Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with armed forces commanders during his visit to the Tamanskaya Brigade


“The formation of powerful and effective armed forces is our absolute priority. This is an absolute priority for our state and our national task for many years ahead, at least a decade.”


Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends, officers. We are meeting on the eve of the national holiday – February 23, the Defender of the Fatherland Day. This holiday has embraced the centuries-old traditions of Russian warriors and has become a symbol of a special attitude that exists towards the army, navy and all military personnel.

In this country practically every family has a link to the army – some people served themselves, some had relatives in the army, and family members of others fought on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War. Many families sustained losses – some of their members fought in hot spots. Therefore, such dates as June 22, May 9 and February 23 are special in our lives and history.

Each of us chooses our own way in life, destiny and profession, but the duty of every man is to defend his Fatherland, his family and loved ones. This has always been the case in Russia and I’m sure this will be the same in the future.

The armed forces have always been the true backbone of this country, and the army has always been strong thanks to its officer corps. Division and brigade commanders are present in this hall today. You are shouldering tremendous responsibility – you must set a model of professionalism and integrity and act as a real moral authority for your subordinates. The life of a military unit, the quality of army training and the mastery of new equipment that is being supplied to the troops on an increasingly large scale commits all of us to upgrade our own skills and knowledge. I’m confident that you will always conform to the high status of a Russian officer.

I’d like to make a few points. In drafting plans for the development of the armed forces and setting requirements for new weapons systems we must largely rely – as we have done in the past and will do in the future – on your knowledge and experience, because it is impossible to resolve these issues without professionals. The success of reforms directly depends on how they are accepted and interpreted in the army. And one more thing – I’m deeply convinced that to improve the army we must love it and be sensitive to its needs – this is an essential condition.

The formation of powerful and effective armed forces is our absolute priority. This is an absolute priority for our state and our national task for many years ahead, at least a decade. In this respect, everything is important – new equipment, modern principles of recruiting and manning and decent social guarantees for army personnel. In our army today, much is changing right before our eyes, with your participation and assistance. New units have been deployed – fully staffed and equipped brigades; missile submarines and strategic aviation have resumed permanent combat patrol. The army is again engaged in intensive military exercises – ships go on ocean voyages and large units of ground troops and aviation practice coordinated actions. The government has implemented a decision to create Air and Space Defence Forces, thereby making it possible to pool the efforts of air and missile defence, missile early warning and space control systems.

The Defence Ministry is building a modern network of higher educational institutions and has developed a multi-level system of personnel training for soldiers, sergeants and officers.

The government has fundamentally upgraded the system of social guarantees. We know, and you know this better than anyone else that starting January 1, 2012, salaries of service personnel tripled. We started basic pay reform in 2007. We made a decision on it in early 2007. 

Back then, the defence minister had order No. 400 drafted, which went into effect one year later – you are well aware of this. We operated according to the belief that we should first take care of people who have special responsibilities with respect to national security and significantly increase pay to naval officers, pilots, missile operators and servicemen who risk their lives in troubled spots.

On January 1, we took the next step and tripled the average pay. I have always believed that military servicemen should be paid, as has always been the case in Russia, by the way, even more than skilled specialists in the sphere of economics or administration or other civilian sectors. We are setting clear goals in resolving the housing issue as well. You know better than I that housing problems in the 1990s and even in the early 2000s were resolved on a very selective basis. Recently, we have started massive housing construction for military servicemen. Indeed, we planned to complete the permanent housing programme in 2010. I have already mentioned this publicly, I hope that you have heard about it. If not, I can say it again. Add to that the 2009 crisis which undermined our financial capabilities… As a matter of fact, not even this caused our failure to meet this deadline, rather, it was an incorrect assessment of the number of people who needed housing. Now, we are saying that we will provide permanent housing in 2012-2013 to all those who need it. Most likely, we will be able to do so in late 2012-2013 and will fully resolve the issue of providing service-related housing by the Defence Ministry in 2014. I believe that this issue could be settled even earlier, around the middle of 2013.

Of course, we need to resolve the housing problem once and for all for our colleagues who have received an honourable discharge, but did not receive any housing and were put on regular municipal waiting lists which are not getting any shorter. We allocated suitable funds to this end, and the issue should be resolved this year already. Of course, we need to look into problems facing servicemen from other state-security related ministries.

