Rocket landings for Russian capsules

Soyuz TMA-1 launcher in Baikonur
Soyuz TMA-1 launcher in Baikonur

Russian engineers are considering using a rocket-powered landing system for the their next-generation manned spacecraft that could replace the Soyuz capsule. One would think that a purely rocket-based system would be much more expensive than the parachutes that Soyuz currently uses, but Russia has a political reason for it. Russia's spaceport is in another country, Kazakhstan, so they would really like to move it to within its own borders. However, there is not much land area where a spacecraft could touch down around the new spaceport, so they would need a landing system much more precise than that of uncontrolled parachutes.

This brings to mind the fact that Russia has to depend on a foreign country, Kazakhstan, for its manned space program. This adds more complexity to the United States' manned space program once the Space Shuttle is retired: not only would the United States have to maintain good relations with Russia to maintain its manned space program, but it also needs to hope that Russia is on good enough terms with Kazakhstan.

Not that having all the infrastructure for a manned space program in one's own country would necessarily help. Russia and Kazakhstan were once part of one country, after all. It could get complicated for NASA if Texas really were to secede from the union and took the mission control center with it ...

Russia's encouragement to separatists

War-torn Chechnya
War-torn Chechnya

Russia's recognition of the separatist regions within Georgia is unsurprisingly giving hope to separatist factions within its own borders. If a politically naive person like me could easily foresee that this would happen, there's no way the politicians in Russia wouldn't have realized what would happen. Are they just planning to oppress any attempts at separation in a far more brutal manner than Georgia tried with South Ossetia?

For that matter, given the way Russia has been trying to annex South Ossetia from Georgia, will the Ossetians have the same problem with Russia as they currently have with Georgia? I have the feeling that they're gaining independence from one master just to lose it soon after to a far more oppressive and authoritarian master. The Russian government hasn't completely lost its senses, though, since it rebuffed South Ossetia's declaration that it would be joining Russia. They still have the presence of mind to keep up the thinly veiled appearance that they don't have imperial ambitions.

And Russia won't have to worry about something like China giving out Chinese passports to people in Tatarstan and have the region break away with support from China. At least the Chinese government is smart enough to realize how much credibility it would give to its own separatist factions.

US condemns Russia

Vice President Dick Cheney went all the way to Georgia to support the country and condemn Russia for violating its borders. Amazingly enough, I actually agree with him. Russia might have been justified in counter-attacking Georgian forces in the beginning, but they have reacted far more aggressively than what would be expected for peacekeepers. In fact, their giving away Russian passports to South Ossetians long before the conflict and the way they invaded the region with overwhelming force makes it pretty clear that they're not trying to support a people's autonomy; they want to take Georgia's territory for their own.

It's just too bad that America's preemptive invasion of Iraq based on false premises undercuts any condemnation of Russia the US government makes. Even when the Bush administration is doing something right, they had already sabotaged their own good doings long ago.

Did Russia shoot itself in the foot?

China is wisely refraining from taking Russia's side in the Georgia - South Ossetia - Russia conflict. Unlike Russia, China realizes that supporting a separatist faction on foreign soil would provide fodder for their own domestic separatist factions. If push comes to shove, China will be acting against Russia.

I wonder, does the Russian government know what it did to itself? If and when the next Chechnya shows up, Russia will have a real hard time justifying why other nations shouldn't intervene in favor of the separatists. They'll probably see how lackluster their justifications for suppressing the separatists will be, the same way the United States has been utterly unconvincing as it chastises Russia for invading a foreign nation.

Better public relations for Georgia

The good news about the conflict between Russia and Georgia is that it seems to have subsided, although Russia is still dragging its feet. It's a relief to know that fears of a third world war were overblown, not that many people besides myself worried about it.

One outcome of the conflict is that Georgia ended up looking much better than Russia in the foreign media. Despite Georgia having attacked the separatist region of South Ossetia, Russia didn't help its image by raining down as much or even more destruction on the region and invading non-separatist regions of Georgia.

Their image also isn't at all helped by the fact that they're trying to prevent Georgia from doing what they already did with Chechnya, and the fact that they used unsubstantiated and apparently false claims of genocide as an excuse even as South Ossetians loot other Georgians. And they're doing a rather miserable job of making themselves not look like a nation with imperial ambitions, with the way they gave out Russian passports to South Ossetians and then claiming that they're invading to protect their citizens.

While there have been faults on both sides, although it may be unclear which side is "more" wrong, Russia clearly needs a better handle on diplomacy and foreign public relations.