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Russia's Putin Seeks Strong Econ Growth, Military Reform
May 16, 2003

MOSCOW (AP)--Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that his country faces serious threats that require a major increase in economic growth, further military reforms and the development of new strategic weapons.

In an hour-long address in the Kremlin, Putin also spent some time addressing the war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, although he offered no new initiatives. He called for radical cuts in Russia's bloated bureaucracy and urged political unity.

"We face serious threats," Putin told lawmakers gathered in the marble room in the Kremlin, for the president's annual address to the nation.

Putin called for a doubling of the country's GDP over the next 10 years and said the ruble should become fully convertible.

Turning to military reform, Putin noted that Russia was developing a new generation of strategic weapons. He provided no details. Putin, who is seeking to reform Russia's military by gradually introducing an all-volunteer army, also proposed reducing military service to one year from two by 2008.

Russia has had tremendous problems meeting its draft quotas because of often horrific conditions in the military, including brutal hazing, poor pay and promotion policies and the real possibility that draftees may have to serve in Chechnya, where Russia is mired in its second war against rebels who have refused to put down their arms.

Turning to Chechnya, where more than 75 people died this week in two separate suicide bomb attacks, Putin spoke in measured terms of the progress he believes has been achieved in reaching a political settlement in the republic.

He noted that Chechens approved a referendum on a new constitution this spring and said that must now be complemented by presidential and parliamentary elections. On Thursday, Putin offered a partial amnesty to rebels who agreed to put down their weapons.

Putin didn't elaborate on the amnesty proposal, nor did he address the bombings or offer condolences to any of the victims. However, the tone of his remarks on Chechnya was less aggressive than it has been in the past.

Though he provided no specifics on weapons development, Putin's comments may have referred to a new generation of nuclear weapons.

Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst, said that Putin's statement could refer to new types of nuclear warheads that are believed to be under development.

"The president apparently meant a new generation of nuclear warheads, including low-yield ones similar to those designed by the Americans," Felgenhauer said in a telephone interview. Development of those weapons began long ago, Felgenhauer said, and their "deployment is quite realistic."

Low-yield nuclear weapons are smaller and less powerful than the ones possessed by the U.S. and Russia currently and could be used in small scale attacks in battle without as much risk of contamination over a large area.

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