Defense chief says Russia to maintain military superiority: Interfax

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) and head of the Russian army's main department of combat preparation Ivan Buvaltsev watch military exercises at the Kirillovsky firing ground in the Leningrad region, March 3, 2014. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday he would not let anyone gain military superiority over Russia and that he would fulfill a plan to modernize the armed forces by 2020.

Russia, hit by Western sanctions over Ukraine and a fall in oil prices, is expected to enter recession this year but Shoigu said he would carry out the multi-billion dollar plan approved by President Vladimir Putin.

“The task set by the president - to prevent (others’) military superiority over Russia - will be fulfilled unconditionally,” Interfax news agency quoted Shoigu as telling a Defence Ministry meeting.

“For that, we plan to fulfill the government armament program and reach by 2020 the intended quantities of modern weapons systems,” he added.

Tensions between Russia and the West have risen over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where the United States and Europe say Moscow is fuelling an insurgency by sending in troops and weapons. Moscow denies this.

Russia has criticized NATO expansion in eastern Europe and Putin has accused the Ukrainian army, which is fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, of being puppets of NATO with a policy of “containing” Russia.

Reporting by Thomas Grove, Editing by Timothy Heritage