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Despite Increased Attention on Russian Military Affairs, Questions Remain

Recent news from Russia has involved a flurry of military affairs - the introduction of new weapons, the suspension of a key international treaty, training exercises, and most recently, a missile incident in neighboring Georgia. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky takes a closer look at these developments.

The Russian Air Force announced the renewal of its TU-160 strategic bomber, while Russian forces began military exercises with China and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

In recent weeks, other Russian military matters have been in the news.

In a nostalgic look back, Russia marked the 60th anniversary of the Kalashnikov rifle.

President Vladimir Putin last month suspended Russian participation on the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. And Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov threatened to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad if NATO installs a missile defense system in Poland.

Last week, the country celebrated Army Paratrooper Day, and on Tuesday, the Russian military upgraded its missile defense system around Moscow.

General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of staff of the Russian Armed Forces, gave a personal report about the system and its S-400 missile to President Putin.

"The system has good prospects, which will allow us to use nanotechnology, among other advances, to increase the effective range and altitude of this missile," he said.

President Putin welcomed the general's report.

"I congratulate all of the engineers, workers, military officers and all who worked on resolving and completing the task," said Mr. Putin.

The flurry of military news puts the Russian armed forces in a good light following a period of stagnation and decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But independent Russian military analyst Alexander Khramchekhin told VOA that deployment of the S-400 was delayed for nearly seven years because of development problems. He said this is one of many signs that the stagnation period is not over.

He said to a significant degree the restoration of the Russian Army is public relations, not reality.

"This is partly an attempt to resolve a psychological complex, in other words, to show that we were weak, but have become as strong as before. This is largely a propaganda campaign for domestic rather than foreign consumption," he noted.

Khramchekhin adds that Russian oil resources are giving this country more money than it has probably ever had.

Another matter is how effectively money appropriated for military needs is being used, he said.

"Actually, our military budget is not bad, but acquisitions of military hardware are microscopic in scale," he added.

The Russian military also has a personnel problem. The country's bloody and costly fight with Chechen separatists in the Caucasus, as well as brutal military hazing have led to widespread draft dodging among the country's young men.

In a related development, Russia and Georgia are blaming one another for a missile that fell without exploding Tuesday about 60 kilometers from Tbilisi. Georgia says it has a radar record of the alleged incursion of two Russian attack jets into its air space. Russia rejects the charges, saying Georgia staged the missile incident.

Relations between the two countries have plummeted over Russia's support for separatists in Georgia's South Ossetia region, and also because of Kremlin opposition to Georgia's increasingly pro-Western orientation.