2:

As part of New Delhi's ongoing efforts to modernize its military, India's Ministry of Defense has approved $200 million for the purchase of 240 Russian precision bombs.
According to The Moscow Times, the allocation is part of a larger military modernization program that is projected to cost the Indian government $250 billion over the next decade. It also reflects rising trade between India and Russia, commerce between which has grown by some 15 percent over the past half-decade.

Who is fighting Russia's covert war in Ukraine? Increasingly,
The Daily Beast reports in a new expose, it isn't the country's standing army. Rather, in an effort to minimize casualties in what has become - some four years on - an exceedingly unpopular conflict, the Kremlin has enlisted the help of "contract fighters" and recruits from companies such as Wagner to perpetuate the conflict on its behalf. These mercenaries are also increasingly prevalent among Russian forces now operating in the Syrian theater, where Russia's military has been active since the Fall of 2015. In turn, the practice of subcontracting has helped the Russian government to obscure the real human cost of the conflicts in which it is now engaged.

The revelations are drawing outrage from domestic activists. "I want to know how many soldiers come back wounded from Ukraine and Syria, if they receive proper medical treatment, if their families have any state financial support," Valentina Melnikova, the head of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia civic group, has told the newsmagazine. "But since in these modern wars contracts and recruitments are secret, the families are too scared to open their mouths - or they are paid to stay silent. The situation is worse than back in Soviet times... when hundreds of our soldiers died in Afghanistan and everybody was quiet."

January 3:

Russia is continuing to strengthen its military position in the Arctic, the country's Defense Minister has confirmed. Sergei Shoigu has said that "a total of 425 buildings with a total surface area of more than 700,000 square meters have been erected on the Russian Arctic islands of Kotelny, Alexandra Land, Wrangel, as well as on the Shmidt peninsula, in the course of the last five years,"
reports the Independent Barents Observer. This work, moreover, is slated to continue into the foreseeable future. "In the course of 2018, the airfield at the Nagurskoye base in Franz Josef Land is to be completed and allow for year-round air operations. Also the runways of Severomorsk-1 in the Kola Peninsula and the Alykel in Norilsk will be completed in the new year," the paper reports Shoigu as telling reporters in a recent interview.

January 4:

In late October 2015, the Islamic State terrorist group successfully downed a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, resulting in the death of 224 passengers. The incident led Russia to suspend air travel to Egypt, despite the burgeoning political and military ties between the two countries. Now, more than a year later, Moscow is moving to normalize this aspect of its relations with Cairo. Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued
a new executive order reinstating flights to the Egyptian capital. However, Russian flights to other locations in Egypt, including the country's resort towns, remain suspended.

The Financial Times reports that Listvyanka, a small town on the shores of Lake Baikal, has become the epicenter of renewed Russian worries over Chinese influence in Russia's east. According to the paper, a number of Chinese investors have bought up property in and around the tourist village, leading to a public backlash in the local press and among residents. The economic activity has sparked a rash of negative media coverage, and renewed long-simmering concerns among Russians living in the country's eastern territories over the possibility of a Chinese "invasion." "People really are worried about the Chinese buying everything here. They build huge hotels. They tear down and change the façades," the paper cites one resident of Listvyanka as saying. "Their advertisements are everywhere, hanging from fences."

Related Categories: Russia; China; India; Russia and Eurasia Program

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