Russia Conducts Record Military Exercises

The government says the largest exercises since Soviet days are to test Russian readiness. Some analysts think it is to remind China and Japan that Russia remains powerful.

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Today, Russia is wrapping up its biggest military maneuver since the Soviet era, an exercise that's designed to test its military readiness on land, sea and in the air. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports that it may also be an effort to show Russia's Far Eastern neighbors that it is still a force to be reckoned with.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Russian President Vladimir Putin watched part of the war games this week at a firing range in southern Siberia.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He said Russia's forces were tested in unfamiliar territory and that they showed a high degree of combat readiness. The territory was Russia's Far East and some analysts say the maneuvers were a message to neighbors, such as China, Japan and the United States. Igor Korotchenko is the editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine, and he watched the exercise as a guest of Russia's defense minister.

IGOR KOROTCHENKO: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He says the maneuvers are not meant to threaten anyone but to show that Russia wouldn't be an easy prey. Korotchenko points out that the exercise included forces that have nuclear capability as a deterrent to countries that outweigh Russia in terms of conventional forces. He's not naming names, but that label only applies to the United States and China. Russian military expert Alexander Goltz points out that the war games included chemical and biological warfare defense brigades. He says Russian defense officials fear that some countries in the region might resort to such weapons.

ALEXANDER GOLTZ: It shows that Russia is seriously thinking about possibility of huge conflict on Korean peninsula.

FLINTOFF: Officially, the roster of Russian forces in this exercise is impressive - 160,000 troops and more than 5,000 tanks and armored vehicles, 70 ships from Russia's Pacific fleet and 130 war planes, including strategic bombers. But Goltz says those numbers don't add up. There are far too many troops and too few personnel carriers, for instance. On the first day, he says, the official number was 1,000 tanks and other vehicles.

GOLTZ: Next day, they suddenly understood that it means that we have one vehicle for 160 guys.

FLINTOFF: He says defense officials later altered the numbers to make them seem more plausible but that they still conflict with publicly available information. The result, he says, that it's difficult to assess whether the maneuvers were as successful as defense officials claim. Still, he says, the exercises do amount to a big achievement for Russia's military, which has been struggling to become a modern force. It's an effort that Putin has committed to, promising more than $615 billion in new defense spending through the year 2020. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

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