At the same time, we will promote and support the mortgage system for those servicemen who signed contracts after 2007. The years upon years spent by servicemen in line to receive housing should become a thing of the past. We began by addressing the key social issues, because it’s clear that military servicemen will be required to work increasingly harder in the future, and officers should be sufficiently motivated to do their job well.

We have a lot to accomplish together. The key goal is to fully retrofit the Army. The defence minister and President Medvedev have said as much already, but I would like to repeat that we will provide as much special equipment to the Army in the near future as is needed to make sure that no less than 70% of equipment in the Army is modern. I will not repeat the amounts that are being allocated for building and purchasing new equipment, but I would like to say that the Army and Navy will be equipped with effective, highly accurate and reliable weapons.

The priority areas include strategic nuclear forces, aerospace defence, aviation, space systems, reconnaissance, electromagnetic warfare, communications and automated control systems. Naturally, they should be operated by true professionals. The number of soldiers and contract sergeants will increase over the next five years. Of course, this is expensive, and the defence minister and I have discussed it today. We should be able to get close to 400,000. You are well aware that many of our neighbours and the Americas have not dropped the draft altogether. Perhaps we will have to continue using the draft for some time. We’ll see how the economy and the Armed Forces will do. The creation of such a large body of military professionals will require from you – the commanders – innovative approaches to the organisation of combat training whereby each soldier, each sergeant and each officer constantly improves his skills and professionalism.

Obviously, military service conditions should be modern in true sense of the word. A special focus on health care and the resolute combating of hazing practices should become a priority. All of that combined with the battle readiness of military formations is part of a commander’s basic duties. You should always keep in mind your soldiers, officers and their family members, who often share the hardships of the Army and garrison service. You know that there was a time when you could spend a day in barracks without seeing the officer. I hope that situation is changing. I’m certain that it is. I believe that army garrisons and army towns should have a new face. We need to do more than just streamline the troops basing system. We need modern military towns with high-quality housing conditions and full-service social infrastructure. The Defence Ministry has been faced with this task for a long time now.

To conclude, I would like to stress that we have a lot of work to do, colleagues. Plans to improve the Armed Forces are truly vast, and they must be seen through to completion. We have only one goal, which is to provide reliable guarantees for Russia’s national security.

I would like to congratulate you once again on the upcoming holiday and wish you the best. Thank you very much for your time.

Colleagues, we will proceed to work in an informal manner. I have said what I wanted to say to start off. I’m ready to listen to you, take your questions and discuss. Please, go ahead.

Kirill Sukhoruchenko (Colonel): May I?

В.В.Путин: Please, go ahead.

Kirill Sukhoruchenko: Colonel Sukhoruchenko, commander of the 288th artillery brigade, Western Military District. Mr Prime Minister, we are living in new times, and new challenges urgently call for retrofitting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Can our defence industry handle the design and mass production of new weapons and military equipment? This is my first question.

My second question is, what guarantees are in place for the re-equipment of the Russian army, taking into account the envisioned amount of funding, and the possible reshuffling of the executives in the defence industry? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I didn’t understand the second part of the question.

Kirill Sukhoruchenko: What are the guarantees of the re-equipment of the Russian army? Besides the envisioned funding and changes in the defence industry leadership.

Vladimir Putin: Do we have to change the executives?

Kirill Sukhoruchenko: Well, it’s up to your …Maybe. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: All right. As for whether our defence industry is capable of resolving the tasks set before it – absolutely, yes. Both the Armed Forces, and the entire economy and industry of our country suffered severe losses in the 1990s, and also in the early 2000s as development was not an issue back then. We were fighting for survival. But we have great potential. We have an excellent foundation, we have very good schools, and we have amazing, talented people. You know, what I mean is that in the early 2000s I was constantly in touch with the military not only for the obvious reasons, because of the war in the Caucasus. I met with military commanders or people from the General Staff practically every week, and at times every day.  I also talked to scientists, representatives of the defence industry. I should say that very dedicated people work there, to a certain extent they are on par with the military. And I am convinced that our defence industry has enough potential. 

But I should also tell you it is hard or simply impossible to manufacture modern combat equipment – not just modern, but also equipment with a view for the future – using today’s machinery or obsolete machinery. That is why apart from the procurement of military equipment we have considerable funds allocated specifically for the modernisation of the defence industry itself, in the amount of about 3 trillion roubles up to 2020 – 2.8 trillion to be exact, around 3 trillion.

