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Putin orders military leaders to boost armed forces

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin told Russia’s top brass Wednesday to drastically upgrade the armed forces in the next few years as part of response to attempts by the United States and NATO to “tip the strategic balance” in the world.

In his address to Russia’s defense ministry and top military officials, Putin said Russia is witnessing “insistent attempts” to change that balance and complained about US plans to create a new missile defense system in Europe and the ­potential expansion of NATO to former Soviet republics.

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“Geopolitical developments call for our response to be well-calculated and quick,” Putin said in a transcript of his speech on the Kremlin’s website. “The Russian armed forces must move to a dramatically new level of capabilities as soon as in the next three to five years.”

The stated goal of the multibillion-dollar missile defense system planned for Europe is to protect the United States from Iranian missiles. But Russia has repeatedly criticized the plan, saying that it really is intended to counter its own missiles.

Putin blasted the legacy of former defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov,dismissed in November amid a corruption scandal involving billions of rubles reportedly embezzled by the ministry and affiliated firms.

While Putin linked the ouster to the corruption inquiry, most observers believe that Serdyukov was sacked because of an intensifying battle for the distribution of $750 billion that the Kremlin plans to spend on new weapons through 2020.

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