In his annual marathon news conference Thursday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war as a military “exercise” for Russia’s “air forces, air defense,” and “intelligence.”
“We did not start the war” in Syria, Putin told reporters during his end-of-year news conference from Moscow, according to a translation by the state-sponsored news agency Russia Today.
He added: “We are just conducting separate operations, using our air forces, air defense, intelligence. This is not a serious burden for the budget … It’s hard to imagine a better exercise [for the Russian forces]. So we can train there [in Syria] for a long time without any serious harm to our budget.”
Boris Zilberman, a Russia expert at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said he thought the statement was an admission of one of Moscow’s key intentions for the Russian military intervention in Syria.
“I think he is basically saying that the conflict in Syria is allowing Russia to showcase their air and sea capabilities in a real conflict,” Zilberman told Business Insider.
“He doesn’t say it, but I think the point he is getting at is that the conflict in Syria increases the Russians’ military readiness.”
Russia reformed its air force, weaponry, and intelligence after a five-day war with Georgia in 2008 that exposed serious deficiencies in the Russian military’s mass-mobilization capabilities, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The results of these reforms have been showcased in Syria, where Russia began building up its military arsenal in September — two months after Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’sQuds Force, visited Moscow asking for Russia’s help in shoring up the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Read more: Business Insider