A meeting in the Defense Ministry at which the president and the defense minister announced new reference points of military construction was the main event of the past week. Representatives of the media and parliamentarians who attended the meeting received 60-page booklets with figures, graphs and conclusions called “Topical Tasks of the Russian Armed Forces”. What new has this event brought?
Firstly, the Russian leadership has announced its intention to retain military-strategic parity with the US and other nuclear powers. The president said that Russia has enough strength to deliver preventive strikes. Putin said that Russia has the UR-100N-UTTH heavy ground-based strategic missiles, which the Strategic Missile Force has not been using in missile units on duty yet.
The president noted: “The matter concerns the most menacing missiles – we have dozens of such missiles with hundreds of warheads. They can easily overcome any anti-missile system.”
Putin noted that the nuclear containment force is the main foundation of Russia’s national defense. According to the president, this force is in good condition, and there are plans of its development. The president noted that Russia will meet its international obligations in the sphere of strategic offensive weapons. In the meantime however, he said that the Agreement on Strategic Offensive Weapons “allows Russia to keep a substantial potential at its bases, and Russia will make use of this term of the agreement”.
Meanwhile, the defense minister explained the president’s statement in Ottawa on October 6. Sergei Ivanov hinted that Russia will not urgently arm its missile units with the UR-100N-UTTH missiles.
He noted that “these strategic missiles do not have rivals in the world”.
S. Ivanov stated: “However, we must look into the future and create new complexes.” When answering a question by an Interfax-AVN journalist, the minister said that “the president’s statement about the existence of the UR-100N-UTTH missiles was addressed both to the domestic and foreign audience”.
The defense minister noted: “This statement has again disproved rumors about a critical state of the Russian Strategic Missile Force”.
Secondly, this was a warning to NATO. For the first time over the post-Soviet period, the president and the Defense Minister stated in the presence of politicians and journalists that Russia will revise its military construction plans if NATO will play the role of a military alliance with an offensive military doctrine.
Thirdly, the minister and the president acted as politicians and put an end to disputes over the image of the Russian Army. At first glance both Putin and Ivanov confirmed the leadership’s intention to create a professional army in Russia. However, the text of Topical Tasks of the Armed Forces shows that a transition to a professional army will be long. The president stated at the meeting that he supports the Defense Ministry’s plans to modernize the Army. He noted that the General Staff will play the role of the main military body, which will plan military construction in Russia. In the meantime, many representatives of the General Staff state that a mixed principle of recruitment will remain; draftees will account for around 30% of servicemen of the Russian Army until 2008.
As is known, Vladimir Putin considered the opinions of various political forces. He stated after a meeting with Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Right Forces, that there were no alternatives to a professional army in Russia, and this issue would become the main direction of military construction in Russia. The meeting in the Defense Ministry has shown that he supports the military. He shares the principles of military reform announced by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov at the meeting. To all appearances, his position must become a program of pro-presidential parties and movements in the election.
It should be noted that some theses announced in Ivanov’s program may not be too popular. For instance, the defense minister supports the General Staff’s proposal to cancel occupational deferments. The defense ministry is dissatisfied with the parameters of the 2004 military budget. The ministry opposes further cuts to the Army’s strength.
It is possible that the president’s political potential and personality will help the party of power to win over voters in the election despite the fact that some theses of his military program are not popular.
Time will show if such a formula of the election campaign will be advantageous for pro-presidential parties. The meeting in the Defense Ministry has opened some cards in the political sympathies of the High Commander-in-Chief, which will probably let the pro-presidential party’s opponents criticize them.