11 august 2008

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chaired a Government Presidium meeting

Vladimir Putin

Meeting of the Government Presidium on August 11, 2008.

"Today we will make decisions on the allocation of funds to help the victims of the humanitarian catastrophe. We have agreed with the Ministry of Finance that it will amount to 500 million roubles. We will continue to provide support to the people there."

Vladimir Putin's opening remarks:

Good afternoon, colleagues.

We will begin today's meeting with the discussion of the critical situation in South Ossetia. As you know, I have recently visited North Ossetia, where I evaluated the work of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, our health services, and local authorities. I also met with the refugees.

What can I say - it is certainly a tragedy. An enormous, humanitarian tragedy. As you know, we have warned our partners, our western partners, many times before, stating that one of the sides - the Georgian side - was preparing for an aggression, was preparing to solve this ongoing conflict with the use of force. Nobody listened to us. Now you can see the result.

Nevertheless, Russia will certainly carry its peacemaking mission to its logical conclusion. We will attempt to build productive dialogue with all the participants of this conflict, including, certainly, the Georgian side.

It is a pity that some of our partners are not helping us, and are even trying to intervene. What I am talking about, for example, is the transfer of the Georgian military contingents from Iraq directly into the conflict zone using the United States' military transport planes. This will not change anything, but this is a step in the opposite direction from resolving the situation.

What is surprising is not even the cynicism of such actions, because politics, as they say, is a cynical business in general. What is surprising is the level of cynicism. What surprises is the ability to swap good and bad, black and white, the slick ability to pose an aggressor as a victim of the aggression, and to make the victims responsible for its consequences.

But, of course, Saddam Hussein had to be hanged for destroying several Shiite villages. And the present Georgian leadership, who have simply wiped out ten Ossetian villages from the face of this planet, whose tanks were running over children and old men, who have burned civilians alive in sheds - these people, certainly, had to be taken under protection. If I am not mistaken, Ronald Reagan once said about a Latin American dictator: "Somoza is a bastard, but he is our bastard. And we will help him, we will protect him."

Many things have changed since then; the world has changed dramatically. The Cold War was over a long time ago. But this "Cold War" mentality is still in the minds of some American diplomats. Too bad. Nevertheless, we will continue building our relationships with all partners, including our American partners. We will do everything, as I said in the beginning, to carry our peacemaking mission to its logical conclusion. At the President's request, most of this work will be done by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Today, we will continue our discussion on humanitarian tasks; there are many of them there. All conflicts eventually come to an end, and it is necessary to think about minimising the consequences of these conflicts. In this case, it is necessary to do as much as possible to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the region. We need to help the people to survive these terrible days, to provide all the victims - the wounded, the refugees and civilians - with timely and effective assistance. This includes providing them with living quarters and medical treatment.

I have looked around - overall, everything that was needed has been done. And when I asked people about the situation, whether they were happy, the answer was: "We are happy with everything, thank you very much."

I can tell you: I saw it with my own eyes, it is not enough. The living conditions are very modest, to put it mildly, and we should do everything in our power to improve the situation.

For these purposes, the Government of the Russian Federation is prepared to provide all the necessary resources, both financial and material.

By today the following resources have been transferred to North Ossetia: 21 power stations, 23 water treatment stations, and two mobile hospitals. In addition, 2,700 additional beds have been installed at hospitals in the Southern Federal District, ready to treat the injured. Refugees in the region have been provided with tons of medical supplies, food and water. Considerable amount of cargo is en route. For your information, I can say that 136 tons of food, 90.5 tons of water, 39 tons of medical supplies and equipment have already been delivered. Rescue teams of the Ministry of Emergency Situations are moving directly into the territory of South Ossetia, into Tskhinvali area. Mobile hospitals are a part of the convoy.

Our experts are working on restoring communications in the zone of the conflict to give the civilians remaining there a chance to get in touch with their relatives and loved ones.

Today we will make decisions on the allocation of funds to help the victims of the humanitarian catastrophe. We have agreed with the Ministry of Finance that it will amount to 500 million roubles. After the military operation is over, we will continue to provide support to the people there. We will assist with the reconstruction of housing, schools, hospitals and infrastructure. When I was in Ossetia, I said (and the Ministry of Finance agreed with this as well) that to begin with, we are ready to consider allocating - based on requests, situation assessments, requirements, and as long as the situation is improving in terms of safety - about 10 billion roubles during the first stage.

