MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin told the country's top brass on Wednesday to drastically upgrade the armed forces in the next few years as part of a response to attempts by the United States and NATO to "tip the strategic balance" in the world.
In his address to Russia's defense ministry and top military officials, Putin said Russia is witnessing "insistent attempts" to change that balance and complained about U.S. plans to create a new missile defense system in Europe and the potential expansion of NATO to former Soviet republics.
"Geopolitical developments call for our response to be well-calculated and quick," Putin said, according to a transcript of his speech on the Kremlin's website. "The Russian armed forces must move to a dramatically new level of capabilities as soon as in the next three to five years."
The stated goal of the multibillion-dollar missile defense system planned for Europe is to protect the United States from Iranian missiles. But Russia has repeatedly criticized the plan, claiming it really is intended to counter its own missiles.
Putin blasted the legacy of former Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov who was dismissed in November 2012 amid a corruption scandal involving billions of rubles reportedly embezzled by the ministry and affiliated firms.
While Putin linked the ouster to the corruption probe, most experts believe that Serdyukov was sacked because of an intensifying behind-the-scenes battle for the distribution of 23 trillion rubles ($750 billion) that the Kremlin plans to spend on buying new weapons through 2020.
Serdyukov demanded higher quality and cheaper prices from the military industry, often refusing to sign new contracts for months.
He criticized arms makers for continuing to produce Soviet-era designs instead of developing new weapons, angering industry leaders with strong Kremlin connections.
Under Serdyukov, the military purchased amphibious assault vessels from France, bought Israeli drones, Italian armored vehicles, and other foreign weapons.
The current defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, has confirmed plans to form a new naval squadron that would patrol the Mediterranean Sea.
A small maintenance and supply base in Syria's Tartus, Russia's only naval outpost outside the former Soviet Union, is under threat because of the civil war there.
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