On ratification of the START II Treaty
Vladimir Putin: Whether we ratified START II or not, we would all the same have removed these missiles from operational status by 2007. The reference is indeed above all to the so-called R-36 heavy missiles and their derivatives.
The cynicism lies in the fact that if we sign the treaty we decommission them in 2007, and if we do not sign it, we also scrap them in 2007. This raises the question of whether there is any sense in ratifying the treaty. There is, and it lies above all in the diplomatic and political repercussions, if you like, of this step by the State Duma. It is a very substantial step, one that gives us a possibility to adopt an affirmative stance in negotiations on international security. On such a key issue for us and our American partners, as well as Europe, which are plans for a national missile defence.
We have already declared that if our START II partners withdraw from the treaty and fail to bring the procedure to its finish, we will feel free to take any decisions in the nuclear area as a whole.
We will closely watch our partners’ fulfilment of these obligations. Not a single warhead, not a single missile will be removed from combat duty until the final warranty period expires.
On the prospects of appointing Gennady Troshev as commander of the Joint Group of Forces in the North Caucasus
Vladimir Putin: Gennady Troshev was and is deputy commander of the North Caucasian Military District… As regards the grouping proper in the North Caucasus, which operates in Chechnya and partly in Dagestan, there are plans to appoint Troshev commander of this grouping. But I repeat he will remain subordinate to Viktor Kazantsev as his district deputy commander.
The reason is that our objectives are changing, that no large-scale military operations are now being carried out there, as you know, and those conducted by the armed forces, law enforcement bodies and interior troops are ones that require revised tactics, revised content, and a revised scale.
On Russian-Belarusian Relations
Vladimir Putin: We have a special relationship with Belarus. We have set the objective of working towards a Union State. Belarus, which is our closest partner in this sense, is planning to hold a meeting soon at the level of heads of government. Mikhail Kasyanov will lead the Russian delegation. The Union government will address a series of current problems, for which an agenda is now being prepared. After this event I would like very much to meet the Belarusian president, discuss this segment of our cooperation with him, and speak of the speed of progress and concrete steps towards the Union State in line with the documents signed in the recent past.