I would also like to note that the desire to help has been expressed by many public organisations and individuals. And, certainly, this help will be accepted with gratitude.

Also for today's agenda, I suggest that we, at the President's request, discuss a potential increase of money allowances for the duration of the operation for the military personnel who are carrying out the peacekeeping duties in the conflict zone.

I am asking that the officials from the Ministry of Emergency Situations and other departments in charge give us a report regarding their work on providing help to the people.

And now let us concentrate on the problems which were just mentioned. Please.

Ruslan Tsalikov: Mr Putin, members of the Government Presidium. As for the request of the President, the Government has organised an interdepartmental group, which already started to operate on August 8 in cooperation with the Government of Northern Ossetia - Alania. On August 9, this group, headed by the Minister of Emergency Situations, has arrived in the city of Vladikavkaz, where it started all the necessary works on the first phase of providing help to those in need.

The first phase consists of providing assistance to refugees, including their reception and relocation, as well as the delivery of humanitarian cargoes. Mr Putin already mentioned figures that were determined during the work of the commission and our colleagues from federal authorities, so there is no need to repeat them. I just want to point out that within the commission we have organised very efficient cooperation between all the federal executive authorities and republican authorities concerning all the aspects of supporting the people who were forced to leave their homes, and are now located on the territory of the Southern Federal District.

All regions in the Southern Federal District have expressed their desire to take in refugees and find accommodation for them. This work is being conducted by the Emergency Response Centre. Depending on their health and age, the refugees are moved from North Ossetia to different regions in the Southern Federal District. This work is being conducted in coordination with the presidential envoy in the Southern Federal District. Chairmen of the commissions on emergency situations of all regions in the Southern Federal District are involved in the working group that has been set up at the Emergency Response Centre in Vladikavkaz. The second stage of the operation has begun today, as Mr Putin has already mentioned.

The second stage involves taking initial measures to provide help directly within the borders of South Ossetia. Today, at 5 a.m., a large convoy of supplies from the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Health started out under protection of Internal Ministry troops and units of the 58th army. An hour ago I was given a report that they had reached Dzhava. It is about 22 km from Tskhinvali. Today they are expected to arrive in Tskhinvali, to organise a full-scale medical aid operation, and start working on clearing the debris. Unfortunately, the situation which was just described by the Prime Minister forces us to prepare for a lot of work in this area: the weather is very hot and there are lots of debris. Everything necessary for this purpose has been delivered with the convoy. This includes 43 units of special equipment and about 300 experts who will be engaged in this work. The head of the Emergency Response Centre, Mr Shoigu, holds daily videoconferences between Moscow and Vladikavkaz. We are synchronising our actions, and based on the results of today's videoconference we are expecting new instructions regarding the work in South Ossetia.

The third phase involves stabilising the situation and restoring facilities that are crucial for the economy. Upon the instructions from the Government, last night my colleagues and I have delivered a draft of the Government's executive order about providing assistance. This document lists those measures, Mr Putin, which you named - regarding the allocation of funds and the distribution of all requests among federal executive authorities. We are asking you to review and approve this draft. In addition, in order to keep up the pace, Mr Sobyanin has requested to promptly prepare a number of executive orders, while the draft is being approved. Our colleagues at the Ministry of Health and the Migration Service have already prepared them. At the end of the day we will propose a draft of the Government executive order about rendering assistance to Russian citizens who became victims of the conflict. Russian legislation provides for compensation payments to the people who have lost their property in the amount of up to 50,000 roubles, plus a one-time financial aid payment. This draft is currently under review with the federal executive authorities, and we hope that it will be brought for approval today. The draft also provides for assigning the status of the Federal Emergency Response Centre to the group of Government members directly involved in organising the work based on your instructions, and we ask you to support it.

Vladimir Putin: Are there any questions for Mr Tsalikov? No? Thank you. It has been accepted.

Ms Golikova, is this your area of expertise?

Tatyana Golikova: We are now doing everything we can to render medical and social aid to the people - the victims and refugees. In all parts of the Southern Federal District special working groups have been organised which render help to the refugees and victims. Today, 199 victims, 165 of whom have been wounded, are being treated in medical and preventive treatment establishments in the Republic of North Ossetia. Thirteen children are being treated at the Children's Clinical Hospital. There is one girl who is being treated at the hospital for pneumonia and cannot be transported for a while. This is the current state of affairs as of this morning.

