The visit of President Putin to Siberian and Far Eastern regions of the country coincided with the active phase of military exercises of units of the Siberian Military District.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov inspected these exercises between August 23 and 27 and highly appreciated the skills of the troops. On August 28, Supreme Commander-in-Chief Putin discussed results of the military reform with the command of the Siberian Military District in Chita.

After his trip to Vladivostok, where Putin met with command of the Pacific Fleet, the President arrived in Chita on Wednesday afternoon and started working with the troops immediately. Putin visited the Peschanka training ground of the 212th Guards District Training Center, where he got acquainted with exhibition of armored and engineer vehicles and weapons being in service with the Siberian Military District. The President talked to servicemen and visited firing exercises at the tank testing range and exercises of special units.

Defense Minister Ivanov himself reported to Putin about results of the military reform according to the example of the Siberian Military District.

Ivanov worked in the district for almost a week. He obviously studied the situation in the district very well and stated that the district was among the best in the Armed Forces. On August 23, the Minister visited the headquarters of the 41st Combined Arms Army deployed in Novosibirsk, and on August 24 he was present at tactical exercises of the 74th Detached Guards Mechanized Infantry Brigade. On August 25, the Minister visited the headquarters of the 36th Combined Arms Army deployed in Borza (not far from the border with Mongolia) and observed battalion exercises with firing practice. On August 26, Ivanov already worked in the headquarters of the 57th Army Corps in Ulan-Ude, and in the second half of the day he watched a regimental tactical exercise with firing practice at a training ground near Kyakhta. On August 27, the minister met with the command of the district in Chita and was preparing for the meeting with Putin.

It was no accident that the program of the Defense Minister’s visit was so busy. Reforming of Russian Armed Forces began from the Siberian Military District. The 41st army is one of the youngest formations of the Ground Forces. Before 1998, there was the old Siberian Military District at the location of the present 41st army. Later the old Siberian Military District was merged with the Transbaikalia Military District, and the headquarters of the new Siberian Military District was moved to Chita. At the location of the former headquarters of the old Siberian district in Novosibirsk, the headquarters of the 41st army was established. Evidently Ivanov wanted to see how reforming of the districts was completed and how reliable control over the troops was.

Ivanov reported to President Putin about these results. Reforming of the district was considered to be successful. Now the number of units of permanent readiness deployed in the Siberian Military District is the biggest. At this point, there are several questions. First, why is so much attention paid to formation of units of permanent readiness in Siberia? Second, why did the Defense Minister and the President decide to evaluate results of the military reform there?

Leaders of the country did not give a clear answer to the first question. It is possible only to guess which tasks the Siberian Military District has in defense of the country. Probably these tasks are connected with the proximity of China, and it is possible that the potential of “China-ization” of scarcely populated Siberian regions is one of the factors that condition the need to strengthen the border by means of the Armed Forces and other troops. However, Ivanov says that the inflow of immigrants from China is not a problem; they represent the cheap labor force that Russia needs so badly. Ivanov also states clearly that there is no military threat to Russia on the part of China, and that China is a strategic partner. Ivanov emphasizes that the time of the “iron curtain” has gone.

Meanwhile, the nature of tasks, for fulfillment of which troops of the Siberian Military District are trained, shows that they are getting ready to operate on a broad front, conducting both defensive and offensive operations. Many units of the district and their headquarters are located along the Chinese and Mongolian borders. Thus, the Russian Armed Forces demonstrate a force which is obviously a deterring factor. Probably, Russian leaders think that, despite partnership relations with Mongolia and China, presence of combat-ready troops in the region is necessary.

Probably, units of permanent readiness in Siberia are also needed as a reserve. This reserve was already used in Chechnya. For example, 8,000 servicemen of the 74th brigade were in Chechnya. According to performance rankings of 2001, this unit had second place in the district.

There is also another factor, due to which there is a need for troops in Siberia. According to Ivanov, armed forces are necessary, for example, in Buryatia not only for fulfillment of military tasks, but also for fulfillment of social tasks. “If we imagined that garrisons deployed there were moved, this would be a huge, unsolvable problem for Buryatia. Everything there depends mainly on the military, especially infrastructure and employment of population. Stable wages are paid on time now. If there is a fire, for instance, nobody will extinguish it, apart from the Army,” says the Minister.

Thus, during entire last week the President and the Defense Minister were analyzing effectiveness of the military reform in the Far East, Siberia and Transbaikalia. They studied experience of the military reform in the Siberian Military District to apply it to the whole of the Armed Forces in the future. Ivanov announced this while outlining the tasks and goals of his work in the Siberian and Transbaikalia regions.