MOSCOW, May 7 (UPI) -- As Moscow prepares a massive parade of military might on Saturday, NATO exercises are sending a message of resolve, and Russia is quietly making cuts to its defense plans.
Russia will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its World War II victory with a parade expected to be more robust than usual, with marching soldiers, rolling armaments and overhead maneuvers by its air force.
Meanwhile, NATO countries are staging military exercises of their own this month near Russia's northern borders, as 21,000 Estonian, Latvian and Norwegian troops gather, with state-of-the-art equipment, for a display of their own.
NATO has also developed a rapid-reaction force to better defend Eastern Europe, and the United States has begun training Ukrainian troops.
The swagger of the Russian "Victory Day" ceremonies is also countered by an economic crisis, provoked by Western sanctions against Russia, a global decline in the cost of oil, and the devaluation of the ruble. Each is affecting Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans, announced in 2010, to spend 20 trillion rubles, or $650 billion at that time, to modernize the Russian military. Spending on defense doubled in Russia from 2007 to 2013, and the plan calls for replacing 70 percent of Russian armaments, much of which dates back to the pre-1991 Soviet era.
The Russian economy is expected to contract by 4.6 percent in 2015.
Although the plan calls for replacement of 30 percent of Russia's military equipment in 2015, including the start of 50 new warships and a new "T-14 Armata" tank design, government statistics indicate the defense budget will decline by 5 percent this year.
"The modern Russian economy just does not generate enough resources to finance the current 2011-2020 rearmament program," the Moscow analysis group CAST said in an April report. "This seriously reduces the ability to efficiently renew the Russian armed forces' equipment."
Earlier this week, NATO began "Operation Hedgehog," a ground maneuver exercise, in Estonia, involving 13,500 troops. Three thousand more troops and police took part in "Operation Lightning Strike" in Lithuania, designed to test military-civilian cooperation, and 5,000 Navy personnel from NATO countries participated in anti-submarine exercises off the Norwiegian coast. Each is preparation for defense against the method of invasion and proxy war used in Ukraine; Russia has denied involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.
The NATO shows of force have reinforced Putin's claim that Russia is the victim of a U.S. strategy to involve its neighbors, and former allies, into isolating it and leaving it vulnerable to what Putin says is a plan for regime change in Russia.