Source Pravda.Ru

Putin says armed forces first guarantor of sovereignty

President Vladimir Putin promised on Wednesday to keep Russia's military strong, but also emphasized the need for reforms, saying the armed forces must be prepared to combat any threat. "In channeling serious resources to the army, we will understand that the armed forces are a most important attribute of statehood, the guarantor of the sovereignty of our country," Putin told military commanders in televised comments a meeting in Moscow.

"They must be prepared to ... defend Russia against any attempts at military-political pressure and blackmail by force," Putin said. "And unfortunately, we do see such methods of foreign policy, they still exist in the world."

Putin said the capability of the armed forces had been increased this year and that progress was made in improving nuclear deterrence, Russian news media reported, "The army and navy are worthily fulfilling the task of safeguarding Russia's security and defending its national interests," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

But he also reaffirmed the need for reforms, saying the military must be ready to decrease the normal term of compulsory service from two years to one year by Jan. 1, 2008, "without lessening the combat-readiness of the army and navy", and to rely increasingly on professional soldiers instead of conscripts. He acknowledged that hazing is "a serious problem" in Russia's military, Interfax said.

Putin also said that military pay and pensions would increase by 67 percent over the next three years. With oil prices high, resource-rich Russia has enjoyed years of strong economic growth. It recently boosted its planned budget for 2005, and officials said a significant part of the additional spending will go to the military and law enforcement, the AP says.

T.E.

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