Russian President Hopes to Speed up Switch to Professional Army

Russian President Vladimir Putin today held a meeting with top officials from the Defence Ministry to discuss progress on drawing up a federal targeted programme to switch part of the country's armed forces to a professional basis. The changes will affect military units that are on permanent battle readiness.

Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov told the President that his department is finishing work on developing the programme together with other security services. The minister added that a raft of proposals have been prepared. These will requires changes to Russian legislation to allow military personnel from CIS countries to be employed in the Russian armed forces. The minister also announced that the programme is planned to run from 2004 to 2007 and envisages hiring 167,000 soldiers. Ivanov reminded participants in the meeting that an experiment is currently been carried out to staff the 76th paratroop division entirely on a professional basis. He said that some problems had arisen during the experiment.

The minister said that the experiment will have been completed by the end of the year and 'we will have our first division recruited entirely on a contractual basis.' Vladimir Putin announced that the federal programme would be discussed at a cabinet meeting at the end of April and should be approved in June. 'We need to do this as quickly as possible, because work on the budget will begin very soon,' stressed the President.