Putin attends military exercise in southern Russia

Thousands of Russian troops participated in a military exercise in the Black Sea on Friday, aimed at showcasing Russia's resurgent military might.

President Vladimir Putin attended the drill that also involved 30 navy ships, dozens of combat aircraft and hundreds of armored vehicles.

The exercise, which the Kremlin said was intended to test the military's quick response, was ordered by Putin from aboard the presidential plane on a flight home from South Africa on Thursday.

Putin, who was elected for a third presidential term last year, has made the restoration of Russia's military power one of his top priorities. The government has earmarked 20 trillion rubles ($645 billion) through 2020 for a massive military modernization program that envisages the procurement of hundreds of aircraft and helicopters and dozens of navy ships among other weapons.

Several successive squadrons of Russian navy ships have visited the Syrian port of Tartus, the only naval base Russia has outside the Soviet Union, the voyages intended to underline Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said that Russia plans to establish a permanent navy presence in the Mediterranean similar to the one it had during the Soviet times.

Putin flew in a military helicopter to watch the maneuvers Friday.

The chief of the military's general staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, told Putin that a convoy of 80 armored vehicles quickly made a 450-kilometer (280-mile) journey from their base to the exercise area.

"Now, you tell me honestly how many of them got stranded on the way?" Putin asked. Gerasimov assured him that all vehicles successfully made it to the destination point.

The Kremlin launched a military reform in the wake of the 2008 war with Georgia, when the Russian army struggled to quickly deploy its units to the conflict area with dozens of tanks and other armored vehicles stranded by technical malfunctions on the march.

In its attempt to reform its military, Moscow has cut the number of officers and streamlined its military units.

The military also has sought to increase the number and scope of combat drills, helped by the high oil prices.