Barents sea
Extracts from Transcript of Conversation with Journalists Following the Voyage on the Heavy Nuclear Cruiser Peter the Great to the Site of the Northern Fleet Military Exercises

President Vladimir Putin: Both yesterday and today have made a very good impression on me. What we have seen are complex exercises using diverse forces and means. These exercises had been planned for a long time. As you can see, these kinds of exercises have been held on a regular basis of late, and it shows in the way our military is improving its skills – reviving them or gaining new skills. You all no doubt remember the Northern Fleet’s failed missile launches about a year ago. At that time I gave the instruction to examine and carry out an inquiry into the situation. The inquiry did not reveal anything out of the ordinary. There were problems of a working nature, but they have been resolved. You can already see the result. The previous launches, and the launches for which I was present (and I promised right from the start that I would come personally and see them take place) show a high level of combat preparedness both for the air-based nuclear deterrent forces and the sea-based nuclear deterrent forces.

I can inform you that the launch carried out today from a submarine was successful and that all three test warheads reached the testing ground in Kamchatka and struck their test target.

The work of the pilots yesterday made an excellent impression on me, as did the work of the naval crews today. Overall, I am satisfied. Yesterday was also marked by another very pleasing event: we tested a new type of missile. Our Armed Forces did not previously have this type of missile at their disposal, but now they will have it.

Question: What changes have there been in the Navy over the last five years?

Vladimir Putin: At the moment we are here with the Northern Fleet. I remember a time not so long ago when the ships did not leave the docks and the planes did not fly. There was a regrettable time in the early 1990s when officers had their service caps knocked from their heads in public transport. Such was the attitude to the Armed Forces at that time, and let us not forget that. A great deal has changed since then, above all in the minds of the public and of the servicemen themselves, who at that time were not receiving their rather meagre wages for months on end.

There are still a lot of problems and I am willing to talk about them and to name them here. But I think that real change has taken place, above all as far as the Armed Forces’ combat preparedness is concerned. The level of combat preparedness is rising. We have begun modernising the Armed Forces, making them more up-to-date, and we will continue this work. As you know, we are implementing a federal programme to move over to contract-based military service. This work is going ahead consistently and is showing satisfactory development. We have medium-term programmes for arms development and modernisation, both for the nuclear deterrent and for conventional arms. Many of you were present at an important event for our Armed Forces at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome about a year ago: the test of an absolutely new land-based nuclear missile. As you know, yesterday we tested a conventional missile. We have plans for the development of both our nuclear and conventional forces through to 2010-2015.

What do we still need to do? We need to look beyond this timeframe, and we have the opportunity today to do so. Many weapons systems take quite some time to make and so we should be already working now on planning our Armed Forces’ development for the years beyond 2020. This goes for the Air Force and the Navy as well. Of course, we also need to pay far greater attention to training, preparedness, education, discipline and law and order, as well as improving the social situation for servicemen, above all, ensuring they have housing and decent wages.

But I want to say that the state is and will continue to increase its efforts in this area. We increase the defence budget by 15-20 percent every year, and I want to emphasise this point. A further such increase is planned for 2006. If my memory is correct, this makes for a total of 668 billion – 114 billion more than this year.

We will also significantly increase the funds allocated to public defence procurement, that is, the funds that will be spent on new arms.

What are the problems we face? They are numerous, of course. Aside from the social problems I already mentioned, there are problems of maintenance costs for the Armed Forces themselves. Five years ago, 30 percent of allocated funds were spent on arms and equipment, and 70 percent went on maintenance. Today this ratio is 40 to 60. That is, 60 percent goes on maintenance and 40 percent on development. This is still too little. We need to aim for a ratio of 50 to 50 – half the money going to maintenance and half to development. It would be even better if we could achieve a figure of 40 percent on maintenance and 60 percent on development.

But I want to say that despite the increase in our defence budget, we remain overall within the parameters followed by the NATO countries. We spend 2.6-2.7 percent of our GDP on our Armed Forces. This cannot in any way be called a militaristic budget and it is not one. But it must be a budget for development and that is what we are aiming towards.

Question: You were present yesterday for the testing of a missile that could be used against terrorists and armed groups. The Navy, meanwhile, is part of the country’s strategic deterrent forces. What are the limits for the Navy’s development? Will the state have new ships built?

Vladimir Putin: You are quite right in what you say. We see our Navy as being defensive in character. This was always the case, I must say. In the Soviet times too it was built on this principle and was practically never developed as a means of aggression and attack. Even our strategic forces, as you know, are called strategic nuclear deterrent forces.

Our Navy is defensive in character and its mission and objective is to ensure our country’s security. Of course, there is no denying that it is a costly component of our military organisation, but without the Navy we would not be able to protect our national interests. We would not be able to ensure the security of the continental shelf, which is becoming more and more important, as you know, as a result of the immense oil and gas deposits there. We would not be able to ensure the security of Russia’s vast territory without the Navy. The Navy has many important missions, including military-diplomatic missions. As I said, it is a costly but essential part of our Armed Forces.

As for setting the development priorities for our Armed Forces, it is a matter for the specialists, above all for General Staff and for the country’s military and political leadership. Our principle is that of harmonious development of the different parts of the Armed Forces in keeping with the threats we face today. Incidentally, we have increased financing for the Navy over recent years. Thirty percent of the funds allocated to the Defence Ministry now go on developing the Navy. We intend maintaining this level of financing over the coming years. Of course, we must also keep in mind the need to develop our aviation, our conventional weapons, land-based structures and equipment.

Yesterday’s test was successful. The weapon tested can be used to strike different types of target. We plan to use it as a conventional weapon.

Question: You have attended military exercises on many occasions and every time foreign ships are observing them. Today, for example, Norwegian and British ships and aircraft were monitoring the exercises. Yesterday a satellite was tracking your plane’s course. Does this worry you at all? Isn’t this a kind of spying mania?

Vladimir Putin: Monitoring military exercises is usual practice. There is nothing aggressive in it. Our military is generally in contact with our partners who arrive in the exercise zone to monitor the events. There is nothing unusual and nothing preoccupying in this practice. Our military also monitors various exercises when they take place.