Ukraine crisis: How Putin built Russia's Army as a potent force

Updated: Feb 17, 2022, 09:26 AM(IST)

President Putin has made reviving the army one of the top priorities of his 20-year rule.

Putin's plan to revive Russian Army

Whether they have been camped out on Ukraine's borders or moving tanks across the vast country, Russia's battle-hardened troops have made the world listen to Vladimir Putin, who wants to redefine European security.

President Putin has made reviving the army one of the top priorities of his 20-year rule.

After years of post-Soviet neglect, the armed forces received new aircraft, tanks and missiles, opened new bases in the Arctic and resumed Cold War-style strategic bomber patrols.

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'Russia's readiness to use military force'

Today, experts say, the modernised Russian army has become a key tool of Putin's foreign policy.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, says Putin thinks big.

"The Ukraine crisis has demonstrated, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, Russia's readiness to use military force to prevent further expansion of the Western alliance into former Soviet territory," he said.

"The geopolitical retreat that Russia began three decades ago has ended."

For months Russia has been moving troops towards the border with pro-Western Ukraine, prompting Western capitals to warn a Russian attack was imminent and start pulling personnel out of the country.

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Social networks flooded with images of Russian tanks

Amid Russia's latest show of force the United States relocated its embassy in Kyiv to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, citing a "dramatic acceleration" in the build-up of Russian troops.

On Tuesday, Russia announced that some of the troops were returning home following the planned conclusion of exercises but other military drills were ongoing.

For months, social networks have been flooded with images of Russian tanks parked in the snow near the Ukrainian border or trains transporting multiple rocket launchers and other materiel.
 

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Russia has world's second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons

On the EU doorstep, Russia has flexed its muscles in Belarus, during joint drills that involved sophisticated weapons systems such as S-400 surface-to-air missiles and Pantsir air defence systems.

Russia last month also announced a series of naval exercises in the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

With roughly one million active-duty military personnel and state-of-the-art weapons, the Russian army is one of the largest and most powerful in the world.

Moscow has the world's second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and a huge cache of ballistic missiles.

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Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles

Putin has also boasted of developing a number of "invincible" weapons that can surpass existing systems, including the Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles.

In recent years the Kremlin strongman has scored a number of battlefield - and foreign policy - triumphs that helped boost his popularity despite economic malaise at home.

In January, Russia swiftly sent troops to the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan to back a Kremlin-friendly regime in what was touted as a peace-keeping operation amid deadly unrest.

In 2015, Russia charged into Syria with an air campaign that turned the tide of a complex conflict in favour of the Damascus regime.

The intervention helped President Bashar al-Assad reclaim swathes of territory his forces had lost to Islamists and Western-backed opposition groups. Syria has also proved a valuable training ground for the Russian military.

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US claims Russia adding more troops

America has claimed that Russia has added 7,000 more troops near the Ukraine borders in recent days, with Biden saying that the possibility of Russian invasion remains “very high”.

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Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile

According to reports, Russia has parked the  Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) systems near the Ukraine border amid escalating tensions.

Reports from Ukraine defence ministry said at least 36 Iskander launchers are now put along the border. Several reports indicated the Iskander ballistic missiles were being transported by train with photos on social media.

On Wednesday, the Russian defence ministry had released a video showing Iskander missile systems taking part in drills conducted in the western military district bordering Europe.

The scheduled exercises were aimed to check the troops' battle readiness, and will continue till January 29.

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'Quite a Sputnik moment'

Putin had used his state of the nation address in 2018 to reveal new hypersonic weapons, including the Zircon, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land with a range of 1,000 kilometre.

The Zircon looks set to join Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles that were put into service in 2019 and the air-launched Kinzhal (Dagger) missiles in Russia's arsenal. Russia is generally seen as the world leader in hypersonic technology.

In fact, after the surprise launch of the hypersonic missile by China, Pentagon's top general Mark Milley had said it was "quite a Sputnik moment".

The general was referring to Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957, which sparked the superpowers' space race.

China denied the report, saying it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.

(Photograph:AFP)

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