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Meeting with commanders of units that took part in the Centre-2011 military exercises

September 27, 2011, Chelyabinsk Region

Issues discussed at the meeting with commanders of divisions and units of the Armed Forces, Interior Ministry and the Federal Drug Control Service, involved in strategic Centre-2011 military exercises, included personnel and military reform, and service pay.

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Excerpts from transcript of meeting with commanders of units that took part in the Centre-2011 military exercises

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Comrades,

The large-scale Centre-2011military exercises have been completed. They involved not only the troops of the Central Military District, but also – and in fact this is particularly interesting and important – military units of other bodies deployed in the area, other law enforcement agencies, I mean the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, Emergency Ministry, the Federal Penitentiary Service, Federal Drug Control Service and the Federal Guard Service, as well as army units of the CSTO member states and Ukraine.

In general, judging from the reports that I received, the troops showed a high level of military training. The results are still to be analysed but today I would like to hear your opinions as commanders of the military units that participated in the exercises.

It is essential for modern Armed Forces to be able to interact effectively with other units, other security agencies, to cooperate with our foreign partners’ armies. This kind of coordination and joint combat training are in fact the key to achieving success in a wide range of situations. The exercises focused to a large extent on interagency and intergovernmental cooperation. I would like you to tell me briefly your views on what it all looked like and whether you were able to communicate effectively.

We are reforming our Armed Forces, consistently creating new features and improving the organisational structure, the training system and support for the army and navy. Nevertheless, there are certain difficulties, which is natural because the task that we have undertaken is enormous. As all of you know very well –­ those of you who have served for a long time and those who began service only recently – our Armed Forces have not seen a reform on this scale in recent years. This is the most complex, the most profound and, hopefully, the most productive reform, because the changes are there for all to see. Some say these changes are beneficial, others criticise them or see them in a different light.

I would like to hear your views on the reform, especially, as I said, there are certain problems. We have reduced the officers’ corps and there have been cases when officers were appointed to sergeant positions. I would like us to review personnel issues together.

“It is essential for modern Armed Forces to be able to interact effectively with other units, other security agencies, to cooperate with our foreign partners’ armies.”

The army is disposing of inessential functions that are performed by specialised organisations in most countries. We started creating such organisations three years ago. In September we established a joint-stock company called Oboronservis. I would like you to tell me about the ways in which the creation of this agency has affected the daily life of the army. The expenses involved are considerable but we must be sure that these expenses serve to improve the life of servicemen, to improve life within units and day-to-day organisation, and that this money is being spent wisely. If that is so, if you agree with that, I would ask you to touch on that as well.

The exchange of command experience between the Armed Forces and other security and law enforcement agencies is very important. Naturally, this applies to personnel certification, which is held annually in the Armed Forces, and to personnel rotation, which is just being introduced in the Armed Forces. I would also like to hear how this work is progressing.

Finally, another very important issue: financial incentives for military personnel, a subject we have been paying a great deal of attention to and have made all the necessary decisions, despite the fact that there were opposing opinions and one might even say some open resistance to this policy. Nevertheless, I believe that we have made some extremely important decisions for the future of the Armed Forces.

I would like you to tell me how the system of financial incentives is working on the ground, in your units. Modern Armed Forces must have proper conditions for service and a fully developed system of social guarantees, a system that will ensure high living standards for servicemen and their families not only in the current situation, but also in the future. This is a very important aspect of the reform and we will closely focus on it. It is being monitored by the President and the Government of the Russian Federation and we will certainly continue our efforts.

“We are reforming our Armed Forces, consistently creating new features and improving the organisational structure, the training system and support for the army and navy. This is the most complex, the most profound and, hopefully, the most productive reform.”

The next issue is related to weapons, the supplies of new military technology, which also involves major expenses. For the first time in several decades new technology is actively being supplied to the army and navy. Perhaps it would also be useful if you reported to me on this.

That is our agenda. So I ask you all to speak out, and if there are any questions for me, please do not hesitate to ask.

Let's get to work.

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We must think about the future staffing of the Armed Forces. When addressing this issue at Security Council sessions, at meetings with permanent Security Council members, which are attended by the Defence Minister, and often the Chief of Joint Staff as well, we discussed how to deal with staffing in the future overall. Naturally, we are assuming that in general, we should strive toward properly balancing Armed Forces staffing and ensuring that a particular proportion of enlistees increases with every year. We understand why. It involves demographic problems, but I suppose that’s not even the key factor. Ultimately, this is a problem of preparing people for service in the Armed Forces and their motivation. Given that service is short now (one year), we would like to ensure that even those who come to serve compulsory or extended military service are professionally ready for it. In this regard, nothing can replace enlisted service members.

