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Russia intensifies efforts to rebuild its military machine

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At a major security conference this past weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted the US for its militaristic approach to foreign policy, saying its actions were "nourishing an arms race."

But little noticed amid the sharp US and European response to Mr. Putin's comments is Russia's burgeoning military-industrial complex, generally thought to have collapsed with the Soviet Union.

The cold war days when the USSR matched the US missile-for-missile may be gone. But experts say that Russia is increasingly capable of turning out cutting-edge weaponry and selling it to countries that are shunned by Western suppliers.

"The fact that our country is playing a leading role in the world in the sphere of export of military production is a sign that the Russian defense industry has not only survived but has a powerful potential for further development," Sergei Chemezov, the head of the state arms-export monopoly Rosoboronexport, told a political meeting late last year.

Russian defense budgets have been soaring since Putin came to power, buoyed by a rising tide of petroleum income, and are set to jump by 23 percent in 2007 to a post-Soviet high of $32.4 billion. Moscow does arms business with over 70 countries, including China, Iran, and Venezuela, and in 2006 exported $6 billion worth of arms.

"Under Putin there has been a wish and an attempt to go beyond the Soviet inheritance," in developing high-tech military capabilities, says Ivan Saffranchuk, Moscow director of the independent World Security Institute. "Now there's cash, and a good political situation, to intensify that effort."

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