Building on a wave of patriotic fervor since he annexed Crimea from Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the army’s biggest defense exhibition at what’s being called a military amusement park.
The Russian Defense Ministry is showcasing its latest weapons at the Army-2015 international forum which began Tuesday at Patriot Park, an exhibition and entertainment complex that’s intended to become a playground for military enthusiasts.
“Young people will not only be able to visit exhibits, but also drive and fly on military equipment, shoot military weapons and do parachute jumps,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at the start of work on the project last July.
The ministry is spending 20 billion rubles ($370 million) on construction at the park, Kommersant reported on June 4, which is expected to be completed in 2017 and covers more than 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) in Kubinka outside Moscow. Plans include an auction center allowing visitors to buy surplus “military vehicles, along with various types of uniforms and equipment,” according to the website of Rostec, the state corporation that oversees Russian defense companies and is involved in developing the project.
Amid the worst tensions with the U.S. and the European Union since the Cold War, Putin has fostered a patriotic mood in Russia that has pushed his public support to a near-record high and crushed domestic opposition. He’s ordered repeated snap military drills in recent months while accusing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of posing a threat to his country’s security as confrontations between Russian and NATO fighter jets rise sharply.
Putin also disclosed in a recent documentary that he was ready to put his nuclear forces on alert during the annexation of Crimea in March last year to deter intervention by the U.S and Europe.
Russia’s strategic forces will get 40 new nuclear missiles this year “capable of overcoming even the most technically advanced anti-missile defense systems,” Putin said at the opening of Army-2015. The military is receiving new weapons and equipment that have “no equivalents in the world,” while the defense industry is an important source of economic growth and is open to cooperation with foreign partners, he said.
There’s a feeling “that our colleagues from NATO countries are pushing us toward an arms race,” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said at the forum on Tuesday in response to reports the U.S. may move heavy weaponry into eastern Europe because of tensions over Ukraine.
Nationalist sentiment is growing as Russia’s economy slides into its first recession for six years, battered by falling oil prices and U.S. and EU sanctions imposed over Crimea and the more than yearlong conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia retaliated by banning some food products from the U.S. and EU, while urging farmers and industrialists to join a broad campaign to replace imported goods with domestic production.
The three-day Army-2015 exhibition is expected to attract more than 100,000 visitors as well as military representatives from 100 countries, with Russia’s latest strategic missiles, fighter jets, tanks and drones on display, RIA Novosti reported on Tuesday, citing the Defense Ministry. Russia sold weapons worth $13.2 billion abroad in 2014 and is the world’s second-largest arms exporter after the U.S., RIA reported in March, citing state defense contractor Rosoboronexport.