by Sergei Blagov
(IPS) MOSCOW --
President Vladimir Putin has announced plans to reorganize the armed forces to face new security threats since the Iraq war.
The first indications came in his annual address earlier this month when he said the conscript-dependent forces would be transformed into a professional army.
All units kept permanently ready for action would be staffed only by volunteers by 2007, President Putin announced in his speech May 16. The term of military service for conscripts would be cut from two years to one by 2007, he said.
The Defense Ministry has launched a program to have 209 permanently ready units staffed by 170,000 professional soldiers.
At present about 21 percent of military personnel are volunteers, says Gen. Vladimir Konstantinov, deputy head for general staff mobilization. This number would have to be raised to 75 percent to cut the service from two years to one, he said at an official round table in Moscow last week.
But there are doubts whether Russia can give up compulsory recruitment entirely. It is not necessary, and Russia cannot afford it, Defense Ministry advisor Vladimir Mikhalkin told military officers in Saratov in Central Russia last weekend.
President Putin says the country's GNI (Gross National Income) would by doubled by 2010, and this would pay for modernizing the country and its military.
"Strong, professional and well-armed forces are needed for the successful and peaceful development of the country," Putin said. "The army should be able to protect Russia and its allies, and interact effectively with armed forces of other countries to fight common threats."
In an apparent reference to the U.S.-led war on Iraq, Putin said that "certain countries" are using "strong and well-armed forces" to expand their "zones of strategic influence."
Putin described the Commonwealth of Independent States -- former members of the Soviet Union -- as a zone of strategic interest for Russia.
Putin mentioned terrorism, proliferation, territorial disputes, regional and local conflicts and drugs trafficking as "real and potential" threats to the international community. He called on the UN and the "anti-terrorism community" to take a lead role in tackling these challenges.
"Putin's pledges to reform the army aim at reviving Russia's image as a strong state with global reach," Alexander Salitsky, senior researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow told IPS. "In post-war Iraq and the volatile international environment, a modern armed force is necessary to safeguard Russia's vital interest."
The reforms of the military are being planned both in personnel structure and in technology. Putin was applauded when he announced in his speech that Russia is developing a new generation of strategic weapons to defend the country and its allies.
Putin did not say what these weapons would be. But Boris Alyoshin, deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry was quoted by RIA news agency as saying that Putin was talking about a new "space-air-surface" defense system.
Other reports have suggested that the defense industry is developing a new sea-launched ballistic missile, new bombers and air-launched long-range cruise missiles.
In a reminder also of existing capabilities, Russian bombers flew as far as the Indian Ocean earlier this month to launch cruise missiles during a joint exercise with the Indian Navy.
But pledges about reform have been made before, and most people seem to have their doubts whether leaders will do what they promise. A recent study by the Institute of Sociological Research at the Russian Academy of Science indicated that only 8.5 percent of Russians believed that the situation in the armed forces had improved during President Putin's three years in power.
A total of 44.1 percent thought the situation has not changed, while 29.4 percent thought the state of the army had deteriorated.
May 22, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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