The meeting of the senior officers of the Armed Forces, at which President Vladimir Putin made a speech, was an important event of the current week. This was his first visit to the Defense Ministry this year, although such a meeting was held already for the second time (previously generals met in May 2002, summing up results of the combat training in the winter period). It is interesting that the Supreme Commander-in-Chief built his speech upon analysis of the problems that now worry the Armed Forces and the state. Putin says that the main task of the Armed Forces today is combating of terrorism, although he emphasizes that some other tasks are also important, including the tasks of rearmament and arming of the Armed Forces. The President stresses that the Armed Forces should “interact with the law enforcement agencies and other military structures more efficiently.”

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also spoke about the need for closer cooperation of the Defense Ministry with other security agencies in his final report for 2002, read after Putin’s speech. This problem is evidently becoming a priority for the authorities. This circumstance has a simple explanation: the special services and the Armed Forces missed penetration of the terrorist gang into Moscow. At present, the biggest problem for the federal forces in Chechnya is growing activity of the militants, connected with deaths of many people and destruction of armored vehicles and helicopters. Where do the militants get the weapons from? Not only journalists, but also the ministers ask this question and do not offer any clear answer yet. In his report, the Defense Minister noted that, “We failed to fully close the channels of weapon, ammunition and other materiel deliveries to the militants operating in the North Caucasus.”

It is interesting that Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov and Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev were present at the meeting. Ivanov addressed his statements about the problems requiring solution to them. According to Ivanov, the Defense Ministry in cooperation with the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service needs to “correct tactics of the antiterrorist operation.” The war has been going on in Chechnya for three years. Why did the Defense Ministry not do this before?

It is quite understandable that there are still contradictions among the Defense Ministry, Federal Security Service and the Interior Ministry. At any rate, the Kremlin understands that these problems should be solved. The Defense Ministry understands them, evidently, also. The price of the “defeating” of terrorists in Moscow was very high. It is not incidental that the General Staff is preparing a new plan for use of the troops and makes amendments to the conceptual plan of national security, which will outline the methods of interior functions fulfillment by the Armed Forces in the country in detail. According to Putin, the last year showed “timeliness of the work having been started for reevaluation of modern threats.”

Speaking about the role of the Armed Forces in the life of the state, Putin said that, “Over the last year there were many regrettable errors and emergency situations, but in general, conviction is growing in the country that the Armed Forces are getting stronger and are coping with the task of national security protection.” However, a little later Sergei Ivanov added a spoonful of tar to the honey-pot. Speaking about the condition of the general-purpose forces, Ivanov said that, “Only isolated units can fulfill their tasks fully.”

According to Ivanov, the strategic nuclear forces provide for the general security of Russia. For the first time, Ivanov says that heavy MIRV intercontinental ballistic missiles, which Russia has had to destroy according to the START-2 Treaty, remain on combat duty. It is known that Russia has announced that after withdrawal of the US from the ABM Treaty, this document has lost its power.

Meanwhile, according to both the President and the Defense Minister, the problems for the Armed Forces remained the same. The country lacks money for defense. In his report Ivanov stated, “We have the greatest concern about the qualitative condition of armament and combat materiel, as well as prospects of Armed Forces rearmament.” According to him, “The budget assignments are sufficient only for purchase of single pieces of armament, repairs which are not large-scale, and some reorganization.”

To solve this problem, the Defense Ministry sent proposals to the government regarding improvement of the situation in the armament and combat materiel area. At the beginning of the meeting Putin promised that the state would find the money for this purpose.

Meanwhile, participants of the meeting also paid much attention to analysis of the so-called subjective problems of the Armed Forces. Thus, in his speech President Putin named prevention of military crime as one of the main tasks of the Defense Ministry. He specifically pointed at the need to prevent the cases of desertions from military units with weapons. Putin also focused on the problem of improvement of discipline in the Armed Forces. According to the President, over the last few months the Defense Ministry did much to solve these problems. Nonetheless, he thinks that it is still necessary to improve discipline in the Armed Forces and to prevent barracks cruelty.

President Putin promises that the state will keep improving the social conditions for servicemen, although he says that the Defense Ministry should organize “comprehensive control over spending of the allocations.” According to Putin, transfer of all accounts of the ministry to the Federal Treasury will contribute to improvement of control.

Sergei Ivanov also indicated some negligence of commanders. According to him, breaches of discipline and crimes occur due to their fault. Ivanov expressed his concern about the crime situation in the Armed Forces. According to the Minister, evasion of military service accounts for more than 30% of the crimes. Also, the number of crimes involving damage to life, health, and dignity of servicemen is growing. Along with this, over the last year the number of servicemen who fled from military units was down 21%, the number of drug-related crimes was down 24% and the number of money theft cases was down 42%. The Defense Minister called on commanders of all levels to take active measures for prevention of such crimes and to work with the personnel.

The Minister also touched on the social problems of officers. For example, Ivanov expressed his apprehension that inflation processes might in the future eliminate the recent addition to the money allowances. Ivanov added that in 2002 servicemen received 23,000 apartments. Along with this, according to Ivanov, about 168,000 servicemen need improvement of housing conditions and 94,000 servicemen have no housing at all.

Thus, another year of combat training has passed in the Russian Armed Forces. According to Ivanov, the trend of decrease in the combat readiness of the Armed Forces was surmounted. However, Russia will not have renewed Armed Forces for a long time. The experiment with contract service failed (only three-fourths of the necessary number of contract servicemen were enlisted). The Defense Ministry admits that there will be no mass supply of armament and combat materiel to the troops until 2010. So far, Russia is lucky, because there are no serious military threats to her. What if they appear?