MOSCOW – Russia's President Vladimir Putin pledged Monday to continue an ambitious program of building new warships on a trip to Crimea, which Russia has annexed from Ukraine.
Speaking during the keel-laying of two landing vessels at a shipyard in Kerch, Putin said that Russia needs a strong navy to defend its interests and "help maintain a strategic balance and global stability.”
The Kremlin has made military modernization its top priority amid tensions with the West that followed Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine denounced the move, saying on Twitter that “Russia's unauthorized construction of warships on sovereign Ukrainian territory, which it seized by force, violates international norms once again.”
In sync with the keel-laying ceremony in Crimea, Russia also launched the construction of two frigates in St. Petersburg and of two nuclear-powered submarines at the giant Sevmash shipyard in the northern city of Severodvinsk.
Putin said that the navy has commissioned 200 new ships over the past eight years, adding that the modernization will continue.
Seeking to demonstrate its global reach, the Russian navy has increasingly often sent its ships to various parts of the world.
Putin said that the navy currently has 60 vessels on patrol missions.
“We will maintain efforts to develop a modern navy and will build ships armed with new weapons,” he said.
Russian officials noted that the new frigates and nuclear submarines that were laid Monday will be armed with hypersonic weapons.
The military has said that the new Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles capable of striking targets 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away, traveling at 9 times the speed of sound, have undergone successful tests and will equip future navy ships.