Vladimir Putin: I have long wanted to come here and look at the state of the armed forces in the biggest military district and listen to you speak about the status of the district. Its status will provide grounds for assessing the state of the armed forces in general. Its status is important because this is the place where in fact the reform that has been such a major topic of discussion recently, is taking place and must take place.
In terms of the scale and character of its mission, the Siberian Military District occupies a special place in the system of the Russian Armed Forces. And not only because it is the largest military district in the country, as the Defence Minister has stressed, but because it has some key economic and defence infrastructure facilities. Key stretches of the state border are also in the district. And it is here that the key geostrategic interests of the country are safeguarded. So the security of Western and Eastern Siberia, the Trans-Baikal Area and the North depends on how you perform your duties and on your efficiency.
Serious work has already been carried out in the district to optimise the structure of the units and upgrade the professional skills of the personnel. Your district has been named the best district of the armed forces from the results of 2000. I am told that last year too the Defence Ministry recognised the high level of combat training in the Siberian Military District. In the summer of this year major exercises involving two districts – the Siberian and the Far Eastern – were held under the command of the Chief of the General Staff, Anatoly Kvashnin. The event took place without undue pomp and publicity, but with a very good level of organisation. I am sure you have your own opinion about it and perhaps the commanders have noted some problems and shortcomings, but on the whole the exercise was fairly successful.
During the exercise, the reserve 131st Motorised Rifle Division was quickly mobilised. I would like to note that practically all the governors in the Siberian Federal District rendered practical assistance to the exercise. And I was pleased to hear the governor of the Chita Region speak proudly about the exercises immediately after they were finished. He said he was glad to see, at long last, that servicemen were doing what they should be doing, military training, and that they were displaying good professional skills. The coordination of the efforts of all the regional authorities with the Defence Ministry during the exercise was supported by the work of the Presidential Envoy to the Siberian Federal District, Drachevsky. At the same time, your district, like other military districts, still faces some problems. As the Defence Minister has reported after his inspection trip, one of the most pressing problems is the supply of military hardware. At present the army gets almost 95% of what it needs. So, there are no problems in terms of quantity, but as far as quality is concerned, we must introduce a new generation of technology. There is a T-90 tank regiment, but that is not enough. We have probably sold more of them abroad than are in our own army.
In creating a qualitatively new army we must tackle a double task. First, get rid of the outdated methods of the 1980s, and second develop and continue the best traditions of our army. Close attention must be given to strengthening military discipline. Disobeying orders, the lack of responsibility and negligence that cause human deaths cannot be tolerated. Unfortunately, such incidents are still frequent in the army. We cannot turn a blind eye to the violation of the rules about the use of military vehicles and the non-regulation of relations between servicemen. It undermines the army’s combat ability and its prestige in the eyes of society thus causing serious damage, very serious damage.
During the course of this meeting I would like to identify only the main priorities and the main tasks facing the district and the army as a whole. The key one is to preserve and enhance the combat ability of the army as a whole, and especially that of the strategic forces. I think it is inadmissible when the supply of power to the Strategic Missile Forces and the Space Forces, which form a single security system, is cut over disputes between the utilities services and the military command. Criminal negligence and the lack of coordination between departments and the lack of financial discipline must be strictly punished under the law.
Second. The practicing of joint actions of the army and the Federal Border Service and other security agencies takes on particular significance in current conditions. And the operating costs of all components of military organisation must be reduced. We had a successful exercise on the Caspian, with not only the Caspian flotilla, but the whole army taking part. I said yesterday and instructed the Defence Minister and will instruct the General Staff to prepare similar integrated exercises using the Far Eastern Fleet. Interaction goes a long way in determining not only the success of the exercises, but above all the proper and prompt performance of a task.
Third. There must be effective interaction between the units within the district and between neighbouring districts. It is one of the key conditions for controlling troops on such a vast territory. That is why I have invited the Commander of the Far Eastern District to also attend this meeting.
Another important task is protection of the national border. I repeat: your sphere of responsibility is one of the most challenging, partly because some of the stretches of the border are still poorly equipped. It is your immediate duty to stop any illegal attempts to cross into Russian territory, especially those that threaten the country’s economic security. It is necessary to set up a strong barrier preventing the entry of terrorists and drug traffickers. It is necessary to prevent the illegal export of our natural and cultural riches. Success in addressing these and other tasks depends in many ways on interaction with our neighbours. I am aware that you have military-technical cooperation with Kazakhstan and Mongolia and you are promoting links with the Chinese border troops and the army. Such contacts are useful and they should be further fostered and developed.
