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Visit to Russian Federation Defence Ministry’s 344th Centre for Combat Employment and Retraining of Army Aviation Pilots

March 27, 2024, Torzhok

Vladimir Putin visited the Russian Federation Defence Ministry’s 344th Centre for Combat Employment and Retraining of Army Aviation Pilots.

The President inspected aircraft models, airborne weapons systems and simulators.

The President also spoke with military pilots, now training at the centre, and the widows of Heroes of Russia, killed during the special military operation.

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The centre was established in 1979 to develop and streamline tactical methods for the combat use of army aviation units, to train military specialists who operate helicopters and improve their skills, as well as civilian aviation personnel operating and maintaining helicopters.

The centre’s personnel have mastered all types of helicopters, now serving with Russian army aviation units. In 1992, the Berkuts, the world’s only aerobatic display team flying combat helicopters, was established.

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Conversation with military pilots

Question: Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief, what can you say about the performance of our combat aviation during the special military operation?

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: It is excellent. All of them are doing excellent work, making an enormous, really enormous, contribution to our common success. As for the crews of our attack aircraft, I believe that it is a hard work. I have said this publicly, and I have flown on such aircraft several times, that it is a very hard work, with a lot of stress.

You have a complicated job piloting a plane, in particular a combat aircraft, and working precisely. [The same is true of our] bomber aircraft and modern fighter planes Su-30 and Su-57. The most important thing is that all our men are working and fighting fearlessly, making a really huge contribution to our common success. You know that we are waiting for you on the ground and that lives of our men on the ground depend on you efficiency. There is no doubt about that. We are grateful to you and all your pilots, the crews of both helicopters, combat ones, and aircraft. Our transport aviation is making its contribution as well, transporting personnel and acting courageously and heroically. This is wonderful. Thank you.

(Replying a question about defence spending in different countries) As for defence spending, let us look at defence spending in 2022, because the results of 2023 are still being analysed and it is too soon to speak about 2024. According to our information, our defence spending amounted to 3.5 percent of GDP. Let us look at others’ statistics, the data of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the international data. Here is what they say: the United States spent 3.5 percent of GDP on defence, Russia 4 percent, Israel 4.5 percent, and Ukraine 33.5 percent.

Remark: The difference is considerable.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. But the difference is even more remarkable in absolute figures. In 2022, the US defence spending amounted to $811 billion, if memory serves, and Russia spent $72 billion. The difference is more than ten-fold. The United States’ defence spending amounts to about 40 percent of the global figure, or more precisely, 39 percent, while Russia accounts for 3.5 percent. Considering this difference, are we planning to fight NATO? This is nonsense.

Besides, what are we doing during our special military operation? We are defending the people who live in our historical territories.

There would have been no developments similar to those that are now taking place, if they established entirely new relations in the sphere of security following the breakup of the Soviet Union, as Russia had suggested. They would have simply heeded our interests in the sphere of security; we discussed this issue year after year and, in effect, from decade to decade. They simply ignored us and deployed their forces next to our borders. Did we move towards the borders of the NATO bloc’s member countries? We did not bother anyone. They were moving towards us. Did we cross the ocean and approach US borders? No, they are the ones who are closing in on us, and they have reached our borders. What are we doing? We are only defending our people on our historical territories. It is therefore complete nonsense when people say that we intend to attack Europe after Ukraine.

Remark: Intimidation.

Vladimir Putin: They are intimidating their own population in order to extort money from them, from their own people at a time when the economy is sagging and living standards are declining. This is obvious. Everyone admits this, and this is not some kind of propaganda, this is happening in real life. They need an excuse, they are scaring their population with a possible “Russian threat,” and they are simultaneously spreading their dictate all over the world.

NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. I repeat – North Atlantic. Where is it now heading? It is entering the Asia Pacific region, the Middle East and other regions, even including Latin America. They are doing this under various pretexts and inventing various excuses. They are doing one and the same thing: they are deploying NATO forces there and dragging there their European satellites. The latter obviously believe that all this meets their national interests to some extent, and they fear a big and strong Russia, although this is pointless.

