http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/0...92R0Z320130328President Vladimir Putin ordered 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 neighbours.
Officials suggested the surprise drill would test reaction speed and combat readiness, but Putin's order also seemed a signal to the West of Russia's presence in the region.
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Putin triggered the manoeuvres 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 planes would take part, but not how long 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 manoeuvres must be held with less advance warning, to keep soldiers on their toes.
Putin, 60, has used his role as commander-in-chief to cast himself as a strong leader for whom national security is foremost. State media emphasised he ordered the exercises from a plane in the dead of night.
Russia's Black Sea Fleet, whose main base is in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, was instrumental in a war with ex-Soviet neighbour Georgia in 2008 over the Russian-backed breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
In addition to Georgia and Ukraine, Russia shares the Black Sea with Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania.
But Russian foreign affairs analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said the exercises were "more likely part of a wider attempt to reconfirm that Russia's navy and military forces in the south are still able to play a political and geopolitical role."
"It is flexing muscles and may have more to do with what is happening in the Mediterranean, around Syria, than in the Black Sea," said Lukyanov, editor of journal Russia in Global Affairs.
Russia's modest naval maintenance and supply facility in Syria is its only military base outside the former Soviet Union, and the Defence Ministry recently announced plans to deploy a naval unit in the Mediterranean on a permanent basis.
Russia has clashed diplomatically with the West throughout a two-year conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people in Syria, using its U.N. Security Council veto to block Western efforts to push President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Moscow-based military analyst Alexander Golts said unannounced exercises are good for Russia's military, but the location could raise questions among Russia's neighbours.
"We will be watching these exercises very closely as Georgia has its own experience with Russia," Tedo Japaridze, head of the Georgian parliament's foreign relations committee, told Reuters. He said all Black Sea nations have the right to hold exercises.
The Kremlin portrays Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as a bellicose leader, and Russia said last week annual U.S.-Georgian training exercises that began this month in Georgia, far from the Black Sea coast, put peace at risk.
Meanwhile, disputes with Ukraine over Moscow's continued lease of the Black Sea navy base have been a thorn in relations with its former Soviet neighbour.
Peskov said the number of servicemen participating was short of the threshold requiring Russia to notify other nations of its plans, but Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted a spokesman for Ukraine's foreign minister, who was in Moscow on Thursday, as saying Ukraine had been informed in advance.
A NATO official said the Western alliance was not given notice and that "exercises are part of what the military do. NATO also conducts regular military exercises, which are not directed at anyone". But he said NATO would like to see greater openness from Russia, including on military exercises.
Putin flexes Russian military muscle in naval exercise Watch
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- 29-03-2013 02:54
- 29-03-2013 14:40
OOC: *****, please:
- 29-03-2013 18:06
The Republic of South Africa does not see what the problem is. Every country has the right to defend itself as long as these exercises are not provocative towards a certain nation or people.
- 29-03-2013 22:55
The Swiss Confederation and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan hope that these naval exercises will not create tensions.
The Republic of India does not see the problem with these exercises. We hope they are successful.
- 30-03-2013 01:52
Canada, as a member of NATO concurs that Russia be more open in their naval exercises in future to reduce any potential tensions.
The Islamic Republic of Iran encourages these exercises and hopes that Russia's exercises prove successful.
- 02-04-2013 01:03
Malaysia hopes that these naval exercises do not present a provocative prompt for neighbouring countries. We urge Russia to act in the best interests of the international community.
- 05-04-2013 17:23
The UK see's littleissue with these drills aside from their quite clearly provocative nature, what wemore object to is Russias policy of sending long range bombers on patrols near our air space.
- 14-04-2013 13:43
Libya feels this is perfectly acceptable. We imagine this isn't the first operation of this nature to come from any of the major powers.