Based on the information I received this morning, 18 more wounded people were delivered to the hospital in Tskhinvali this past night. And, as Mr Tsalikov has said, the VTsK hospital Zashchita, which has a staff of 25 doctors, medical equipment, necessary dressing material, pain relief and other medications, is moving toward Tskhinvali as part of the Ministry of Emergency Situations group. The group includes a special team of epidemiologists from the Anti-plague Research Institute, which will undertake the necessary measures with respect to the sanitary and epidemiologic situation, such as water and food tests, etc.

Because of the current situation, emergency groups from the Forensic Examiner's Office in North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, the Stavropol Territory and the Rostov Region have been sent to North Ossetia at this time.

In addition, together with the Federal Migration Service, we are evaluating the situation with respect to the placement of refugees at reception points. As of August 10, 2008, 796 persons have been transported from North Ossetia to other regions of the Southern Federal District: 218 persons have been sent to the Rostov Region, 97 persons to Kabardino-Balkaria, 180 to the Stavropol Territory, and 301 to the Krasnodar Territory. And by the time this meeting began they had already arrived in the Stavropol and Krasnodar territories.

The regions of the Russian Federation have been working along with us, and today they have prepared 7,570 additional places for refugees. We also realize that at first the representatives of North Ossetia, as a rule, have placed refugees in educational institutions. Considering the need to prepare for the start of the academic year, we need to allocate other accommodation and to transfer people there. In this regard, as I have already said, we have been working with our colleagues from the Federal Migration Service. But here both our colleagues from the Federal Migration Service and authorities in Russian regions need to conduct a continuous verification of the relocation of people on the territory of North Ossetia and in the Southern Federal District. This is necessary to provide proper sanitary and epidemiologic conditions, as well as the provision of pensions and social payments to which these people are legally entitled.

In addition, as I have already said, the regions of the Russian Federation are carrying out all the necessary work as soon as it is required. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize that we should be able to provide the social and health services, as well as to prepare the children for school. I know that the Ministry of Education is taking the necessary measures in this respect.
In addition, under the instruction of the Ministry, the Pension Fund in the Republic of Northern Ossetia-Alania has generated a plan of rendering assistance to the victims. They are doing all the necessary work so that the residents of South Ossetia who had been receiving pensions in the past, will continue to receive them.Moreover, we have proposed a draft executive order, which is being presented for approval at this meeting, which presupposes a one-time payment of 3,000 roubles as a means of first aid to each non-working retired person who had been receiving a pension on the territory of South Ossetia.
Based on the registration data of the Pension Fund, by the beginning of the conflict in South Ossetia there were 3,702 retired persons, citizens of the Russian Federation who used to receive pensions through Russian financial institutions. In addition, in South Ossetia there were 4,000 more retired persons who received pensions on the territory of North Ossetia. And, considering that, as a rule, 80% of this population are nonworking retired persons, we believe it necessary to allocate a grant to the budget of North Ossetia from the budget of the Pension Fund in the amount of 21 million roubles, so that these payments are made in the nearest future to the citizens who are currently being placed in temporary shelters, and so that their primary needs are met. Thus, we are asking for your support of the pension project so that we can make these payments in the nearest future.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. This is what we are doing, and you have our support. Ms Golikova has mentioned schools, and there are two problems in this area.

First, it is necessary to make sure that on September 1 the children of the refugees start school.

And second, refugees have been placed in some premises in North Ossetia. These buildings and premises should be used for their designated purpose. It is necessary to make sure that both the people are being placed comfortably, and the schools start working on September 1.

Andrei Fursenko: Mr Putin, first, here is the overall picture: according to the data of the South and North Ossetian Ministries of Education, there were 5,060 schools in South Ossetia. In addition, several hundred young people were studying at four technical schools, and 2,100 students - at higher educational institutions.

By our joint estimates, about 4,000 schoolchildren will be studying in North Ossetia. Out of these, by the estimate of our colleagues, approximately 400 are either orphans, or those who need to be placed in boarding schools.

Concerning boarding schools, we have made the following suggestion: there are three conserved projects in North Ossetia. These buildings can be renovated in two months. It would be possible to place 400 people there in order to solve the problem of the boarding schools. The necessary repairs require approximately 55 billion roubles.

Before the repairs are carried out (if this decision is approved), we suggest that the children be placed in the Orlenok camp, which is located nearby. Orlenok is ready to accept them.

