By Mansur Mirovalev, ZHUKOVSKY, Russia, AP
The largest air show in Russia’s post-Soviet history opened Tuesday to show off the country’s growing military muscle and to try to boost the country’s sagging civilian plane-making sector.
“The task stands before us of supporting our leadership in the production of military aviation technology,” President Vladimir Putin said at the International Aviation and Space Show at the once-secret Zhukovsky military airfield in Moscow’s outskirts.
He said Russian manufacturers “must more actively enter the world market for passenger and transport aircraft with competitive production.”
Russian passenger planes are of such outdated design that airlines flying to European and U.S. destinations must use Western-made planes to meet noise and emissions requirements.
The six-day exhibition will showcase the enhanced MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets and the new S-400 missile defense system, part of massive spending bolstered by Russia’s oil and gas revenues.
“The Russian air forces have some of the nicest aircraft I have ever seen,” Gen. William T. Hobbins, commander of U.S. air forces in Europe, said at the show. “With a Sukhoi and MiG today, we have seen lots of new technology.”
However, some analysts are skeptical.
“There’s been nothing new there for 10 years,” military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told The Associated Press. He characterized the lauded MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets as “flying toys that have not been launched for mass production.”
Almost 800 companies from about 100 countries are participating in the biannual show, the state arms trader Rosoboronexport said. The largest foreign delegations are from China, Latin America and Arab countries. The last show had delegates from 70 countries.
The show follows highly visible moves to reassert Russia’s military strength, including last week’s joint military exercises with China — the first ever on Russian soil — and Putin’s announcement that long-range bombers had resumed patrols over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.
The resumption of bomber patrols comes amid a growing chill in U.S. Russian relations, strained over Washington’s criticism of Russia’s democracy record, Moscow’s objections to U.S. missile defense plans and differences over global crises.
Despite concern that Russia was adopting a newly aggressive posture, Washington also engaged in some scoffing.
“If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that’s their decision,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.