In Murmansk, Medvedev Touts Navy

APDmitry Medvedev, right, looking at fish in a food store in Murmansk on Friday.
Dmitry Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin's likely successor, said Friday that Russia must restore its sea power, saying the Soviet Union's naval might commanded respect.

"We must revive the Navy," First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev said during a visit to a fishing trawler in the Barents Sea port of Murmansk. "We need to do this to protect our fishermen and for Russia to be a full-fledged naval power."

The televised comments from Medvedev, chosen by Putin last month as his favored successor in the March 2 presidential election, echoed Putin's efforts to boost the military and his public vows, sometimes verging on saber-rattling, to ensure the country's security.

The trawler's captain complained of harassment and "demonstrations of force" from Norwegian vessels in the sea, saying he would feel more secure if Russian ships were there.

"We need to revive the Navy. You understand why ships are not there -- because they don't exist," Medvedev responded. "When we had normal naval power, ships were there and everyone respected us. I won't say feared, but respected."

Norway and Russia share land and sea borders in the Arctic, including a vast, disputed zone in the Barents Sea. Norway's inspection of Russian trawlers has frequently been a sore point in relations. Medvedev said Russia and Norway should make stronger efforts to end the bickering over their Barents Sea borders. "We are not, of course, going to start military action, we need to continue work -- we need to conduct work and step it up," he said, apparently referring to negotiations, Interfax reported.

An oil-fueled economic boom has enabled the government to increase military spending during Putin's eight years in power. Last month, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Russia had dispatched an 11-ship aircraft carrier group to the Mediterranean Sea in part of an effort to resume regular Russian naval patrols on the world's oceans.

Medvedev said the Navy's revival was under way. "This work is taking place, maybe more slowly than we'd like, but it's being done for the first time in 20 years," he said.

Medvedev's trip came after national media reported that he planned to campaign in Murmansk and other regions where United Russia garnered less than 58 percent of the vote in last month's State Duma elections. Medvedev is running as United Russia's candidate.

Medvedev told reporters in Murmansk that he would soon reveal his campaign platform and signaled that it would mirror Putin's course.

"I will not disassociate myself from the processes that have been under way in this country for the past eight years under President Putin's leadership," he said.

AP, MT