Defense a Priority for Medvedev

Modernization of the armed forces has become a top priority after the war with Georgia, President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday.

"We must now focus on re-equipping the armed forces," he told a Kremlin meeting of top defense officials. "We will do this consistently and meticulously."

The Russian army crushed Georgia in a brief war last month after Tbilisi sent in troops to retake the Moscow-backed separatist province of South Ossetia.

But Medvedev has said that the campaign revealed problems with the army's weapons and equipment, and he promised to handle the shortcomings.

"There is no doubt that our decision [to re-equip the armed forces] has been influenced by the events in the Caucasus," he said. "They have made this task one of the top priorities for the next few years."

Creating modern and powerful armed forces is viewed by the Kremlin as an important element of national revival, fuelled by several years of strong economic boom.

Defense spending will be boosted 26 percent to a post-Soviet record next year as the military adds weapons and raises salaries, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said Thursday.

Defense spending, including arms purchases and pay raises, will reach 1.28 trillion rubles ($50 billion) in 2008, Kudrin told lawmakers in Moscow. The increase was approved before the war with Georgia.

Kudrin said the new weapons component of the budget will advance 30 percent, though he declined to give exact figures because that information is classified by the military.

Andrei Frolov, a defense analyst at the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said some of the extra funding could be spent on intelligence gathering and communication devices, "which Russia's armed forces had problems with during the war with Georgia.''

But the "main focus will still be on the strategic forces," Frolov said.

(Reuters, Bloomberg)