Vladimir Putin: Significant changes are taking place in the country and in its armed forces. We will try to build the armed forces so that they are better equipped and with the idea of gradually changing the recruitment principles.
You know about the problems that the country may face in the coming years in recruiting servicemen for the armed forces. So, we have no choice but to consider new principles of army recruitment and to increase the number of contract soldiers. We cannot do it too quickly because the country and its economy are not yet ready. You understand that we need to guard ammunition depots and perform other difficult routine military duties and you can’t replace all the conscripts with contractees.
But we will gradually move in that direction and as the number of servicemen recruited under contract increases, we will cut the number of conscripts and reduce the length of service. All this should be coordinated and calculated in order to not damage the country’s defence capability.
That is enough regarding recruitment.
We have adopted a programme for providing the army with the latest military hardware up to the year 2010. We will move consistently in this direction and strengthen the country’s defence industry. Decisions are being taken to create scientific and production complexes and large associations. Unfortunately, the army is not being modernised as fast as we would like.
But this is the only way if the army is to have a future. Our army must be equipped with modern weapons systems. This is true of the ground forces, the air force and the strategic missile force. We must be a modern country in every way. We are not going to fight anyone, but in order not to have to fight, we need to have a good army that is well equipped and well trained.
It need not be very large, but it must be very effective. We have every reason to hope that we will succeed if we fulfill the plans we have made. So far, all the priority tasks we set ourselves for the coming year and a half to two years are being fulfilled. I hope they will continue to be fulfilled in the future.
In connection with this, I have no doubt that airborne troops face very special challenges. You know about the new threats not only to this country, but to many others. These threats are well known. They are terrorism, intolerance and interethnic strife, which radicals of all types – both religious and political – try to take advantage of. So the role of the special units in securing the interests of the state, the role of the Airborne Troops, is very important.
And I can tell you with full responsibility that the tasks that the special units of the security agencies and ministries are tackling, the tasks that are frequently given to the Airborne Troops, are truly national tasks. This is not about participation in some minor conflicts with unknown purposes and aims. This is about protecting the Motherland in the direct sense of the word.
We know that different points of view have been expressed about events in the Caucasus. The situation there is complicated and it did not arise yesterday. I am not going into the root causes, as it all started with the trends triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union. These trends spilt over into the Russian Federation.
Separatism was the first thing that started creating problems in the Caucasus. It quickly transformed itself. The relay was quickly taken from the separatists by international terrorist centres, which set themselves objectives that have nothing to do with the interests of the people who live in the Chechen Republic.
I have said it many times in public and I would like to repeat it to this audience. We have a clear, understandable, open, absolutely moral and honest position. Attempts to seize territories outside Chechnya have nothing to do with the interests of the Chechen people. So we have every moral and political right to claim that today we are dealing not simply with separatists but with part of an international terrorist network.
You know that terrorism is manifesting itself in many regions of the world. Look at some European countries. There are terrorist organisations there too. And it does not occur to anyone to call them by any other name. Nobody calls them freedom fighters although they too set political goals for themselves and think they have noble motives. Everybody calls them terrorists. So, our homebred terrorist organisations, such as the ones operating in Chechnya, also set global tasks for themselves. As I have said, they have the aim of separating the whole Caucasus from Russia and so on.
Therefore, unlike European local terrorist groups, ours are part of the global terrorist network and they pose a much greater threat not only to us but to the international community as a whole.
In connection with this, I would like to stress again that you face very serious tasks which undoubtedly can be put in the category of key tasks.
I would like to wish you success. If you have any questions I would be happy to answer them.
Question: After the terrorist attacks in Moscow, the gradual withdrawal of some forces from Chechnya and the transfer of some functions to local law enforcement agencies have been suspended. How will the situation develop?
Vladimir Putin: It is not only about the terrorist attack in Moscow. We have a plan for withdrawing the excess number of troops from the territory of the Chechen Republic, and we will go ahead with this plan. The natural reaction of the security and military agencies to terrorist actions is to step up anti-terrorist activities. I think at that precise moment it was necessary to carry out some specific targeted operations where the Defence Ministry units were involved. By now they have been practically completed.
We are not going to withdraw all our Armed Forces from the Chechen Republic. You know that the 42nd Division is stationed there. An Interior Ministry Brigade and some other units will be stationed there permanently. But their mission, as in any other location in the Russian Federation, is to restore order. The brunt of the task rests with the special units of the Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry, and of course, gradually this work will be undertaken by the local law enforcement bodies, above all, the Interior Ministry of the Chechen Republic. It was created just recently. The Interior Minister of the Chechen Republic is to be appointed shortly. That will give rise to another task, which is interaction with the local law enforcement bodies in order to help them restore order on their own land. Chechnya has enough people who can assume that responsibility and are ready to do it. I am sure they will cope with this task. Of course, as you understand, it will not be an easy process. It will be a complicated, perhaps even a painful process. But we will never solve any problems there unless we allow the Chechen people themselves to decide their own destiny. And indeed it has never been our aim to force the Chechen people or any other peoples to do something. That is impossible by definition. No one in Russia has ever set such a task. We have only one task: to make sure that the territory of the Chechen Republic is not used as a springboard for attacking Russia, as a springboard for rocking the Russian Federation. That is our main task.
I am convinced that an overwhelming majority of the Chechen people would never agree to be used as tools for achieving goals which have nothing to do with them.
Any more questions?
Question: My name is cadet Ivanov. In the wake of the Nord-Ost events, amendments had to be made to the laws on the media to restrict their activities. But I have heard reports that these amendments have been put on hold, that is, they were debated by the Duma, but…
Vladimir Putin: They were passed by the Duma and by the Federation Council, but I vetoed them. Many unfortunate things have been happening in many areas in the country’s life and it would be wrong to place all the blame on the media. And it would be an even greater mistake to take any steps to limit the freedom of expression in the country on the spur of emotions, and of course, we are all feeling very strongly about what happened. If we did that you would never learn what is happening in the hot spots. Your relatives would never know what is happening to you. Eventually it would turn the civil service and civil servants into an entity that would come to believe that it is infallible in any situation and that would be unable to adequately assess the quality of the work done by the national and regional leaders.
The existence of a free press is an indispensable condition for the development of the country along democratic lines. The deputies, at least the heads of the two chambers, have agreed with me that some provisions of the law they adopted are somewhat vague and need to be formulated more precisely. The deputies of the State Duma and the members of the Federation Council are finalising the law together with the media representatives, and it will eventually be passed.