Ultimately, I am absolutely certain that the share of both enlisted and conscripted service members will not be determined by directives from the Joint Staff or even decisions by the Commander-in-Chief, but through practical experience. And we will get there, taking into account our financial resources of course, because we cannot invite our citizens to enlist for service without providing them with the basic conditions. Those basic conditions are clear: decent service pay, for which enlistees would be ready to serve. We have funding planned for this purpose. We have certainly committed to that funding and will be paying it out. In addition, we are to resolve other challenges, namely housing: either high-quality service housing or full-fledged compensation, rather than some kind of superficial version thereof, or the option of acquiring personal housing. If we resolve all these challenges, we will have a combat-worth army and Armed Forces.

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Everything we have worked on in recent years has been aimed at improving the cohesiveness of power and resources within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. Some time ago, the CSTO leaders made a suggestion on creating the CRRF (Collective Rapid Reaction Force). Now, we have shaped the structure and are trying to supply the CRRF with modern equipment, but in many ways, the procedures and regulatory framework remain different. And I won’t deny that perhaps in this regard, our country should serve as a benchmark to other states, because we have the most powerful Armed Forces, and a significant part of the CRRF’s funding is coming from the Russian Federation and our budget. Naturally, our colleagues are also watching what we are doing. This includes today, here at this training ground, where our partners observed the exercise. I think it was interesting for them, because not every state is capable of providing similar exercises and this level of cohesion.

So I think that our goal as a partner is to offer our regulatory framework, not because we are big and strong, but simply because we do this better and more seriously than some of our partners. And in this regard, we have significant experience.

In terms of optimising such administrative processes, it’s best to follow procedures developed within our Armed Forces. But this does not mean we must impose anything and usually we all discuss this as partners. We also need a modern legislative framework in order to develop the CRRF. We have an international framework (the resolution by the heads of state, as well as other corresponding documents), but it is imperative that this international regulatory framework be somewhat integrated within the regulations of each state.

Efficient decision-making is a separate topic, and it’s true that I brought it up last time during my meeting with the heads of CSTO member-states. We agreed that we will discuss it again in December, during the Council of CSTO Heads of State, because sometimes, in order to make decisions, even the Council of CSTO Defence Ministers is not enough and we must bring together the heads of state, which is almost impossible to do in a few days. So I had the idea (I think it may be a good one) to issue resolutions of this kind following videoconferences, which would be much easier to organise. We need a private channel so that all the heads of state or defence ministers can sit down and say what they will do; after that, we can issue resolutions. So this also requires a separate resolution by the heads of state. We will try to reach it.

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As for weapons, military equipment, and service pay, it’s true that a great deal has been done recently. When we began this work, I was also uncertain about how quickly this would happen, whether we would manage, whether there would be enough budgetary funding, and how much progress we would make. There was also a great deal of criticism. We are still receiving criticism from various sides, left and right. Incidentally, sometimes corresponding measures to reform the Armed Forces are criticised not just by our political opponents, but even our civil servants and bureaucrats, who feel that money is being channelled toward the wrong goals, or in the wrong quantities.

You know, we must always monitor where money is going, how effective the expenditures are, and that is the responsibility of government services, various ministries and agencies, including the financial institutions. But we cannot go without defence spending, at a level that is worthy of the Russian Federation – not some minor nation, but the Russian Federation, a very large state, a permanent member of the Security Council and a nuclear power. So we will always have very high spending to support defence and security (however sad that might be for our budget); frankly, that is our mission with regard to our people and to our neighbours. In this sense, Russia has a particular fate which, incidentally, has allowed it to remain a unified nation for many centuries. If were weak or if our Armed Forces had fallen apart, as certain forces both within and outside of Russia have sometimes wished, then our state would not exist anymore.

So regardless of anything else, both myself as Commander-in-Chief and my colleagues will always stand behind prioritising spending on defence, new weapons, compensation for service members, their daily lives and their apartments as part of the government’s efforts. We cannot have it any other way. And if anybody disagrees, they should work somewhere else. That is an imperative.

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I would like to thank everyone for participating in the Centre-2011 strategic military exercises. I want to emphasise again that I think everything went well. You reached the necessary results. The main result is that we are working as one team, and in real tactical or counter-terrorism operations, that is the key to achieving success.

Please thank everyone who serves in your divisions and convey my best regards, and pass my regards to your families and relatives.

Thank you all for your work. See you again.

September 27, 2011, Chelyabinsk Region