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BBC Monitoring
Russian defence minister confirms aim of professional army by 2008
Source: RTR Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 1600 gmt 18 May 03

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov has confirmed plans to have professional armed forces in Russia by 2008. "It is utterly realistic to suppose this programme can be implemented by the end of 2007, that we can effectively create the backbone of a new Russian army," Ivanov said in an interview for Russia TV's "Vesti Nedeli". He added that the plan to grant Russian citizenship to professional soldiers from the CIS who have served for three years in the Russian armed forces was a "useful incentive". Ivanov also gave a positive interim report on the large-scale exercises being conducted by Russian air and naval forces in and around the Indian Ocean. The following is the text of the interview broadcast by Russia TV on 18 May. Subheadings have been added editorially:

[Presenter] Next week there will be more exercises, when the Black Sea and Pacific Fleets carry out manoeuvres with the Indian navy.

I talked yesterday to Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov about the first large-scale exercises conducted by the Russian armed forces, and the reform of the forces.

Sergey Borisovich, why was it decided to carry out such large-scale exercises right now?

Groundbreaking exercises

[Sergey Ivanov] We have been preparing for these exercises for quite a long time. At the beginning of the year, I won't hide the fact, there was a lot of speculation that these exercises were somehow timed to coincide with the war in Iraq. This was not the case at all.

More than once we denied reports that ships were bound for the Persian Gulf. And as you can see, they have not been there, nor will they be going there.

Another thing is that we did not want to create any obstacles, or friction, or technical difficulties. So we deliberately waited until the active phase of the military operations in Iraq had ended. And only then did we initiate the active phase of our own exercises.

[Presenter] And what have these exercises demonstrated?

[Sergey Ivanov] Well, the first thing to say is that the exercises have not finished. We are right in the midst of them. We will be drawing up our conclusions about them somewhat later. However, as far as the completed part of the exercises is concerned, then I can say that the two fleets, the Black Sea Fleet and the Pacific Fleet, have so far, touch wood, not encountered any problems - neither with navigation, nor with their technical state. The fleets have been at sea more than a week, and it is two weeks since they rendezvoused and concentrated their forces, and started carrying out their various tasks.

Now I would like to move on to the long-range aviation. These exercises were conducted on 14 May this year. The first thing to say is that since the collapse of the Soviet Union we had not carried out any combat launches whatever in this part of the globe. The second thing is that this was the first time that the long-range strategic aviation forces, which are part of the 37th Army, had operated in direct conjunction with warships. That is to say, the fleet cooperated with the aviation. We had never carried out a mission of such a type in which long-range, high-precision missiles were launched at targets that had been directly identified by warships. Another first is that constant communication was maintained with the air crews and the ships at a very great distance from our territory.

[Presenter] And have you already reported to the president? What was the assessment?

[Sergey Ivanov] Yes, on the evening of 14 May, after the strategic missile-armed bombers had returned to their home bases, naturally, I immediately reported to the president. He expressed his satisfaction with the results, and he asked me to convey his gratitude for work well done to all the pilots and crew who had carried out the flights and provided the back-up.

[Presenter] So the money was not wasted, then? How much was spent?

Professional forces

[Sergey Ivanov] In my opinion, money spent on combat preparation can never be wasted. This is one of the key areas which the leadership of the Defence Ministry sees as a priority, because without combat preparation, it is useless to speak about improving the efficiency and combat capability of the army. If we don't do this, these will just be empty words.

[Presenter] What are Russia's priorities in terms of armaments? Can you cast some light on this military secret for us?

[Sergey Ivanov] We are looking at high-precision, mobile arms that have a large destructive capability. And look, excuse me -

[Presenter, interrupting] And, more specifically?

[Sergey Ivanov] That's the essence. The specifics are, though, a military secret.

[Presenter] Turning now to [the president's] address and the reform of the armed forces. Will each professional serviceman from the CIS countries, who can be attracted to service in the Russian armed forces, be granted citizenship?

[Sergey Ivanov] After three years, and on the condition that he will have faithfully carried out all his obligations under the contract, then, of course, the answer is yes. This decision has already been taken and announced. Yesterday the president addressed this issue in his speech. We think that this is a useful incentive.

[Presenter] Has a decision already been taken to reduce the period of conscript service in the army to one year from 2008?

[Sergey Ivanov] Yes, the political decision has been taken. It was announced yesterday by the president. The federal targeted programme for manning the permanent readiness units of the Ground Troops, the Airborne Troops and the Marines will be finally approved in the next few days. And we, the leadership of the Defence Ministry, consider that it is utterly realistic to suppose this programme can be implemented by the end of 2007, that we can effectively create the backbone of a new Russian army, a professional army that is ready and able to fight, and then reduce the term of conscription to one year.

[Presenter] As far as I know, all deferments and allowances will be effectively reduced.

[Sergey Ivanov] Of course, in a situation where the maximum period of service is one year, we would like the number of deferments to be reduced.

[Presenter] Thank you, Sergey Borisovich.

[Sergey Ivanov] Thank you.

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