MOSCOW — Russia’s president Vladimir Putin on Tuesday opened a massive military expo in a brand new army exhibition center just outside Moscow, unveiling another major project meant to showcase Russia’s armed forces as modern and professional.
In the past five years, Russia has spent hundreds of billions of dollars modernizing its military; this year alone it will spend $57 billion on defense. Much of this has gone towards rearming the Russia’s troops, supplying them with new tanks and armored vehicles.
But the modernization efforts are not limited just to buying new weapons. Russia’s army has been overhauling its training, recruitment and, most recently, its image. Beginning with its logo, the army has been undergoing a re-branding. Uniforms and paint jobs have been redesigned, as have mess halls and rec rooms; Russia’s defense ministry has even launched its own clothing line, modeled after popular European brands. The idea is to make the Russian military more appealing to young Russians.
The exhibition center and expo are part of this trend. Named Park Patriot, the exhibition center will eventually form part of a military-themed amusement park. It has vast car-parks — the government appears to be expecting a lot visitors.
Under Putin the military has become a more and more prominent part of Russian society. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year and with tensions now high with the West, the army has become a constant feature on state television and a theme at many public events. The number of military exercises has also jumped considerably, taking place almost continuously since the Ukraine crisis began.
But behind the shiny exteriors of the expo and re-branding, the modernization plans are running into difficulties.
The drop in oil prices has forced Russia to cut back on defense spending for the first time since 2010. The Russian government has announced that it is trimming its budget by roughly 5 percent for 2015, reducing it to $57 billion instead of $60 billion. A number of economists have warned Russia’s budget cannot sustain this level of military spending while its economy continues to struggle, stifled by Western sanctions over Ukraine and more significantly by low energy prices.
Even with the cuts, Russia still has the fourth largest defense budget in the world, although its spending is dwarfed by that of the United States, which is set to spend well over $500 billion this year.