Social security for servicemen and their families is a key topic. You know about the recent decisions and you know about the problems, above all the housing problems. As of July 1 payments for military rank have been increased. I have been told that all the payments are duly made in the district; but if you have any other information on the issue, especially of a negative kind, I will gladly listen to you. As I said at a meeting at the Navy’s Headquarters today, two allowance increases for servicemen are planned for next year: the first will be an increase of payments for military rank as of January 1, 2003, and the second will be an 11% increase for everyone as of October 2003. As you know, under the new decisions the allowances of servicemen will now be about 25% higher than those of civil servants and will be similarly adjusted for inflation, which was not the case until now. Previously the civil service has always had larger salaries and the allowances of servicemen had some catching up to do. Now the decision has been taken. The existing gap between the military service and the civil service will remain. So, as of October 1, the allowances of all servicemen will be increased by 11%. All this is envisaged under the 2003 budget. I hope that this spending item will not be altered when the budget is approved by the State Duma.
In this connection I would like to stress the need for closer interaction between the command of the military units and the local authorities because they too can do a lot for the social well-being of servicemen. Practice shows that the issues of education, medical care, utilities and the problems of employment for retired servicemen are best addressed jointly.
In conclusion I would like to say that after inspecting your district and hearing the reports of commanders at all levels, some general conclusions on the progress of the military reform can be drawn. I said it in the very beginning. The further success of the reform depends on each of you, on your team work and efficiency at every level of military control in all the country’s districts. I want to thank you for your service and your work and wish you success in the performance of the mission facing the Siberian Military District.
I will now take your questions.
Question: Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief. We all serve far away from the capital, but we cannot but be worried about the situation in other regions. How do you assess the situation on the Russian-Georgian border?
Vladimir Putin: I was asked the same question by the special forces officers with whom I just met on the training ground. Of course it is a worrisome situation. I mean not just the situation on the border, but our mutual relations and a lack of mutual understanding with our Georgian partners.
You remember that we were all recently told by television that there were no terrorists in Georgia. It was repeated many times and with confidence… And then we were told just as firmly that there were terrorists. They had to admit the presence of terrorists. Then they thought a little bit and said that there were terrorists, but they were good guys who had university degrees. Then it turned out that these highly educated people had taken to committing crimes, killing people, local citizens, engaging in theft, drug trafficking, and arms smuggling and had links with international terrorist organisations. They have international terrorists, citizens of other countries, in their ranks. It turned out that these highly educated gentlemen had taken to shooting down the helicopters of the United Nations in which, as we know, representatives of UN missions died. Then they moved to the Kodori Gorge, destabilised the situation in Abkhazia and tried to penetrate into our territory. This year, just recently, they made another abortive attempt to break into Russian territory. Unfortunately we lost eight of our men in these clashes. Weapons and reinforcements are sent from there to the terrorists in the Chechen Republic. I think it is causing direct damage to Russia. Of course we will cope with that task; of course we will solve it. But we would solve it with much smaller losses and much quicker if we did it together.
Think of what was happening in Afghanistan only recently. The Taliban regime covered up al-Qaeda, as it was preparing to commit crimes all over the world. It prepared and carried out a horrendous terrorist act whose anniversary we will soon be remembering on September 11. Is the situation in Georgia any better as far as we Russians are concerned? No. There are the same terrorists, including, I repeat, some foreign nationals. They have admitted to attacking our territory. Perhaps our Georgian partners are unwilling or unable to challenge them? And I think it should be understood by the international community and our partners in other countries that either we fight it together and fight it effectively or we only pretend to be fighting. And then there will be no results, at least the results will fall short of what we could achieve by fighting international terrorism together. Perhaps some people think that it is possible to get rid of foreign citizens, above all the destructive elements from some Arab countries, squeeze them out and recognise the militants who remain on Georgian territory as fighters for the independence of Chechnya and so on. But that is an impossible mission. No one can determine international terrorists from Chechen terrorists. They will remain there. And the international community will have a mess to clear up. It will remain bogged down for a long time until it realises that times have changed and that we should be working together and fighting together to meet all the challenges and threats that the terrorists pose to our country and all the other civilised countries.
I would like to hope that the actions of the Georgian leadership, including the latest actions aimed at restoring order, are not token actions but are prompted by a genuine desire to rid the country of terrorism that is eroding the Georgian state. We are ready to cooperate.