As to the situation with respect to all children, the leading publishers of educational literature are ready to print all the necessary textbooks and send them to North Ossetia as part of humanitarian effort. Mr Sobyanin and I have arranged for the Ministry of Emergency Situations to help with the delivery.

In addition, there is need for clothes, school uniforms, school accessories, and all of this also requires significant amounts of money. Clearly people left their homes without even any basic necessities. Ms Golikova has told us about the need to provide humanitarian aid. According to our estimates, it is about 35 billion roubles.

Perhaps, it would be easier to solve the problem of technical schools. There are enough schools and hostels in this region where we can place these children.

As to college students, the situation is slightly more complex. Again, according to our colleagues, universities have been destroyed. The South Ossetia University has also been purposefully destroyed. The negotiations with universities in the Southern Federal District and with the southern regions of the Volga Central District have already been carried out. They are ready to accept the students.

We are now collecting information. We already know what subjects these students had been studying. Some of these students might have to change their major, because there are too many people studying humanities. We think that they will not object to choosing other majors.

Vladimir Putin: Are there any agriculture majors?

Andrei Fursenko: Yes, there are. And, if you don't object, Mr Putin, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow I would like to fly over to this place and, along with our colleagues there, look into how it can be realized. I think we will solve this problem.

Vladimir Putin: Where?

Andrei Fursenko: To North Ossetia.

Vladimir Putin: Do you know what you need to pay special attention to? To make sure that the student groups do not break up.

Andrei Fursenko: The student body consists of 176 people. And we would like to propose that those departments that can take on students, make sure that the students are able to stay in their groups.

Vladimir Putin: It is necessary to preserve the intellectual base of people with higher education in South Ossetia because it would be difficult to recreate it. Good. The Migration Service, what kind of problems do you have?

Konstantin Romodanovsky: The Migration Service has been working round the clock since the beginning of August. We are carrying out the accounting, registration, and documenting of citizens who have lost their documents on the territory of South Ossetia. And from today on we are ready to start carrying out the state support measures, if the draft executive order we have prepared is approved. The draft envisages long-term measures on maintenance and food, and also measures for the compensation of lost property in former residential areas. We have prepared two lorries with buckwheat, tinned meat and sugar, and are ready to start giving out food tonight.

Vladimir Putin: What about communications, roads? Communications are not working.

Igor Shchegolev: Indeed, the communication infrastructure has been destroyed, a large number of base stations has been put out of action, but now most of them have been restored. Several mobile units with independent power supply have been sent out, so that they are not dependent on the power supply system of South Ossetia, which is not in the best condition.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Shchegolev, the mobile communication network is not working.

Igor Shchegolev: We checked with our colleagues yesterday, and everything was working; if there is any failure, we will try to eliminate it promptly.

The workload is really big there. We are sending additional equipment and are trying to communicate via the satellite. We will try to resolve this problem. As for general communications: it is important that the people, who have been staying in refugee camps and at other temporary shelters, do not remain without communications as well. Therefore at this time we have placed 40 telephones which are free of charge in 40 points on the territory of North Ossetia and other regions of the Southern Federal District.

And now we are working with the operators of mobile communications who operate in the south, so that they have put some sets of free cellular telephones in hospitals. It is important that the wounded people are able to use them. In addition, it is necessary to provide the people who are in the area of the humanitarian disaster, with accurate and operative information. We will develop radio notification, and we are going to publish newsletters.

Vladimir Putin: Good. How is the road reconstruction carried out?

Igor Levitin: The main artery between North and South Ossetia is the Alagir-Nizhny Zaromag motorway. Its length is 97 km, and the width is from 8.5 to 15 metres. The narrowest places are the six tunnels and one automobile bridge. The Roki tunnel is still working normally.
The regulation is being carried out together with the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence has been asked to help with the protection of these facilities which is being carried out by the Ministry of Transport. The 58th Army is now guarding the Roki tunnel. The condition of the motorways is at the moment being checked by our operative group, which left yesterday, led by the Deputy Minister of Transport.

On the whole, with respect to communications the situation is as follows: in order to provide for the safety of passengers, as of 12 p.m. on August 9, the air space with Georgia has been closed, the sea connection has also been limited. At present there are 13 vessels under various flags at the port of Poti. One of them is our ship Nakhodka. It was unloading wheat, but Georgian authorities stopped the unloading, and the ship has not been able to leave the port yet.

