A meeting of the leadership of the Russian Armed Forces was held under the chairmanship of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Moscow this week. As a rule, such meetings aimed at finalizing the results of a training year are held in November. It has become a tradition that President Vladimir Putin, High Commander-in-Chief, attends this meeting. This time he evaluated the performance of Russian servicemen. A very important phase of reforming of the Armed Forces has finished this year; a program of implementing a contract system of recruitment has been passed; the absolute expenditure on national defense has increased by a quarter in the 2004 budget.

The president noted that it is necessary to increase military units; combat and mobilization readiness. The president stated that professional servicemen must play a very important role in this process. According to him, the share of contract servicemen must go up to 50% of servicemen in three years (at present the share of contract servicemen is 20%). In addition, the president plans to reduce the duration of obligatory military service to one year.

It should be noted that Vladimir Putin has appreciated the performance of the Russian Armed Forces for the first time over the past three years. The president thinks that “the Army and the Navy cope with their problems and tasks, including combat training”.

The president noted: “The fact that the quantity of battalion and regimental tactical exercises has doubled testifies to positive changes in the training process.” Putin stated that a substantial part of the 2004 defense budget will be spent on combat training.

At the same time, Vladimir Putin noted that the Army must be prepared for repulsing “modern conflicts and future threats; not the past century’s wars”. This is why the Army’s strategy must be flexible.

The president stated that the military leadership must focus on studying the character and experience of modern armed conflicts.

He said: “It is evident that this is the task of the Russian military science and analytical services of the General Staff.”

In the meantime, it is evident that a theoretical study of combat experience alone will not solve problems of Russia’s security. Judging from Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov’s report, the share of up-to-date weapons in the Russian Armed Forces does not exceed 20%. This is not enough to succeed in prospective military conflicts and wars. This is why the defense minister said that defense enterprises and troops face a very important tasks connected with modernization of military hardware.

It should be noted that Sergei Ivanov made a range of critical and strict statements at the meeting. Ivanov interrupted his speech several times and addressed concrete generals. For instance, the defense minister acknowledged that the Defense Ministry has not managed to stop the process of aging of weapons and military hardware. He said that the Moscow, North-Caucasian and Siberian military districts do not pay attention to regular maintenance of military hardware. In this regard, the defense minister addressed Colonel-General Alexei Moskovsky, Chief of the Armament department of the Armed Forces. The minister stated that he must coordinate research programs some of which ought to be closed more strictly.

Sergei Ivanov said that a very high death rate in the Army and the Navy makes him worry. According to the minister, 337 Russian servicemen have perished in 2003. Suicides account for 35% of deaths; violation of safety requirements – 23%; violation of rules of the road – 10%. The minister noted: “Suicide always testifies to commanders’ mistakes and negligence. Officers must visit barracks and talk to soldiers more often. Only commanders can train skilled sergeants. At present the situation in barracks is controlled by soldiers appointed as sergeants: this is the main cause of hazing of young recruits, suicides and AWOLs.”

However, the minister noted that the quantity of AWOLs has decreased by 33%, thefts of property and money – by 25%, violations of military regulations – by 17%, and crimes against civilians – by 13%. The quantity of servicemen who have perished on duty has gone down by 4%. The minister demanded that Colonel-General Nikolai Reznik, Chief of the Morale Department, create a system of morale education adequate to the requirements of the time.

The minister also reproached Vladimir Mikhailov, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force. The minister criticized the command of the Air Force for military pilots’ low skills. He noted that “no air regiment meets the requirements to combat ready military units owing to pilots’ weak skills and technical state of military hardware”. Sergei Ivanov noted that ten crashes have happened since the start of the year.

Ivanov stated: “The problem of training of skilled pilots remains very topical. I’d like to ask you how we intend to master new warplanes, which the Air Force currently receives, if the rate of accidents caused by the human factor and negligence is very high. Everyone must obey and fulfill instructions and military regulations.” He ordered the high commander-in-chief of the Air Force to “make every effort in order to improve the situation”.

Ivanov also commented on the necessity of integrating the Federal railroad force and the Federal special construction service under the aegis of the Defense Ministry. This was not an impromptu, and the fact that the Russian president agreed with the minister shows that Sergei Ivanov has influence on the president.

It should be noted that the defense minister gave his report on the results of combat training in the presence of journalists. Before, such meetings were secret.