This week we will adopt a federal targeted programme for modernisation of the defence industry. Of course, anything associated with the modernisation of the defence industry should run concurrently with, or ahead of state procurement. I should confess that organising that work is no simple task. That is to say, defence industry enterprises – it has always been this way but the current situation is more specific – depend on suppliers and allied industries. And these enterprises are privately owned, as a rule, or at least this is often the case. Arranging cooperation with them, building up relations with them in terms of price and quality is not easy, there is a lot of work to do.

The day before yesterday the defence minister and I visited KnAAPO (the Yury Gagarin Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Manufacturing Company) – it is one of our leading enterprises, the maker of our Sukhoi aircraft, and we discussed exactly those issues there. We will have to set up a very rigid system of monitoring the modernisation of the defence industry and the fulfillment of the state defence order (procurement), in terms of deadlines, quality and price. We have no other choice, we have to do this and we will. We will do it together, because all the equipment that comes to the armed forces must be checked and tested, and we must get your expert evaluation and the enterprises should respond accordingly. You understand that in this respect – the defence industry modernization, fulfilling the state defence order – you all, or all of us together with the industries, should work as a single  team. The task is not easy, but it is feasible. Thus, there is enough funding, I have outlined the problems, and I don’t see any other obstacles. We shall do it. Yes, please go ahead.

Colonel Igor Timofeyev: Colonel Timofeyev? Commander of the 33rd Mountain Brigade. Mr Prime Minister…

Vladimir Putin: Do you know that it was my idea to set up a mountain brigade?

Igor Timofeyev: Yes, sir.

Vladimir Putin: I am very pleased that you have stood and reported that you are commander of the mountain brigade. Do you know why? Once I met with soldiers after one of the operations in the mountains, I just invited them to my house. And they told me (it is sad, but I have to recall it now) how they were chasing criminals, bandits in the mountains, and one of the soldiers slipped because he was wearing standard issue boots and began sliding into a crevasse, and the officer rushed to his rescue. They both died. After that I looked into all the documents to have an idea  what was going on in that area. It appeared that we had almost nothing….Not almost, we just had absolutely nothing! And they were fighting in standard boots and standard uniforms. After that a decision was made that special mountain units should be set up.  I was there and saw how they are equipped now, how they operate. I think today it is a matter of pride for the Armed Forces. Yes, your question, please.

Igor Timofeyev: Mr Prime Minister, today the military-political situation is not stable. Tension, with the risk of civil war, is increasing near our borders, and is being prodded by some “democracy-exporting” countries. What do you think of the possible developments in the Middle East, Central Asia and Transcaucasia? Is there a danger of the situation spreading and creating tensions in the south of our country? And what challenges should our Armed Forces be ready for? 

Vladimir Putin: May I ask you something? How do you yourself assess the situation? I'll answer you question in a moment. But how do you assess the condition of your unit? What about the equipment and weapons, and how is training progressing? 

Igor Timofeyev: We are fully equipped with weapons, vehicles, mountain equipment. Currently brigade personnel are training at all the ranges, there is a reconnaissance unit, artillery units are being prepared – that is, combat training is in full swing, to the fullest extent. We are receiving new equipment now, additional supplies, in the town of Prokhladny as well. We are getting ready for any combat missions.

Vladimir Putin: Аre you satisfied with the equipment you receive? 

Igor Timofeyev:  We would like something … The MT-LB (light armed multi-purpose transport vehicle) is designed specifically for missions in mountainous terrain.  

Vladimir Putin: I see. You said “designed for mountainous terrain but we would like…”  And then something incomprehensible. Speak up.

Igor Timofeyev: We only operate on foot in the mountains. In inaccessible areas the MT-LB is justified for carrying out missions, according to its design. Equipment can not be carried up into to high mountains anyway, neither by helicopter nor by airplane.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, the minister is suggesting that you would like something better but that it just does not exist, is that right?

Igor Timofeyev:  Yes.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Igor Timofeyev:  Nothing can be devised. Only the commitment of our soldiers and officers as you said.

Vladimir Putin: You have horses there, don’t you? But the uniforms, the equipment itself?

Igor Timofeyev: We are fully supplied with it. We had officers from the Defence Ministry’s department visit us and check the equipment, and they left satisfied. We are fully satisfied.

Vladimir Putin: As for the equipment. We shall look into it, of course. Do you need special equipment for moving in the mountains? 

Igor Timofeyev: We will complete all the tasks on foot…

Vladimir Putin: No, no, what can we come up with for there?  Is there anything for mountains?

Igor Timofeyev: No, there is no such thing.

