From Alexei Anishchuk, ReutersVladimir Putin ordered military leaders on Wednesday to make urgent improvements to the armed forces during his new presidential term, saying Russia must thwart attempts by the West to tip the strategic balance of power.

Putin’s remarks, to rows of uniformed officers and defence officials, reflected increasing hawkishness since he returned to the Kremlin for a six-year term last May, and a growing readiness to cite foreign threats and use anti-Western rhetoric to rally support.

"Attempts are being made to tip the strategic balance," said Putin, who as president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, told his audience at the General Staff academy on Moscow’s outskirts. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, sat in the front row.

"Geopolitical dynamics call for a quick and considered response … Russia’s armed forces must move on to a new level of capabilities in the next three to five years," said Putin, who has not ruled out seeking another term in 2018.

The former KGB spy said moves that threatened Russia’s geopolitical position included the eastward expansion of Russia’s former Cold War foe NATO and U.S. deployment of an anti-missile shield in Europe. . . .

Following a decade of military spending cuts after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin has been the driving force behind plans to spend 23 trillion roubles ($750 billion) through 2020 to upgrade Russia’s ageing armaments. . . .

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, the ally Putin named to replace Serdyukov, said on Wednesday he would make an inventory of army property to try to reduce corruption, widely seen as the main obstacle to modernisation.

Shoigu also said Russia needs warships in the Mediterranean at all times "to protect its national interests".

Russia has a modest naval maintenance facility in the Syrian port of Tartous that is its only military base outside the ex-Soviet Union, but it does not have a constant presence in the Mediterranean.  (photo: Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti)