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Russia to beef up military capability in south, Black Sea fleet


MOSCOW, March 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will enhance the defense capabilities of its troops deployed in the country's "southern region," including the Black Sea Fleet, a deputy defense minister said on Thursday.

Gen. Vladimir Popovkin said after thoroughly analyzing "the outcome of the South Ossetian conflict," the Defense Ministry had proposed an array of measures to strengthen its troops in the country's southern region, as well as the Black Sea Fleet.

He said the Ground Forces would be provided with new multiple rocket launching systems and reconnaissance assets, while supplies of arms and military equipment would be generally increased.

In the Air Force, the modernization of MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters and Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack planes and Mi-28H Night Hunger helicopter gunships is to be completed and new warplanes (including Su-27SM, Su-30MK-2) and combat helicopters (including Ka-52, Mi-28N, Mi-24M, and Mi-8MTB5) will be supplied.

The Air Defense Forces will be provided with new Pantsir-S surface-to-air missile systems.

Popovkin said naval units would be supplied with new Lada Project 677 diesel-electric submarines, modernized versions of the Varshavyanka-class submarine, and Bal-U mobile coastal missile systems.

The Russian Navy dismissed last month media reports claiming that its Black Sea Fleet, based in Ukraine, had been put on alert and was preparing to urgently go to sea.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet currently uses a range of naval facilities in Ukraine's Crimea as part of a 1997 agreement, under which Ukraine agreed to lease the bases to Russia until 2017.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced last summer that Ukraine would not extend the lease of the base in the Crimean city of Sevastopol beyond 2017, and urged Russia to start preparations for a withdrawal.

Russian media previously reported that Moscow was also looking at possible naval facilities in Yemen, Syria and Libya, among other countries. Russian military officials are also on record as saying Moscow could build up its presence in the Mediterranean to make up for the possible loss of Sevastopol.

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