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Despite faltering economy, Russia will continue defense upgrade

In the face of a moribund economy and growing tensions with the west, Moscow will move ahead with a planned decade-long upgrade of the Russian military, raising 2015 defense spending to 3.3 trillion rubles ($50 billion), a 30 percent nominal increase over last year.

Despite predictions that the Russian economy will shrink in 2015 and calls for reductions in defense spending by some members of his government, Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed the overhaul on Thursday.

“We are successfully carrying out an ambitious program to modernize the army and navy, including active modernization of our air and space defenses and nuclear forces. This is the guarantee of global parity,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin translation.

The plans include upgraded communications and missile systems as well as new tanks, aircraft and nuclear-powered submarines.

The spending increase is part of Putin’s State Armaments Plan for 2011-2020.

The goal of the 20.7 trillion-ruble plan is to replace 70 percent of the Russian military’s outmoded equipment with modern technology by 2020, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The defense improvements were announced in 2011, after Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia revealed deficiencies in the country’s aging military hardware.

Some have since expressed doubts about whether the Kremlin can afford the costly upgrades, which were planned based on predictions of six percent annual gross domestic product growth through the end of the decade.

Last month, Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said the country’s GDP is expected to fall three percent this year, according to Russian news agencies.

In October, Reuters reported that Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov had acknowledged the budget crunch.

“When we were adopting the defense program, the forecasts for the economy and budget revenues were completely different. Right now, we just cannot afford it,” Siluanov said.

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