03/16/2015 05:20 EDT | Updated 05/16/2015 05:59 EDT

Russia sending message it's still a player with Arctic exercise: NORAD commander

COLORADO SPINGS, Colo. - The U.S. commander of North American air defence says the massive Russian polar exercise, involving tens of thousands of combat troops, ships, submarines and aircraft, is intended to send a message to the world that Moscow is still a global player.

The training, one of the Kremlin's biggest shows of force since the end of the Cold War, brought the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet to full combat status on Monday.

U.S. Admiral Bill Gortney, the commander of NORAD, met with Defence Minister Jason Kenney and said the message from the exercise is clear — but what the Russians hope to accomplish beyond that remains a mystery.

The drill is being held just ahead of a large NATO Arctic exercise taking place in Norway, and as preparations are made to mark the first anniversary of the referendum which resulted in the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

For months, NORAD has been dealing with an increase in Russian warplanes testing North American airspace boundaries, and it's something Kenney says the federal government has "noted with interest."