Vladimir Putin: That’s clear. All right. As for your question, we see that, unfortunately, this should be said directly, in the past years after the collapse of the Soviet Union there appeared for a certain period of time a single centre of power. Or at least our American partners thought that they were such an exclusive centre of power that dictates whatever they want to anyone. You are aware of this, I spoke about it a number of times, I said a number of times that the world can not be unipolar, it must be multi-polar. It will be stable if all participants of international relations follow the basic principles and rules of international law.

Unfortunately, we often witness that these rules and principles are washed away and international law is devalued. Unfortunately, this is happening. And unfortunately, everything that you mentioned is going on, i.e. the export of so-called orange revolutions. But you know that ultimately, everything comes back full circle. Let’s look at what our neighbours in Ukraine used to have. But there was so much turmoil in that respect, the nation had to endure such big losses, but it came back full circle, except that the country had to go through a period of turbulence and loss… The so-called democracy, because democracy cannot be exported, it must mature from within the country out of its own soil. And when something is exported, it does not yield fruit anyway, or it leads to ugly developments that we can see, for instance, in Libya. Now I don’t see it in the media but I know that there are currently tribal clashes, dozens of people are dying, maybe hundreds have died already. Do you understand? That is why the results of such policies and such actions are sad, they are negative. For us to avoid anything like that we should: a) develop our own democratic institutions so that people identify themselves as participants of political processes, so that they understand and realise that both the composition of the authorities and the major guidelines of the nation’s economic and social policy depend on them. That’s a priority.

And secondly, we have to secure our sovereignty and should not let anyone interfere with, or stick their nose in our business. And in this respect, certainly, the law enforcement and the court system need to operate properly. And the Armed Forces should safeguard our sovereignty.

As for our closest environment, is there the possibility of any turbulent processes taking place there? We are not interested in them. We are not going to, we cannot and do not want to interfere with anybody’s business, but we are interested in a stable situation along our borders. We are building up good, very good relations with our closest neighbours, even allied relations. You know that we have set up a three-state customs union between Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. On January 1 we took the next step in this integration – we launched a commom economic space which means a deeper level of integration: the free flow of goods, finance, labour. We have harmonised relations in economic policy and partly in social policy (much more so with Belarus), and in customs policy. And of course, we are very interested, let me repeat, in a quiet and stable life in these nations and along the whole perimeter of our borders. And we are going to do everything we can for our partners to receive maximum benefits from their cooperation with Russia.

Igor Timofeyev: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, go ahead.

Colonel Sergei Khmelevsky: Colonel Khmelevsky, Commander of the 32nd Detached Motorised Rifle Brigade of the Central Military District. Mr Prime Minister, each military unit we command is multi-ethnic, it may even be a miniature image of Russia itself.

Vladimir Putin: Our army has always been like that, at all times.

Sergei Khmelevsky: Yes, sir. And in those military units conflicts arise between servicemen of different faiths and ethnicities. Should the army take into account the specific character of the interrelations between different religions and ethnicities, or is the Regulations the main book in the army, and everybody is equal? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You know, the army is… Please be seated. Our army is a part of society, and the army to a certain degree is a school of interaction between people of different faiths and ethnicities. It is crucial for us to make sure that these people are part of a single big Russian nation. And this is only possible if they feel comfortable and understand that this is their Motherland, and that they have no other Motherland, and that it responds to their needs and aspirations, including those of a religious or ethnic nature. I believe this can be included in the provisions of the Regulations. If we implement what I recently talked about in my article on the development of our Armed Forces, namely, introduce the clergy into the army…And you know, church is separated from the state in our country, we are a secular state but we no longer have the Code of the Builder of Communism, and we are unable to give anything to the people but the moral values ingrained in the world religions. Well, actually if you take a look at the Code of the Builder of Communism in the past, it looks very much like the Bible (commandments) – Do not steal, do not kill, do not commit adultery – all of that is in the Code of the Builder of Communism.  Why should we have such surrogates? The more so since we do not have a monopoly of a single party. We have to go over to the original sources.

But we cannot do that, this is work that has to be done by experts. They should also be given certain limitations. The work of the clergy should also comply with the requirements of the Regulations and the behaviour code in the Armed Forces. We have to make sure that every person has a right to religious freedom and that all members of the military community respect their fellow servicemen, then the army, you know, will serve as a good example for the rest of society. To be honest, I count on your help in that matter. It is a very important matter (very important!) in our multi-ethnic society. And I would ask you to pay the utmost attention to it. As for conflicts, they are certainly possible. The Defence Ministry has to figure out the composition of the military units.

