Russia's defense minister lays out ambitious plans for new weapons purchases

The Russian military will sharply increase the number of new intercontinental ballistic missiles to be deployed this year as part of an ambitious weapons modernization plan, Russia's defense minister said Wednesday.

Sergei Ivanov said the military would get 17 new ballistic missiles a drastic rise compared with an average four deployed annually over recent years. The purchases are part of a weapons modernization program for 2007-2015 worth about 5 trillion rubles US$189 billion (EUR 146 billion).

Ivanov said in a speech before lawmakers that the plan envisages the deployment of the total of 34 new silo-based Topol-M missiles and their control units, as well as another 50 such missiles mounted on mobile launchers through 2015; Russia so far has deployed more than 40 silo-based Topol-Ms.

President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have described the Topol-M as a bulwark of Russia's nuclear might for years to come, and hailed its ability to penetrate any prospective missile defenses. Putin last week dismissed Washington's claims that missile defense sites it hopes to establish in Poland and the Czech Republic were intended to counter threats posed by Iran, and said that Russia would respond by developing even more efficient weapons systems.

A rising tide of oil revenues gave Russia a chance to increase its defense spending following a desperate money shortage that plagued the military throughout the 1990s. "The economic growth and the scientific achievements allow us to reach a qualitatively new level in military procurement," Ivanov said.

Russia's defense budget which stood at 214 billion rubles (US$8.1 billion; Ђ6.25 billion) in 2001 nearly quadrupled to 821 billion (US$31 billion; EUR 24 billion) this year, Ivanov said.

But despite a steady increase in military spending in recent years, Putin said last week that Moscow's military budget was still 25 times smaller than Washington's defense spending, reports AP.

Ivanov said that a share of weapons purchases in the military budget also has been growing over years. This year, the military will spend 144 billion rubles (US$5.4 billion; EUR 4.2 billion) on new weapons, buying aircraft, tanks and other armored vehicles and four new satellites, he said.

Ivanov said the military now has about 1,130,000 servicemen, compared with 1,340,000 it had in 2001. By 2015, the military will have about 1 million servicemen, Ivanov said. The Kremlin has rejected liberals' calls to form an all-volunteer army, saying that Russia needs a big draft force to protect its huge territory.

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