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The story of the Russian military in the 21st century is a story of two perspectives. One the one hand, we can see it as a resurgent
force, seeking to upgrade its post-Cold War status and become a global power again. On the other is the image of an aging, monolithic
body of troops, still flying Soviet jets and bearing aging Kalashnikovs. Both ring true. According to an independent
breakdown of the latest Kremlin stats, Russia’s manpower exceeds 798,000. The army is its most sizeable component, with the Navy in second. Of these troops, those deployed overseas are
largely concentrated in former Soviet states. There is also significant Russian military
presence in disputed regions where Russia is effectively propping up a separatist insurgency. At least 3,200 Russian troops are stationed
in Georgia, while there are 7,000 in Moldova’s Transnistria. Moscow is officially backing
separatists in both countries and are there without either nation’s consent. Less clear is the extent of Russia’s presence
in eastern Ukraine. At the peak of the conflict in early 2015, Western allies estimated Russia
had up to 12,000 troops in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. By Kiev’s estimates this number has reduced
by a few thousand as fighting has faded into more sporadic skirmishes. According to the latest figures from the World
Bank, Russia spent approximately 5.4 percent of its GDP on defense in 2016, higher than
both the U.S. and China. In 2010, Moscow announced a plan to upgrade
its military equipment to the tune of $720 billion by 2020. But plummeting oil prices and sanctions imposed
on Russia by the West have halted the plans. The military has had to cut purchases of new
combat equipment significantly. Russia originally ordered 52 PAK-FA T-50 stealth
fighter jets but due to problems with the plane and
rising costs, it has cut this down to 12. The mainstay of the air force remains the
SU-27 and MiG-29 that first flew in the 1970s. In 2015, the government announced plans to have 2,300 state-of-the-art Armata T-14
battle tanks in service by 2020. A year later, they announced
plans to refurbish over 3,000 of the T-80 tanks that
were produced from 1976 to 1992. Russia has the most nuclear warheads in the world. It is believed to have around 7,300 nukes, compared to America’s estimated 6,970 warheads. While the majority of these are from the Cold
War era, the military is currently testing out its first new intercontinental ballistic
missile in decades, the RS-28 Sarmat. Russia’s state media claims the nuclear weapon is expected to enter service in 2018 and will be able to carry 10 heavyweight warheads— enough power to wipe out Texas or France. But can Russia afford to continue to devote
an increasing share of its GDP to the military forces? A weakened economy struggling out of recession makes spending to maintain and
update its fighting force a challenge. But with Russia’s direct involvement
in the Syrian Civil War since 2015, and increased tensions with the
West, President Vladimir Putin
is keen to project a powerful image of Russia’s military
might to the world.

Tony wyaad