Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sudden announcement of enormous military exercises on the Black Sea has taken many by surprise, and many observers see the sudden announcement as Putin flexing Russia’s military muscles.
There was no international warning about the war games — even Russia’s military leaders were caught off-guard by the announcement, which came at 4 a.m. Moscow time as Putin returned from Durban, South Africa, where he had attended a summit with Brazil, India, and China.
It’s not a small exercise either. Various reports say some 36 warships and almost 7,000 personnel will take place in the exercises on the Black Sea (t’s worth noting that any procedures with more than 7,000 personnel would require Russia to notify other nations).
This video shows Russia’s preparations:
That such a big exercise would be announced so suddenly is unusual. Reuters notes that Putin has repeatedly called for a “strong and agile military” since returning to the presidency last year, and has pledged the biggest military buildup since Soviet times.
The location of the exercise may be important. Ukraine, with whom Russia has had a fraught relationship in the past few years, sits on the Black Sea, as does Georgia, the small country with whom Russia went to war in 2008 (Russia’s military is widely seen as having underperformed in that conflict).
More broadly, the games may be an attempt to remind the Middle East that Russia is an important player. Some speculated that a similar war game in the Mediterranean last year was Russia’s bid to evacuate Russian citizens from Syria. If Bashar al-Assad loses his war against Syrian rebels, Russia may well lose an important naval base in the country.
Russia has also shown a keen interest in tensions between Israel and Iran, apparently fearing the spread of Islamic fundamentalism near it’s southern borders (and Chechnya) — one curious WikiLeaks reference in 2010 alleged that Putin considered Iran Russia’s “biggest threat”.
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