President Donald Trump may have promised a new era for relations between the U.S. and Russia, but the world's two leading military powers have found themselves again deeply embroiled in a 21st-century Cold War complete with a new, more advanced arms race.
The Soviet Union is no more, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has made revitalizing and revolutionizing his country's massive military a priority of his leadership. Russia's resurgence in international affairs has drawn extensive criticism from the West and, while a war between the U.S. and Russia remains highly unlikely, Putin's recent victories in Syria showed his forces were potentially capable of outmaneuvering and outperforming a much more powerful U.S. and its allies.
"You know and see better than anyone else that our armed forces have changed radically over the past two years, because our people have proved equal to the task, which is the most important thing, as well as because they have seen how our military equipment works, how command and logistics elements work, and how modern our Armed Forces have become," Putin told personnel returning from Syria late last month.
"The entire world has seen this as well, but the most important thing is that our people have seen it. This is very important, because people must feel protected; they must feel that their security is reliably guaranteed," he added.
Like the U.S., Russia possesses a nuclear triad composed of missiles stationed on land, air and sea, and Putin has set out to modernize all three legs of it. These updates include submarine-fired RSM-56 Bulava ballistic missiles and aerial variants of the 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missile to be fired by the recently-released Tupolev Tu-160M2 strategic bomber, a new and highly improved version of the last bomber built by the Soviet Union.
Last week, Russia's strategic missile force tested the RS-12M Topol, a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) designed to overcome defense systems such as those stationed in Europe. This weapon, along with the long-anticipated R2-28 Sarmat, or "Satan 2," has raised concerns among members of Western military alliance NATO, some of which border Russia and frequently complain about airspace violations. The U.S. has invested heavily in reinforcing this front by sending equipment, including anti-missile technology, and deploying troops.
Russia also may have the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, but it is looking to develop a non-nuclear arsenal powerful enough to make the use of weapons of mass destruction unnecessary to thwart an attack. This includes the recently renovated Tupolev Tu-22M3M supersonic long-range bomber and a planned sixth generation stealth fighter jet slated to replace the Sukhoi Su-57, according to The National Interest. Russia has claimed the world's largest tank force and sought to enhance its armored firepower with new additions such as the T-14 Armata tank and BMPT Terminator. The navy, which currently claims one aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, also was set to see some changes.
"The Navy General Command will particularly focus on forming strategic non-nuclear deterrence groups that will include vessels armed with long-range precision weapons, as well as on improving the system of naval bases and ensuring balanced supply of weapons and munitions," Russian Navy commander Admiral Vladimir Korolyov said Monday, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.
While most analysts rank the U.S. as still far ahead of in terms of military strength when compared to its closest near-peer competitors, Russia and China, recent lightning advances by both countries and their eagerness to work together in the fields of foreign policy, trade and defense have had a lasting impact on the global security infrastructure.
Both Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, have opposed a U.S. hegemony on world affairs, intervening in U.S. approaches to conflicts in the Asia-Pacific and Syria, where Russia claimed in September to have dropped the world's most powerful non-nuclear weapon, an "aviation thermobaric bomb of increased power" known as the "Father of All Bombs (FOAB)" against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), according to Popular Mechanics.
Russia and China also have grown closer as President Donald Trump boosted U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific in response to nuclear-armed North Korea. Both Moscow and Beijing have called on Trump to scale back his rhetoric against North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un and have even conducted joint drills that some experts evaluated as practice for blocking a U.S. attack in the region.
In Europe, recent reports have suggested that, despite its superior budget, size and weaponry, NATO's infrastructure may still quickly be overwhelmed by a full-on Russian assault and that the U.S-led multinational coalition may not even be able to regroup unless it received support from China.
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