World Bulletin/News Desk
Russia will increase its Black Sea fleet with more than 80 new warships by 2020 and will complete a second naval base for the fleet near the city of Novorossiysk by 2016, its commander said on Tuesday.
In comments made to President Vladimir Putin as he visited the port city, Vice Admiral Alexander Vitko said a second Black Sea base was needed in addition to the main base on the Crimea peninsula annexed from Ukraine because of NATO expansion.
NATO has regularly conducted naval exercises in the Black Sea, especially since Russia annexed Crimea, populated mainly by ethnic Russians, in March partly from fear that Ukraine's new pro-Western authorities might try to join the Atlantic alliance.
"Our Black Sea allies have ports that we use from time to time but (there are) no plans to build a "Nato" base as suggested," the official said.
The former Soviet republic of Georgia, on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, has sought membership in the past but like Ukraine is very unlikely to be admitted any time soon due to Moscow's fierce opposition to NATO's further eastern expansion.
On Tuesday, Shoigu was overseeing Russian military exercises involving 155,000 servicemen in the Far East. He told Putin in a video conference that the army's firepower and assault capabilities had increased lately as part of spending plans for the armed forces set to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
"The firing, assault and manoeuvre capabilities ... have increased due to the supplies of modern weapons and equipment," Shoigu said.
Russia plans to spend 21 trillion roubles ($545 billion) by the end of the decade on refurbishing Russia's armed forces. Some of those funds will be used to improve the defence infrastructure of Crimea.
Russia has staged several military exercises this year, including near Ukraine's border, which have contributed to the tensions with the West, which sees the increased training as sabre rattling amid the persistent disagrements over Ukraine.Last Mod: 23 Eylül 2014, 16:22