Putin flexes Russia's military muscle in Black Sea exercises
Moscow: President Vladimir Putin ordered the launch of large-scale military exercises in the Black Sea on Thursday, projecting Russian power towards Europe and the Middle East in a move that may vex its neighbours.
Officials suggested the surprise drills were designed to test the reaction speed and combat readiness of Russian forces, but Putin's order also seemed aimed at sending a signal to the West that Russia is an important presence in the region.
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin triggered the manoeuvers as he flew back overnight from South Africa after a summit of the BRICS emerging economies. Peskov said 36 warships and an unspecified number of warplanes would take part, but did not say how long the exercises would last.
Putin has stressed the importance of a strong and agile military since returning to the presidency last May. In 13 years in power, he has often cited external threats when talking of the need for reliable armed forces and Russian political unity.
Late last month, Putin ordered military leaders to make urgent improvements to the armed forces in the next few years, saying Russia must thwart Western attempts to tip the balance of power. He said manoeuvers must be held with less advance warning, to keep soldiers on their toes.
Putin, 60, has also used his role as commander-in-chief and calls for military might to cast himself as a strong leader for whom the country's security is foremost.