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Russia's Got a Hard Road to Travel: While Vladimir Putin has returned to the Russian presidency and touted an expansive 10-year, $800 billion military modernization program, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution said these plans deserve a bit of skepticism. Putin has vowed the Kremlin will overhaul Russian strategic forces and add 600 new combat aircraft in the next decade, explained Steven Pifer, director of the think tank's arms control initiative, during a briefing at AFA's Air & Space Conference outside Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18. However, Russia's new political dynamics are far different than Putin's first go-around as president, said Pifer. Putin has shown his instincts "don't seem to be adjusting" to a more activist and dissatisfied middle class, said Pifer. Compounding this is the fact that Russia's GDP is closely tied to the price of oil and natural gas, which is very unstable, he said. Further, by 2050, the ethnic Russian population is projected to dip to 126 million, noted Pifer. Russia is also "very concerned" about a rising China, he said. It is also concerned about what happens in Afghanistan after NATO leaves, and it has few genuine allies around its periphery, said Pifer.