How Putin’s military firepower compares to the West
As Vladimir Putin prepares to unveil his new tanks at Saturday’s Victory Day parade, here is a look at how Russian forces measure up to those of Britain and the US
New T-14 Armata tanks move along a street in Moscow following Victory Day military parade night training Photo: Alexander
Fifteen years after Vladimir Putin first walked into the Kremlin, Russia’s army is bigger, stronger, and better equipped than at any time since the end of the Cold War.
• Vladimir Putin’s new tanks to be revealed at Victory Day parade
Able to call on three quarters of a million frontline troops, more tanks than any other country on the planet, and the world’s third largest air force, Russia retains much of the brute force associated with a former superpower.
But it has also rapidly modernised, spending millions on rearmament and retraining programmes aimed at professionalising the lumbering, conscript-reliant force it inherited from the Soviet Union.
• Russia’s military displayed during Victory Day Parade in Moscow’s Red Square
The world got its first glimpse of Mr Putin’s new model army a year ago, when “little green men” with gleaming new uniforms and weapons annexed Crimea in a bloodless but extremely efficient operation.
The force has since performed with deadly effectiveness in Ukraine, with mounting evidence suggesting that elite airborne and tank regiments played key roles in several decisive engagements, including February’s brutal battle for the rail hub of Debaltseve.
But just how powerful is it?
With an estimated 766,000 troops under arms and another 2.5 million in reserve, Russia’s armed forces have shrunk under Mr Putin to the fourth largest in the world, behind China (2.3 million), India (1.4 million) and the United States (1.3 million).
In the relatively low-tech, high fire-power weapons that have defined the Ukraine conflict, it remains unsurpassed, with more tanks, self propelled artillery, and multiple rocket launch systems than any other country on the planet.
Mr Putin launched a modernisation programme after Russia’s short but messy war with Georgia in 2008.
While Russia triumphed, its performance was sloppy to say the least – and apparently convinced Mr Putin that if he was to use force again in his “near abroad”, his armies would need an overhaul.
So in 2009 the Kremlin jacked up military spending by nearly a third, and notwithstanding difficulties following the global financial crisis, it has continued to grow ever since.
Last year Russia spent an estimated 3.247 trillion rubles (£42.6 billion) – equivalent to 4.5 per cent of GDP – on defence, according to the SIPRI, a Swedish think tank. That’s up from 3.6 per cent of GDP since Mr Putin came to power in 2000.
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