MOSCOW – Russia is to beef up its military forces all the way from its western border to the Pacific islands amid ongoing strains with the West, the military said Friday.
No financial details were disclosed but the buildup will likely be costly and takes place at a time when the Russian economy is in recession under the dual impact of low oil prices and Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its role in the Ukrainian crisis.
While announcing the buildup, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the deployment of NATO’s forces near Russia’s borders has caused concern. As part of a response, he said new units in the Western Military District, including two new divisions, will be formed.
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The military forces in western Russia will receive 1,100 new weapons systems, including warplanes, helicopters, tanks and other armoured vehicles.
In the far east, the military will deploy state-of-the art Bal and Bastion anti-ship missile systems and new drones to the southern Kurils, a group of islands that Japan calls the Northern Territories and claims as its own.
The dispute over the islands, which were seized by the Soviet army in the closing days of World War II, has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty to formally end their hostilities.
The anti-ship missile systems to be deployed on the disputed islands are capable of hitting targets more than 300 kilometres (over 185 miles) away.
Shoigu said Russia is also mulling the possibility of setting up a naval base on the islands. Ships of Russia’s Pacific Fleet will visit the area in the summer to study possible locations, he said.
The defence minister said the military will also continue to strengthen its presence in the Arctic region. As part of efforts to build military facilities on Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt, the Defence Ministry delivered 9,500 metric tons of equipment and materials during last year’s brief navigation season, he said.
The Kremlin has made expanding Russia’s military presence in order to protect the country’s national interests in the Arctic a top priority in light of increasing international interest in the region’s vast oil and other resources.
Across Siberia, the military will focus on deploying top-of-the line air defence missile systems to protect the vast region, Shoigu said.
© 2016 The Canadian Press