Over at The Moscow Times, Yulia Latynina still seems to be able to write Kremlin-critical columns. Her latest is a rather snarky piece about the poor state of the Russian army - in particular, the poor care that is received by the troops.
But there are a couple of notable news items that pop out of that column....
I've long taken the idea of a "resurgent Russia" with a few pounds of salt. Russia is ramshackle and in a great deal of trouble, and it shows up in its military.
The story that Ms. Latynina was noting is the defection in Georgia of a Russian Army enlisted man, Sgt. Alexander Glukhov. Sgt. Glukhov deserted the Russian Army in South Ossetia because the troops there are underfed and have no hygienic facilities:
We have heard so much over the past years from our leaders about how Russia has gotten up off of its knees. As a reborn superpower, Russia was able to defeat the formidable Georgian army after Tbilisi launched its attack on Tskhinvali. Several months later, a hungry Glukhov, craving McDonald's, shows up in Tbilisi, more than willing to reveal Russia's military secrets in return for a Big Mac.
If Russia has, in fact, risen from its knees, why couldn't its army feed Glukhov?
This isn't the immediate reprise of the old Soviet Union; contemporary Russia is able to make a great deal of noise, but is (still) weak. The main problem is that Russia has ambitions to save itself by re-aggrandizement; as we're seeing in other ways, the main problem with today's weak Russia is that it has been handed a great opportunity due to the weak response Russian noise-making is receiving.
In that regard, there's a second bit of very interesting information that Sgt. Glukhov brought along with him:
And Glukhov's secret was indeed a whopper -- that he had been on training maneuvers in South Ossetia since June, when Russian forces first started digging entrenchments in preparation for the August war against Georgia.
This basically confirms what many had suspected - but even more strongly. The Russian response to the August attack on South Ossetia by Georgia was so swift and so devastating that it simply could not have been made without extensive prior preparation. (I got earfuls of this view when I was in Estonia back in October.) The suspicion was that preparations had to have started at least a couple of weeks beforehand; if Sgt. Glukhov is telling the truth, preparations began - not just in the indisputably-Russian territory of North Ossetia, but in South Ossetia itself a full two months before hostilities actually started.
As I keep saying, the Russians are in a hurry. And they are playing the old Russian game of probing for weaknesses - and exploiting what weaknesses they find....