MOSCOW (AFP) – President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday announced a “large-scale” rearmament and renewal of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, accusing NATO of pushing ahead with expansion near Russian borders.
Meeting defence chiefs in Moscow, Medvedev said he was determined to implement reforms designed to streamline Russia’s bloated military.
Russia continues to face various security threats requiring robust defence capacity, he said.
“From 2011, a large-scale rearmament of the army and navy will begin,” Medvedev said at the meeting of the country’s top defence chiefs.
He called for a renewal of Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal and added that NATO was pursuing a drive to expand the alliance’s physical presence near Russia’s borders.
“Analysis of the military-political situation in the world shows that a serious conflict potential remains in some regions,” Medvedev said.
He listed local crises and international terrorism as security threats and also stated: “Attempts to expand the military infrastructure of NATO near the borders of our country are continuing.
“The primary task is to increase the combat readiness of our forces, first of all our strategic nuclear forces. They must be able to fulfil all tasks necessary to ensure Russia’s security,” Medvedev said.
And while he praised Russia’s military thrust into Georgia last year in defence of the rebel region of South Ossetia, he also said the conflict had shown up the military’s failings.
The comments came despite statements by Russia’s leaders suggesting a thaw in relations with the United States after the George W. Bush era and the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Medvedev, who took office last May and has struggled to escape the shadow of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, is due to meet Obama for the first time next month in London.
Some analysts have detected a softening of US support under Obama for NATO enlargement to ex-Soviet countries on Russia’s borders such as Georgia and Ukraine, an expansion that Moscow vehemently opposes.
In recent days a bipartisan commission of former US senators visited Moscow to try to shape Obama’s future policies and recommended he stop encouraging Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO bids.
The Obama administration has said it is weighing what to do about a Bush-era project to build missile defence facilities in eastern Europe that has angered Moscow.
But despite statements by Medvedev and others that they are hopeful of an improvement in ties with the United States, there was a combative tone to Tuesday’s meeting, intended to sum up military developments in the last year and to plan ahead.
Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said: “US efforts have been aimed at gaining access to raw materials, energy and other resources” in the former Soviet Union, while Washington had “actively supported processes aimed at pushing Russia from its traditional sphere of interests.”
The head of Russia’s strategic missile forces, Nikolai Solovtsov, told news agencies that Russia would start deploying its next-generation RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missiles after the December 5 expiry of the START-1 treaty with the United States.
Moscow hopes to replace the treaty with a new accord.
Russia, the world’s largest country and one of a handful of nuclear-armed states, has been attempting to streamline its military, which currently numbers over one million personnel and has been burdened by corruption and bureaucracy.
Moscow-based defence expert Alexander Golts said he detected a contradiction in Medvedev’s rhetoric, arguing that demonising NATO is at odds with Russia’s stated goal of a slimmed down, efficient military.
“There are real threats, notably instability in Central Asia, but Russia can resist them alongside NATO. In Afghanistan it is clear NATO is also helping to defend Russia,” said Golts.
Another independent expert, Pavel Felgenhauer, said it was unclear if the Kremlin had the stomach for military reforms likely to involve mass lay-offs in the current economic crisis.
“There’s a lot of opposition in the ranks and this opposition will grow,” Felgenhauer said. “It’s unclear if the Kremlin will stay the course.”
At Tuesday’s meeting the Russian defence minister, Serdyukov, said non-combat deaths in the military remained high at 471 last year, while the majority of weapons remained out-of-date.
He spoke of what he called an “unhealthy moral and psychological atmosphere in certain military formations.”