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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Russia Builds Up Its Military

27 August 2007

Russia's recent resumption of strategic bomber flights is viewed by many analysts as more evidence of President Vladimir Putin's determination to build up his country's military might. The Russian leader has cited security concerns for strengthening the military, but the move also is reviving memories of the Cold War, when Moscow used its military capability to project its power. For producer Ivana Kuhar, VOA's Bill Rodgers narrates.

Grand entrances are perhaps symbolic of President Putin's growing stature in the world -- a stature he is trying to enhance by strengthening Russia's military might.

Mr. Putin earlier this year signed a $200 billion spending plan to rebuild the Russian military -- and has taken steps to modernize his country's long-range missile arsenal.

Earlier this month, he announced the resumption of strategic bomber flights around the world -- reviving a Cold War practice by the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Putin says security threats are forcing Russia to strengthen its military.

But these moves puzzle analysts, such as Russian expert Stephen Sestanovich. "Take the restoration of strategic bomber patrols at long distances from Russian territory. I think the Russians would find it rather hard to tell you what the purpose of that was. Why are they circling around Guam -- an American island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? What's the connection between that and the Russian national interest?"

Yet many Russians support Mr. Putin's projection of strength -- and power. They believe Russia's international stature has grown, according to Russian TV news anchor Alexei Pushkov. "Putin created an impression that Russia can get even with the world leaders after a long period of weakness. Russians do like a strong leader."

While few expect a revival of Cold War-type military interventions, it is unclear what foreign policy goals Moscow is trying to achieve with its tough posturing.

"They want very much to show a kind of assertive independence, but I don't think they've clearly identified for themselves the goals of that assertive independence," said Sestanovich.

Russia's military muscle was on display at the recent airshow outside Moscow -- a showcase for military modernization. Rebuilding an aging military would seem to be a logical step now given Russia's oil wealth, according to foreign policy analyst Richard Weitz. "Some of this is to be expected. The Russians have always had a series of nuclear forces to deter the United States and for other purposes. Their naval component was a weaker component and so it makes sense for them to try and build it up."

The White House has downplayed the buildup, saying through a spokesman it is not surprising that militaries around the world engage in a variety of activities.

But others believe the Kremlin's buildup needs to be watched very carefully.

Sestanovich adds, "Sometimes, countries give themselves a new foreign policy rhetoric and they give themselves new foreign policy instruments, and then they take it from there. Sometimes, this can be an unfortunate and dangerous process."

But for now, Russia's military buildup is likely to continue.

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