As to the railroad transportation, all demands of the Ministry of Defence are being carried out in full. 120 carriages have been prepared. If the Ministry of Emergency Situations requests transport for the transportation of refugees, we will be ready to transport them on the territory of Russia.

Also I would like to mention that all the bus terminals in this region, especially in North Ossetia, will be ready for high volume of transportation, if demanded by the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Per North Ossetian authorities' request, the medical institutions of the Russian Railways are ready to accept about 300 persons in this area. If necessary, we can use this opportunity.

On the whole, I would like to say that the transport complex is functional. The Emergency Response Centre is already located in Vladikavkaz.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Levitin, I have already used this road. A lot of armour equipment has been transported along it. On the whole, the road has survived it, strangely enough. But still some stretches there need repairs.

Igor Levitin: We are trying to achieve it.

Vladimir Putin: Pay attention to it.

Igor Levitin: We had made good repairs to it just recently.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, that is great, but it is still necessary to make some small repairs. On the whole, everything is fine. But still pay attention to it.

Naturally, it is necessary to ensure law and order, both in North and South Ossetia. Therefore our police will need to work in contact with the Government of South Ossetia, with the President.

And separately, a very big part of our work concerns construction.

Dmitry Kozak: Yes, Mr Putin, together with Spetsstroi we have construction experts who are conducting a preliminary overview of various aspects of economic and social recovery in South Ossetia.

Presently we already have the preliminary data on the volume of damage to the power supply, transport, municipal infrastructure, housing and utilities services.

Preliminary studies have been conducted as to the average cost of construction work. We have agreed on the management of construction, rebuilding of the Republic, using as an example the positive experience of working in Grozny.

It is necessary to designate Spetsstroi as the only contractor for the first stage of the restoration, when it will be necessary to clear out the debries and those buildings that are not subject to restoration, and remove some mines.
We will also involve Spetsstroi experts, who are effectively working in this area, for the laying of engineering networks.

Then, at the second stage, it will already be possible to involve other contractors. This will be possible only after the end of hostilities. We will need 10 to 14 days to carry out detailed assessment of the damage and to work out a comprehensive plan of economic and social recovery.

Vladimir Putin: How many days?

Dmitry Kozak: 10 to 14 days after the end of military operations.

Vladimir Putin: The military action has already stopped there. The units of the Georgian armed forces have either been destroyed or forced out. So there is no fighting there. It is strange to hear that they have left by themselves. They didn't go away voluntarily. They had come of their own will. But they had been helped to leave.

I do not think that 14 to 15 days will be enough to restore the economy completely.

Dmitry Kozak: No, not to restore it, but to prepare a detailed plan.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, a detailed plan. You know, it will be necessary to coordinate this with the Government of South Ossetia.

Dmitry Kozak: Yes, certainly. We are cooperating already.

Vladimir Putin: They have their own ideas as to where and what to restore. It should be based on a coherent plan. Our mission is only to help.

Dmitry Kozak: We have some proposals.

Vladimir Putin: Today I spoke with the Mayor of Moscow. Moscow is ready to render the necessary help using its experience in the south of Russia, in the Chechen Republic, to contribute to the reconstruction of housing, the construction of office buildings, and the social sphere.

Discuss it with Mr Luzhkov.

Dmitry Kozak: That's fine.

Vladimir Putin: Certainly, without money it would be impossible to solve any of these questions. Mr Kudrin, are you working on it?

Alexei Kudrin: Mr Putin, we have been in continuous contact with the Government of the Republic. 500 million roubles (on which we will make a decision today), should be enough to cover all the basic needs, and we even have some reserve money. Therefore, I would like to say straight away, we have some reserves for both schools and for boarding schools, so that recovery work could be continued.

We will also make sure that all of the administration's needs are met. The Government has all of the required reserves. They will be replenished if needed.

Together with the Ministry of Regional Development and in coordination with the Government of South Ossetia we will prepare offers on terms and sources of allocation of 10 billion roubles for the recovery work.

Vladimir Putin: Also, as I have said already, based on the request of the President I am asking you to work on increasing money allowances to our enlisted men who are taking part in the peace-keeping operation for the duration of the operation.

Alexei Kudrin: Mr Putin, we will work on this.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please work with the Ministry of Defence.

