Putin attends Russia’s biggest drill in years

Putin attends Russia’s biggest drill in years

Putin attends Russia’s biggest drill in years

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) is seen through the glass of C-Explorer 5 submersible after a dive to see the remains of the naval frigate "Oleg", which sank in the 19th century, in the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea July 15, 2013. REUTERS photo

Russian President Vladimir Putin today watched his country’s biggest military maneuvers since Soviet times, with 160,000 troops and roughly 5,000 tanks participating in the exercises across Siberia and the far eastern region in a massive show of the nation’s resurgent military might.

Dozens of Russia’s Pacific Fleet ships and 130 combat aircraft also took part in the exercise, which began on July 12 and continue through this week. Putin watched some of the drills on Sakhalin Island in the Pacific, to which thousands of troops were ferried and airlifted from the mainland.

The maneuvers are part of recent efforts to boost the military’s mobility and combat readiness. As part of the drills held across several time zones, some army units were deployed to areas thousands of kilometers away from their bases, the Associated Press reported.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov assured foreign military attachés on July 15 that the exercise was part of regular combat training and was not directed against any particular nation, though some analysts believe the show of force was aimed at China and Japan.

Konstantin Sivkov, a retired officer of the Russian military’s General Staff, told the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the Sakhalin part of the maneuvers was intended to simulate a response to a hypothetical attack by Japanese and U.S. forces.

Russia and Japan have a dispute over a group of Pacific islands, which Russia calls the Kurils and Japan calls the Northern Territories. Russia and China also had territorial disputes for centuries.

The maneuvers are part of recent efforts to boost the military’s mobility and combat readiness after years of post-Soviet decline, but they have far exceeded previous drills in both numbers and territorial scope.

A day before the drill, Putin took to a red submersible to dive 50 meters and examine the wreck of a 19th-century frigate, his latest stunt in 13 years of power to assert his carefully crafted action-man image, Reuters reported.

Wearing a black jacket, blue jeans and white sporting shoes, Putin sat comfortably in the capsule’s glassed front and submerged into the Gulf of Finland to look at the wooden wreck. He resurfaced smiling after some 20 minutes and praised the work of the Russian Geographic Society, which has been studying the sunken vessel, for honoring the memory of Russian sailors who perished in the sea, including during World War II.