And one more important thing. I did not speak publicly about it but I do not think it is a top state secret. We do not have to have any ethnic military units. The army, as with our state and our society, should be multi-ethnic. We have exceptions in the Caucasus and in Chechnya but they are related to the specifics of the regions and historical reasons, in essence, to the need to overcome the hard times of the civil war and the fight against international terrorism. Thus it emerged naturally but it is an exception. On the whole, the army should be multi-ethnic. Yes, go ahead, please take a microphone.

Aleksander Vyaznikov: Major General Vyaznikov, Seventh Guards Airborn Assault Division. Mr Prime Minister, in less than two years the 22nd Winter Olympic Games will be held in Sochi. You were the main proponent of the games to be held in our country. What is your opinion about our team’s prospects of winning, how much will we achieve? And secondly – can we reward best servicemen, military school and academy cadets by sending them to watch the Olympics as spectators? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would love to see a good performance of the army athletes at the Olympics. When we were making development plans for the Armed Forces (you know the numbers, they are colossal: there are over 20 trillion there), it was a difficult and nerve-wracking job, I am saying that with no exaggeration. You can see some of the consequences of those arguments later on, even in the government composition and policies. They are the repercussions of those arguments. And yes, we were setting the task for the Defence Ministry to shed the maximum of what is unrelated to the ministry. When they began getting rid of sports facilities, I said, “No, listen, let them stay.” And as the result of a compromise between the civilian ministries, the Finance Ministry and other institutions, including the Defence Ministry, we have an opportunity to preserve the Central Army Club, training facilities and so on.

I would very much like, and this is my view, to see a good performance of army athletes. To a certain extent this is an example for all the armed forces and a factor that could bring together all of society, when all our citizens see what results our army athletes can achieve. It is a bridge that spans the entire army, to show what kind of army we have, it resides in the subconscious of each resident when he sees the achievements of our army athletes. It is too early to speak about the results of our Olympic team, let's allow our sport authorities, the National Olympic Committee, heads of sports federations and Minister of Sport tell us about it. Yet I think they are unlikely to give you the exact number of medals, points and seconds. I strongly expect that the national team will perform very well. All the necessary conditions have been created for that. There may be something lacking, but on the whole (I keep a watchful eye on it) we have, generally, if not completely then to a considerable degree, restored and made a step forward compared to what our athletes had even back in the Soviet Union. By this I mean the material base and equipment. Not all our bases have been restored but on the whole we can already state that our athletes possess the necessary foundation for attaining the highest results and occupying the top places on the podium.

As for the proposal for servicemen to have an opportunity to watch the Olympic Games – this is a very good proposal, we shall work it out and do it. I cannot say right now how many servicemen, but that would be a good thing to do, it is necessary, as a reward this could definitely be done.  By the way, besides the Olympic Games we are also going to host the World Football Cup, for some reason you did not mention this, and the ice hockey championship. In 2013 Kazan will host the Universiade; by the way, these are summer events, and the number of participants will be greater than those at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. In fact, they are among the largest competitions. We do not often remember this, but they really are the largest competitions. And the preparations for those competitions in reality reshapes the look of such a large city as Kazan. Thus this would also be something worthwhile for the guys to see, so that both soldiers and officers could go there as a reward. Yes, go ahead.

Alexander Golovko (Major General): Major General Golovko, Head of the 1st State Testing Cosmodrome of the Aerospace Defence Forces. Mr Prime Minister, don’t you get the impression that today the CIS countries are drifting away from each other? Isn’t it time to take this into account in current military-political relations? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We are taking this into account but we must be doing this very carefully or… We must not aggravate suspicion towards each other. Why are CIS relations complicated? I’ll be frank – when all the countries became independent, people started making careers on ultra-patriotism and even nationalism to some extent. In many places they spoke about Russia’s “special status” and accused it of having suppressed others for decades and even centuries. They forgot what Russia had done for these republics in the economic, social, cultural and educational spheres. All those things were relegated to the background and others were brought to the fore.

However, this attitude to cooperation with Russia is gradually fading. Everything is returning to normal. We are increasingly becoming allies with our next-door neighbours. So we are more than just good neighbours.

Obviously, the living standards in Russia are the highest in the post-Soviet space and this alone is attractive for many people. Russia is an enormous country and millions of citizens from former Soviet republics reside in it on a temporary or permanent basis. They are coming to us, not the other way round. This is common knowledge. I won’t go into further details. You know everything from the press and see this in everyday life. This is the first point.

Secondly, we have many things in common. We still have common energy and transport infrastructure, primarily railways. We are linked by extensive cooperation – many enterprises in different parts of the former Soviet Union cannot even exist without each other or find it very hard to operate. There is also a very important factor of a shared mentality and the Russian language that unites all of us. All these fears of the past that Russia wants to conquer or dominate others again are going up in smoke because the leaders of other CIS countries, and, more important, their people see for themselves that Russia is a reliable and fair partner.

Moreover, they benefit by being friends and partners with Russia. I have already said that we have established the Customs Union, the common economic space, joint banks and support funds from which our partners receive hundreds of millions of dollars, not mention direct support – loans on preferential terms for billions of dollars. Needless to say, we are cooperating with every country not to our detriment but on a civilized, equitable, market basis.

Yes, in many cases we are building these relations on preferential terms but not gratis. These terms are not humiliating to our partners and not too costly for us. We are creating the conditions that will enable us to look to the future together and enhance our common ability to compete in world politics and the global economy.

There are unfortunate examples, too. Take our relations with Georgia, for one. But this is not our fault but the result of the policy that the Georgian leadership has pursued and is still pursuing. I’d like to emphasise that we have always viewed the Georgian leadership as distinct from the Georgian people. I hope very much that our Georgian brethren – both in culture and religion – will realise once and for all that Russia is not an enemy and that our relations with Georgia will be restored. Generally, we are pleased about the developments in the post-Soviet space – we are pooling efforts to improve the living standards of our people. Please, go ahead.

Sergei Yekimov (Captain 1st Class): Captain 1st Class Yekimov, Commander of a Surface Warship Brigade, Baltic Fleet, Western Military District. Mr Prime Minister, we have recently heard many statements by government leaders about the need to restore the might of the Navy. I’d like to ask you – what concrete steps are being taken or planned in this respect in the near future? And is Russia planning to build up its presence in the world oceans and at what level? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We must not repeat the mistakes our predecessors made in the Soviet Union. I won’t remind you how much the Soviet Union spent on the armed forces but it is clear that we also assumed a huge liability under the Warsaw Treaty.

We must stick to the concept of sufficiency and abstain from exhausting the economy. If we put a heavy burden on our economy and the social sphere, our civilians that have nothing to do with the armed forces will lose trust in us. In this case the danger of colour revolutions, about which your colleague has asked, will become very real.

We must maintain balance between different aspects of our life and our economy. Spending on the development of the armed forces is nothing short of miraculous – we know the figures and all of you know them too. We must also heed our critics when they warn us that spending is too high, that some goals are too ambitious and that our industry is not ready for them. These apprehensions are not unfounded. We also have concerns it this respect – we see how the global economy is developing and how many dangers and uncertainties are looming ahead.

Just look at what is happening in Europe! It seems to us that everything is okay when our life is more or less decent. But no, they are talking more and more about some crisis phenomena and some issues. If, God forbid, something happens there, we will be affected as well – it just cannot be otherwise. Therefore, our allocations for the armed forces represent the upper limit. This is dangerous to us to some extent but we are calculating the risks.

I’ve already answered a question from one of you. I consider these plans realistic. We proceeded, of course, from what the General Staff offered us. You know, I’ve been an officer my whole life.  I started my career as an officer. I never worked in the civilian sector. They took me at the KGB right from university. It was only later when I went to work in the Leningrad City Council that I retired and continued my career as a civilian. I think our plans are feasible.

Why did I say that I began as an officer and continued as a civilian? Being an officer, I’m not an expert on, say, the Navy, missile technology or general-purpose forces, and in drafting plans for the development of the armed forces we relied on professionals like you, primarily specialists from the General Staff. The same is true of our plans for the Navy. We have already started patrolling waters in remote strategic regions. I’m sure you know examples when our submarines escape tracking and operate well, and not only under the ice!

In the near future we plan to commission eight new strategic missile cruisers. We have already started re-equipping our forces with the new Yars missiles. We plan to put into operation 20 non-strategic submarines and, I think, several hundred surface warships. Yes, several hundred.

We are also thinking about naval aviation. Of course, we would like to have aircraft carriers. The defence minister is emphasizing the need to develop not only deck aviation but also aircraft carriers. They are expensive and they are  offensive weapons. What we have now is quite… There are not just naval commanders but also other commanders here… The Admiral Kuznetsov is not designed for offense. Its mission is to protect our coast and Navy rather than strike at foreign territory. This direction was not very pronounced in the Soviet Union but we are thinking about it.  

I’m confident that, proceeding from our foreign policy concept, we are acting correctly. The fleet’s mission is to secure our defences, and we will develop the fleet not for aggression but for the defence of our country and its interests. I personally believe the Navy is one of the main components of our armed forces. Please, go ahead.

Vladimir Kochetkov (Colonel): Guards Colonel Kochetkov, Commander of the 106th Airborne Division. Good afternoon.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Vladimir Kochetkov: Mr Prime Minister, recently all kinds of opposition leaders have become markedly more active. I think that they may try to rock the boat in order to stage a colour revolution or change the government. Don’t you think it is time to curtail them? Because in my view this is not democracy but something else. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I have to say that we need legal opposition. The legal opposition that operates under our Constitution and other laws is not some group of hostile agencies that is there to rock the boat in order to capsize it.. It goes without saying that any political campaigns lined with elections rock the boat and this happens in every country. What is important is that all such activities remain within the law and do not go beyond the Constitution. Regrettably, we do have some people that will stop at nothing to achieve their political ambitions, and quite often these ambitions are being fuelled from abroad. This is common knowledge.

In many countries, in the world’s leading countries and so-called leading democracies, society protects itself against foreign interference in domestic affairs, first of all, in political affairs. I think we should take them for a model. We must analyse all they do in this respect and apply it in this country by all means.  But this does not mean that we must curtail democratic institutions or that someone can monopolise power. And the choice in the periods before different political campaigns, the choice of preferences among political forces, parties or politicians should always remain with the people, including military personnel. It should remain with all people, military or civilian alike. Please, go ahead.

Oleg Krivorog (Captain 1st Class): Captain 1st Class Krivorog, Сommander of the Black Sea Fleet 11th Anti-Submarine Brigade. Mr Prime Minister, what can you say about the prospects of the Black Sea Fleet, considering that its main forces are deployed in Crimea in Ukraine? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: This is an important question. It is important internationally, considering our relations with Ukraine, our next-door neighbour, and also in practical, material and financial terms. It is important for sure.

We are not going to withdraw from Crimea – this is the first point. Second, we have every reason for this because we have signed an interstate agreement with Ukraine on extending the stay of our fleet in the Crimea. In a sense, this is a unique document because we have agreed to exchange discounts on gas supplies to Ukraine for the costs of renting space for our fleet. This deal is for billions of dollars. Nobody pays such rent to anyone. We are paying that much considering the strategic location of our fleet and our special relations with Ukraine. Nevertheless, we are thinking about deploying our Black Sea Fleet in Russian ports. To this end, we have allocated the required funds for the development of a deployment site in Novorossiysk and are going to move in this direction. Please, go ahead.

Vladimir Lugovoy (Colonel): Colonel Lugovoy, Commander of the 392nd Territorial Training Centre of the Eastern Military District. Mr Prime Minister, my question is this: Russia announced that it will withdraw from New START on nuclear arms reductions if the United States does not cancel its unilateral plan to deploy missile defence in Eastern Europe. At what stage are the Russian-US missile defence talks now? What can Russia do in response to America’s continued unilateral steps on missile defence build-up? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: As you know, our American partners made this choice a long time ago. Starting with Reagan they spoke about Star Wars and then postponed these plans but in fact this is the same tune. Then they returned to global missile defence and withdrew from the ABM Treaty. It was our American friends not we that destroyed the treaty. Meanwhile, the ABM Treaty and the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty  are two sides of the same coin. Both American and our missile experts realise this very well. Lack of agreement on missile defence is bound to suspend numerous agreements on cuts in strategic offensive arms because the side that is building a missile defence system develops the illusion that it can deal a strike at its potential enemy without retribution. They think they are protected by an anti-missile umbrella.

I have already said this and will repeat it for this audience. At one time when the United States already had nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union was only intensively developing them, we received much information from our foreign intelligence service. This information was not in microfilm but in suitcases. There were literally whole suitcases of this information. Moreover, there was a moment… Niels Bohr, a theorist, a scientist from Denmark, was the founding father, of course. When our scientists led by our famous academicians failed to complete the calculations, they sent a young, an unknown specialist to an international conference. He told Bohr bluntly: “Well, we are trying to calculate but don’t get the correct result.” He helped the young guy to complete the calculation. Our specialist asked him another question: “And how is this transformed into a charge?” Bohr replied: “You are taking it too far. This question is not for me.” And, indeed, this question was not within his competence – other scientists were working on it.

Americans gathered an international group that included the designers of the first German missiles seized in Germany. What was his name? I think Werner von Braun. We also took with us several German specialists. Kurchatov (Igor Kurchatov) was in charge of all these developments.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I have the impression that the world’s best scientists that were gathered in America deliberately transferred to us the information on the atomic bomb. Our scientists led by Kurchatov would have developed it anyway but the work would have taken longer and been more expensive.

They deliberately leaked this information to us because atomic bombs had already been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and scientists – the intellectual elite of that time – realised what unilateral possession of such weapons could lead to. They wanted the world to have some balance. The ABM Treaty, on the one hand, and the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, on the other, created this balance and provided an international legal framework. Now the Americans have destroyed one of its parts.

What should we do? We must either develop our own missile defence or make an asymmetrical response. We can develop missile defence but, first (I think I wrote about this in the article that was published on Monday), this will be expensive and, second, it is unclear how this will work. We can visualise this but not precisely. This effort will cost enormous sums of money and for the time being it may be pointless to invest in it.

We must give an asymmetrical reply. What will it be? First, we must enhance our air and missile defence around Moscow and, as the next step, around the main deployment sites. We must improve our missile early warning system, and we have already resolved the problem at one sector. We knew about the problem – everyone knew about it. We have already put into operation three tracking stations – in Armavir, Kaliningrad and the Leningrad Region – and will move further in this direction. Unpleasant as it is, this is a reality, and we keep telling this to our American partners.

At one time I used to tell my partner George W. Bush that in this case we will have to develop systems that would obviate your missile defence.

Bush told me bluntly that we were not enemies and they were doing this not against us. I replied that in this case our actions would not be directed against them, either. He said he understood me. So, we will be doing this. We already have Topol-M and Yars at sea – these are new generation missiles. In this sense, we are even a bit, half a step ahead of our American partners because they still have to upgrade their nuclear potential. Regrettably, they have left us far behind in the production and use of powerful precision weapons but we are working in this direction. We have good prospects, probably even more interesting than our partners have. All these moves put together will amount to our asymmetrical response. Please, go ahead.

Alexander Shushukin (Major General): Major General Shushukin, Commander of the Fourth Guards’ Military Base in South Ossetia, Southern Military District. The media report that at a summit in Washington, Georgia and the United States have agreed on massive arms supplies to Georgia. What do you think of this in the context of the August 2008 events?

Vladimir Putin: I wasn’t under the negotiating table and I don’t know on what they have agreed. But I hope some of our representatives were there and will tell us what happened. But in general, these are all open secrets. We judge by deeds rather than words. Not only foreign intelligence but also GRU – military intelligence – can easily monitor such deeds. Space and other surveillance systems easily track the movements of ships and the size of shipments. I have seen some of these systems today.

The United States embarked on the re-equipment of the Georgian army immediately after the armed conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I think this is a big mistake because the current Georgian leadership is pursuing an aggressive policy, and arms supplies to the army of an aggressive country is bound to encourage aggressive action. Arms supplies encourage aggressive action and this is why I think our American partners are doing the wrong thing. We are constantly warning them about this. I hope the Georgian government will have enough common sense, that it has drawn conclusions from its adventurist policy and will not use these weapons for new acts of aggression. We know what is going on and we are responding accordingly, albeit not in public. Please, go ahead.

Remark: Mr Prime Minister! Commander of the 69th Guards’ Base, 1st Category, Southern Military District. What is your personal attitude to the Defender of the Fatherland Day? Is this day special for you?

Vladimir Putin: It is special for me. When I worked for that well-known organisation, we always celebrated two holidays – December 20 and February 23. This holiday has personal meaning for me also because it was my father’s birthday. This is why my family always celebrated it as a dual holiday – my father’s special day and a special day for the military. My family has always respected it. We lost many both on my mother’s and my father’s sides. Five were lost in one family, four or five in the other – brothers and other relatives. My grandma also died. My family discussed all these things with great emotion and took the holiday personally. This is why I’d like to repeat that this is a real holiday for me and I will celebrate it tomorrow just as you will. Please accept my congratulations on the coming holiday! All the best! Thank you very much! Best wishes to everyone! Thank you. Good bye!

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