It has a remote-controlled turret, it bristles with state-of-the-art defense systems and its computerized controls make driving it feel “like playing a video game.” Russia’s Armata tank, which its creator says can be turned into a fully robotic combat vehicle, is the crowning glory of a sweeping military modernization drive that is rumbling forward amid a perilous confrontation with the West over Ukraine.
But President Vladimir Putin’s expensive arms build-up faces major hurdles as Russia’s economy sinks under the weight of Western sanctions and falling oil prices. The 22-trillion ruble (about $400-billion) program, which envisages the acquisition of 2,300 new tanks, hundreds of aircraft and missiles and dozens of navy ships, was conceived back at the time when Russia’s coffers were brimming with petrodollars.
Putin vowed that the military upgrade would go ahead as planned, and this year’s military budget rose by 33 percent to about 3.3 trillion rubles (nearly $60 billion). Some observers predict that the Kremlin will inevitably have to scale down the plans amid a grinding recession.
In one of the first harbingers of the possible curtailment of new arms procurement, a deputy defense minister said earlier this year that the air force will likely reduce its order for the T-50, a costly state-of-the art fighter jet developed for two decades to counter the U.S. Raptor.
Another problem is also hampering the modernization drive: The sanctions include a ban on the sale of military technology to Russia. Nick de Larrinaga, Europe Editor for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, predicted that Russia would find it hard to replace Western military know-how.
Montenegro will have to beef up its public support for NATO and strengthen the rule of law before it can become a member, the alliance’s secretary-general said Thursday.
The tiny Balkan state is deeply split between its traditional ties with Russia and those wanting to join the Western military alliance. Polls say public support for NATO has never exceeded 40 percent.
Russian officials have warned Montenegro against joining NATO, saying the Kremlin would regard that as a provocation. Montenegro, which has had strong economic and cultural ties with Russia, has joined Western sanctions against Moscow for its policies in Ukraine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Podgorica that Montenegro’s membership bid is in “the crucial phase” and that it will be discussed at NATO’s ministerial meeting scheduled for December.
“We count on Montenegro to continue to strengthen the rule of law and we encourage you to further build public support for membership,” Stoltenberg said after meeting Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic whose long-standing government has often been accused of corruption and mismanagement.
A Russian fighter jet, flying at high speed, came within 10 feet of a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace over the Black Sea late last month, several U.S. officials told CNN Thursday.
The Russian jet flew alongside the U.S. plane at the same altitude, broke off, and then shadowed the plane before leaving the area in the May 30 incident, the officials said. The U.S. aircraft took no evasive measures, and no other details were immediately available. Military officials could not say whether a diplomatic protest had been filed.
The close call comes weeks after another incident between the U.S. and Russia over the skies of Europe, when a U.S. RC-135U flying a routine route in international airspace was intercepted by a Russian SU-27 Flanker in what authorities called an “unsafe and unprofessional manner.”
And earlier this month, the U.S. Navy took the unusual step of releasing video of Russian Su-24 aircraft flying past the right side of the guided missile destroyer USS Ross in the Black Sea.
During a scene that would not be out of place in a Cold War blockbuster, Russian jets flew over a large NATO maritime exercise consisting of dozens of ships and aircraft that were operating in international waters in Baltic Sea on Monday evening. A sailor from USS San Antonio, an amphibious assault ship, was able to capture the moment, showing two unidentified jets flying at low altitude and high speed over the ships. The footage was published on Youtube by the U.S. Navy.
“Sailors and Marines enjoy an air show courtesy of the Russian air force during #BALTOPS2015,” read the posting.
Along with the ships, around 5,600 ground troops are taking part in the joint exercise, which began Tuesday and will end on June 19.
“The goal of these at-sea scenarios is to sustain partnerships, knowledge and skill sets across a broad range of mission areas to strengthen the capabilities of both individual services and our international force,” said the official U.S. BALTOPS website.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has suspended all the Tu-95 Bear bomber flights after a strategic bomber suffered an incident in Russia’s Far East.
“The Tu-95 ran over the runway during acceleration. There was no ammunition onboard. According to preliminary information, engine fire was the cause behind the accident,” Russia’s MoD said according to a report posted by Interfax news agency.
Five crew members were aboard the Bear bomber that skidded off the runway and caught fire at Ukrainka airfield: one crew member was killed and another seriously injured following the incident.
As a consequence, the Russian MoD has ground the Tu-95 fleet pending investigation: this was the second incident involving a Bear bomber in two years. In 2013, a Bear was damaged after fire started behind the cockpit while the aircraft was taxing down the runway preparing for departure.
The Tu-95 is a +60-year old Russian four-engine turboprop-powered strategic bomber and missile platform. The aircraft is often intercepted by U.S. and NATO planes during routine long-range missions across the world.