President Vladimir Putin took the helm of what the Kremlin described as the largest nuclear command exercise in Russia's recent history, launching unarmed strategic and cruise missiles from the air, sea and ground. Russian news broadcasts featured images of the fiery launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile from a site near Arkhangelsk, in northern Russia, which was said to have arced across most of Russia and hit its target in the far eastern region of Kamchatka. Another missile was shown bursting up from the Sea of Okhotsk, west of Kamchatka. Dmitri Peskov, Putin's spokesman, said the test took place "under Putin's personal control". "The supreme commander in chief made a high assessment" of the performance of Russia's combat units and staff, Peskov said. "It was the first time in the recent history of Russia that the strategic nuclear forces have held a command exercise on such a scale." Pavel Podvig, a researcher with the Russian Nuclear Forces Project, said such displays were not unusual in Russia, especially at a period when the government was trying to "beef up the military". "Being there and pushing the buttons - that is something that is in his character," Podvig said of Putin. "I wouldn't read it as any particular message." Dmitri Trenin, a military analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, said Putin's involvement was probably intended to give him more credibility in the eyes of the military, an important political constituency. Putin raised military spending as he strove for a convincing margin of victory in March presidential elections. With that race safely behind him, Russia's government is struggling to devise a budget that fulfils his campaign promises, and those increases may be adjusted, Trenin said. Defence spending has opened significant rifts within the government, and was the stated reason for the resignation of one of Putin's most trusted advisers, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin. Kudrin said earlier this month that he had refused repeated offers of government positions because, "the policies I disagreed with remain unchanged". Russian security forces killed 49 militants in an operation across the North Caucasus region, where rebels are fighting to carve out an Islamic state, Russia's top anti-terrorism body said.