Russia displays its military might

May 9, 2008 5:56:48 PM PDT
Russia showcased its military might and youthful new president to the world Friday, as heavy tanks and missile launchers rumbled across Red Square in a Victory Day parade for the first time since the Soviet era. In a nationally broadcast speech two days after his inauguration, President Dmitry Medvedev avoided the bellicose rhetoric of his mentor and predecessor, Vladimir Putin, who drew parallels between United States and Nazi Germany during last year's parade.

However, in his speech marking victory over Adolf Hitler's Germany, the 42-year-old Medvedev said the history of World War II demonstrated that military conflicts are rooted in "irresponsible ambitions which prevail over interests of nations and entire continents."

"We must not allow contempt for the norms of international law," he said, in what sounded like veiled criticism of the United States and its Western allies.

The Kremlin has consistently criticized both the U.S.-led war in Iraq and wide Western recognition of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Russia-allied Serbia as flagrant violations of international legal norms.

A stern-faced Putin, who was named prime minister Thursday, hovered at Medvedev's shoulder on the podium hiding the mausoleum of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin. His face was prominently shown in TV broadcasts - an image that played to the wide belief the former president will continue calling the shots.

Medvedev, his country's third post-Soviet president, hailed the rebuilding Russian military, saying it can "give a reliable protection to the motherland."

"Our army and navy are getting stronger. Just as Russia itself, they are gaining strength," he said.

More than 100 combat vehicles, including intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, rolled across the cobblestone Red Square and strategic bombers and fighter jets roared overhead in the first such display in 18 years.

Medvedev smiled frequently as he watched the parade, which the communist rulers of the Soviet Union made into an annual exercise in saber-rattling directed at the West.

Russia's military spending increased eightfold to an annual $40 billion during Putin's eight-year tenure thanks to the nation's oil bonanza. Analysts, however, say the military suffers the same problems that dented its capabilities and prestige since the Soviet collapse.

Widespread bullying of young conscripts by older soldiers has made the draft extremely unpopular, and rampant corruption and mismanagement plague the military. Despite repeated pledges by Putin to modernize the armed forces, Russia has purchased only a handful of new combat jets and several dozen tanks.

Most of the combat vehicles shown in Friday's parade were slightly modernized versions of Soviet weapons designed in the 1980s.

"As the Soviet Union in the past, Russia wants to demonstrate its might to potential enemies," military analyst Alexander Golts wrote in the online Yezhednevny Zhurnal. "But the West clearly understands the true picture behind the talk of 'rising potential."'

Modern communications and control systems remain scarce, and a Russian equivalent to the U.S. satellite navigation system has failed to come on line as scheduled this year amid equipment shortages. Basics like night goggles, portable radios and satellite phones are rarities.

Russia's navy is in particularly poor shape. Soviet-built nuclear submarines frequently need repairs and rarely leave their bases. The first in a series of new nuclear submarines, the Yuri Dolgoruky, is to be commissioned this year, but the Bulava nuclear-armed missile developed to equip it has failed tests and its deployment prospects are uncertain.


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