MOSCOW — The Russian military has commissioned more than 1,000 new aircraft and thousands of tanks in the past few years in a massive modernization effort amid tensions with the West, the nation’s defense minister said Monday.
Sergei Shoigu boasted of the military's achievements in his six years on the job, saying in a speech to lawmakers that the armed forces have turned into a highly mobile force capable of projecting power to distant areas.
Shoigu noted that the military received more than 1,000 warplanes and combat helicopters and over 3,700 tanks in 2012-2018. He added that the armed forces have received 109 ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and 108 submarine-launched ICBMs and formed 10 brigades armed with state-of-the-art short-range Iskander missiles.
Russia-West ties have plunged to their lowest levels since the Cold War times over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the war in Syria and the allegations of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Amid the tensions, NATO has expanded its presence near Russia’s borders to reassure its eastern members, a buildup Russia has described as a threat to its security.
Relations between Moscow and Washington also frayed over the U.S. decision to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty over alleged Russian violations. The Kremlin has denied any violations and responded by also suspending its obligations under the INF treaty.
Shoigu said that the campaign in Syria that Russia has waged since 2015 showcases its military might and allowed the military to test its new weapons in combat, including shipborne and air-launched long-range cruise missiles.
He noted that the military also has seen a quick expansion in the number of drones, laser-guided artillery projectiles and other precision weapons.
The defense minister emphasized that the 1-million-strong military has nearly 400,000 professional enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers, a major shift for the armed forces that in the recent past relied exclusively on the draft.
Shoigu said that the increase in the number of contract soldiers has allowed the military to form 136 battalions consisting entirely of professional personnel. Such battalion tactical groups are the core tactical units, allowing the armed forces to quickly deploy to any area.
He said that every brigade or regiment in the Russian army now has two battalions of professional soldiers and one made up of draftees. The minister added that the draftees aren't sent into combat.
Battalion tactical groups played a key role during Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine and the West also has accused Russia of sending its troops to support a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine — claims Moscow has denied.
Shoigu mentioned the military’s effort to beef up its presence in Crimea. He also noted that the armed forces have expanded their foothold in the Arctic, deploying 475 facilities there.