It has been two weeks since Russia launched airstrikes in Syria, and now it claims that ISIS has started retreating. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was seen as a decaying, insignificant, and toothless tiger. Western countries believed its Soviet-era military hardware were now obsolete. Russia’s short war in Georgia in 2008 had exposed its military weaknesses, including poor communication and coordination.

Russia Using Syria As Testing Ground For Its Modern Weaponry

Russia gets a chance to test its weapons in real combat

But Moscow has come a long way since the Georgia war. It now spends $81 billion or 4.1% of its GDP on defense. Russia has been aggressively modernizing its military hardware under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin. Though the U.S. has been involved in several wars away from its land since the end of the Cold War, Russia could never fight beyond the Soviet Union territory.

Last year’s annexation of Crimea was a swift and stealth operation. In eastern Ukraine conflict, Russia has denied any direct involvement but it continued to back separatists. Now Moscow has officially jumped into Syria to protect its long-term ally Bashar Al-Assad. And the Syrian conflict gives Russia a chance to test its latest military technology.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges impressed by Russia’s capabilities

The airstrikes in Syria have involved aircraft that have never been used under battle conditions such as the Sukhoi-34 and ship-based cruise missile 3M-14 Kalibr fired about 900 miles from the Caspian Sea. Russia has fired about 26 Kalibr missiles on Syrian targets, and it has sent at least six state-of-the-art Sukhoi-34 to Syria. It also gives President Vladimir Putin an opportunity to showcase the country’s ability to swiftly deploy troops and conduct large-scale operations beyond its borders.

Besides new weaponry, Russian forces were also showcasing their tactics and strategy. Russia set up its operations near Latakia within a matter of three weeks, deploying dozens of tanks and armored vehicles, combat planes, and attack helicopters. Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of United States Army forces in Europe, recently said Russia’s ability to move a lot of stuff real far, real fast “continues to impress me.”

Putin is proving in Syria that Russia is no longer a weak force that could easily be bullied by the West. And Russia’s growing ties with China could further boost Putin’s confidence.