We have no aggressive intentions with regard to these states. But for the coup d’état in Ukraine and subsequent hostilities in Donbass, we would not be doing anything in Ukraine, too. It was they who unleashed the war in 2014. They simply used air force units; everyone saw video footage showing air strikes targeting Donetsk. They launched air-to-surface missiles against a peaceful city. Did they really lose their mind? Nevertheless, we signed these Minsk Agreements; however, it turned out that they had deceived us. They procrastinated for eight years and eventually forced us to defend our interests and our people in a different way. This is all.

It is therefore complete nonsense when they claim that we can attack some other countries, including Poland, the Baltics and they are scaring the Czech Republic, too. This amounts to ravings, and this is another way of deceiving their own population, forcing the people to spend more money and to shoulder this burden. This is it.

Question: Comrade Supreme-Commander-in-Chief,

NATO countries are planning to send their fighters to Ukraine. The media report that F-16 aircraft will be deployed against Russian forces and facilities in the special military operation zone. Will we be allowed to hit these targets at NATO airfields?

Vladimir Putin: First, if they supply F-16s (they are talking about this, and it looks like they are training pilots; I believe that you realise this like no one else and better than others), this will not change the situation on the battlefield. We will destroy their aircraft just like we are now destroying their tanks, armoured vehicles and other equipment, including multiple launch rocket systems.

Of course, we would see them as legitimate targets if they operate from the airfields of third countries, no matter where they are located. F-16 aircraft can also carry nuclear weapons, and we will also have to heed this while organising our combat operations.

Question: Comrade Supreme-Commander-in-Chief,

 You presented the High Command of the Aerospace Forces with a copy of the Icon of Christ Not-Made-by-Hands on February 21. This holy relic is now shuttling between units of the Russian Aerospace Forces, and it is currently located on the territory of our centre. All of us would like to sincerely thank you for the chance to touch this miracle-working holy relic that is so closely linked with the assertion of the Russian Army and Navy.

Allow me to express our profound gratitude and respect on behalf of all service personnel and to assure you that you can count on the personnel of the Armed Forces. We will accomplish any objective you set, and we will not let you down.

Vladimir Putin: I do not doubt this. See for yourself: This is a real holy relic for the country and the Armed Forces. Since antiquity, it has always been painted on our combat banners, and it has been installed on our fortresses whose walls protected our people. As tradition has it, this is the first icon in the Christian world, created by God himself. This thing is really unique.

The Defence Minister and I had a conversation last evening, and we decided that we would make several other copies of the Icon of Christ Not-Made-by- Hands, kept at the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces. We will also continue this good tradition of sending these copies to military units that have distinguished themselves in the best way possible. Dmitry Donskoi knelt before this icon ahead of the Battle of Kulikovo Field. It has special significance for the Motherland, the country, Russia and our Armed Forces.

But we must never forget that we are a multiethnic and multi-religious country, and we must always treat our brothers – followers of other religions, Muslims, Jews, and everyone else – with respect. We say we have four religions [in Russia] and we call them traditional, but there is also a richly diverse spiritual landscape here. We treat everyone with respect and we make everyone feel and will continue to make them feel that they are defending their Motherland, and don’t have any other Motherland. Thank God, we are succeeding. We need to be very careful about maintaining interethnic and inter-religious peace.

You know, when I listen to people who – there are such flag-wavers in any society, those Russia-for-Russians patriots – when I listen to those people I get a feeling of anxiety. Why? Because, considering that Russia is home to 190 ethnic groups, some of them rather large, with millions of people, once we try to implement these destructive ideas and start treating everyone else as aliens, we will ruin the country. And the main victim will be the Russian people. So we need to approach this part very maturely and seriously, cut down on arm-waving and tough talking, and think carefully before saying every word, every phrase. Always bear in mind that we are part of one vast yet united country.

But I must say that today, Russian citizens of various religious and ethnic backgrounds are showing their best side on the battlefield. They love and protect their hometowns as well as their larger homeland in a way no other people in other parts of the world ever will. And we must carefully safeguard the unity of the Russian people. And in this sense, I really count on the Russian Armed Forces, on each of you, because people from different ethnic groups are now fighting shoulder to shoulder. They go into battle together; they help each other. And when necessary, as it has happened many times, they would cover their comrade with their bodies without thinking about that comrade’s nationality or religion. This is very important.

I think that even the [military] men standing here may come from different ethnic groups. But the army is the army; it has always been like this in Russia. Always. So I want to wish you all the best, success and good luck. Thank you.

All the best, goodbye.

March 27, 2024, Torzhok