Alexei Kudrin: We are in contact with them, working on this issue since this morning.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, and since you are speaking, we have one more question for you on the agenda regarding the agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Euroasian Bank.

Alexei Kudrin: Mr Putin, according to the decision of the Governments of the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan to establish the Euroasian Bank of Development, the corresponding decision was ratified by our Parliaments and came into force on June 15, 2006. The Bank is preparing an agreement with both Kazakh and Russian Governments. This agreement provides the Bank with the status of an international financial organisation on the territory of the Russian Federation with all the privileges which are inherent for an international financial institution. It also covers property use models, and tax, legal and other aspects, which have been prepared and worked out involving all ministries and departments.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Before we move on to other issues on the agenda, I would like to put a question to the Minister of Agriculture. How is work in the agricultural sector? Because conflicts come and go, but the country continues to exist, and does so, thank God, with a constant rhythm of life. The economy works, everything functions as previously planned. How is agriculture doing? It is the busy season now.

Alexei Gordeyev: Thank you, Mr Putin. As per your request, I spent Friday and Saturday in the Stavropol Territory, where we received the first results of harvesting, reviewed the situation in the grain market and already set new targets for winter sowing.

It is important to note that this year the Stavropol Territory, as well as the Krasnodar Territory, will collect a record harvest in the history of these regions. In particular, the Stavropol Territory will collect more than 8 million tons. In the Rostov Region the crop has doubled compared to last year's. If we speak about the country as a whole, to date 34% of area covered by crops has been threshed. That is 53 million tons in bunker weight, and it is 12.5 million tons more than last year. Productivity - the main indicator - per hectare is 20% more than last year, 33.2 centners per hectare. We are confident that the yield of grain and leguminous crops will set a record for the past 15 years.

Certainly, our primary goal today is to maintain the prices and stability in the grain market. Here is an example: grain prices nearly halved in comparison to the beginning of the year; to be precise, they are down by 43%. Mr Zubkov has held a meeting discussing the state purchasing grain at this time. All the necessary decisions were made, and there are sufficient funds. I would like to emphasize: the Government is purchasing grain for the first time in recent years. Starting next week such purchases will be carried out through an exchange mechanism. So the situation is good. The primary mission is to collect good grain and to maintain it.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Zubkov, do you have anything to add? No?
Today is August 11. We have already talked about the approaching academic year with reference to Ossetia, but it is a problem for the whole country as well. How is it going, Mr Fursenko?

Andrei Fursenko: We are preparing in a regular way. The day before yesterday I visited the Arkhangelsk Region and reviewed the situation.

Teachers' meetings have been held in 31 regions already. Everything that was made part of the project, works. The quality of conditions in which the children are studying has considerably improved.

We have launched a pilot project changing the salary system in 31 regions. In these regions the salaries were significantly increased, especially for the teachers of the highest qualification.

Everything is continuing as normal, from the issue of fire safety - we're very closely cooperating with the Ministry of Emergency Situations - to textbook deliveries and school repairs. But I will have more details closer to the beginning of the academic year.

Vladimir Putin: Sounds good. I agree.

Coming back to our agenda, I would like to point your attention to the discussion of the Federal Target Programme regarding transferring sergeants of the Armed Forces and sailors of the Navy onto a contractual basis.

This would be the logical development of our plans to build a modern, highly professional army.

As you are aware, since this year, the term of a military draft service has been reduced to 12 months. It took us six years of consistent work to come to this decision. This included creating a system to attract citizens for military service under voluntary contracts, first to the constant readiness units and border agencies. Starting next year it will cover sergeants in other military units and divisions.

Sergeants-contractors will have the responsibility in the next few years for the service of new armaments systems. Creation of the professional sergeant staff is an important step to a more sophisticated organisation of military training.

In addition, we need to solve the problem of completing the crews of the Navy ships using contract-enlisted personnel, which will provide for constant readiness of our fleet.

In his tenure as the Minister of Defence, Sergei Ivanov had formulated this task. Now it is time to start working on it.

The plan is to transfer 64,000 sergeants and sailors to the contractual basis by 2015. At the same time all questions arising in connection with new mechanisms of hiring, have to be solved. And, first of all, proper conditions of service should be created for men enlisted under contract, including those who have families.

I am talking about building living quarters within garrisons and military camps, new kindergartens, schools, cultural centres, and leisure centres. The programme we are going to review today is designed to resolve these problems.

Let's move on to discussing it.

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