Putin’s claims provide further evidence of growing tensions between Russia and the West.
Russia’s military modernization in spite of economic troubles
Putin said that a “powerful army equipped with modern weapons is the guarantor of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia.” Approval ratings for the Russian president reached a record high in the month of June, in spite of an ailing economy.
He spoke of his commitment to a military modernization program which will involve high levels of investment in new weaponry. The promise to spend over $400 billion by 2020 may seem unlikely given the fact that Russia is officially in recession, but Putin plans to acquire tens of ships, hundreds of planes and missiles and thousands of new tanks.
One part of the upgrade plan is the newly developed Armata tank, which military experts say is more advanced than any existing Western tank. Advanced armor and digital defense capabilities sit on top of an adaptable chassis, which manufacturers will also use for a variety of other military equipment, reducing assembly times and maintenance costs for the next generation vehicles.
Relations with West increasingly difficult
Despite the ambitious military plans, Putin emphasized that Russia did not plan to be aggressive in its relations with the outside world, and wants to “settle any disputes exclusively by political means with respect to international law and interests of other nations.”
NATO and Russia are currently engaged in a game of military brinkmanship in Eastern Europe, with each side blaming the other for increased tensions which have raised the specter of a return to the nuclear standoff last seen during the Cold War.
Relations with the West continue to deteriorate as a result of the conflict in Ukraine. U.S. and EU sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the Russian annexation of Crimea were recently extended until January 2016, and the Russian Cabinet retaliated by extending its ban on agricultural imports from the EU by another year.
Tit-for-tat economic sanctions, military exercises and aggressive rhetoric are all symptoms of increased tensions.
Putin remains popular despite recession
Western sanctions and lower oil prices have contributed to Russia’s slide into recession, and caused the first drop in income since Putin came to power in 2000, but the Russian president has successfully blamed the economic problems on outside influences.
Although Russia is suffering economically, its citizens do not seem to blame Putin, whose approval ratings reached 89% this month, according to data gathered by independent opinion research firm the Levada Center.
Support for Putin can be attributed to his tight control of state media, which broadcasts consistently positive coverage of his actions and blames the crisis in Ukraine on the West, which Putin claims is trying to weaken Russia.
Levada chief Lev Gudkov claims that TV propaganda is a major factor in maintaining Putin’s approval ratings. “This is a very aggressive and false propaganda,” he said. “All alternative channels, therefore all alternative points of view, assessments are pushed out of the public sphere.”
It appears that tight control of the media is allowing Putin to suppress opposition to his leadership, and Russia is winning the information war against the United States.