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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sergeyev Slams Kvashnin Missile Plan as 'Criminal'

Using exceptionally strong language, usually low-key Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev on Friday criticized a plan to downgrade Russia's nuclear forces, a news report said.

Sergeyev is embroiled in an unusual public battle with General Anatoly Kvashnin, the head of the General Staff. Kvashnin wants to downgrade the status of the Strategic Missile Force, which Sergeyev used to head.

Kvashnin's idea is "criminal stupidity and an attempt to harm the national interests of Russia," Interfax quoted Sergeyev as saying.

The move would "destroy" the rocket forces and constitute "a crime against Russia and simple madness," he was quoted as saying.

Interfax said Sergeyev, who was accompanying Putin at an arms show in the Sverdlovsk region, had threatened to resign if Kvashnin's plan won out but did not quote him directly as saying that. Sergeyev said later he had been misunderstood, NTV television reported.

Generals usually settle their differences behind closed doors, and the outburst was a departure from Sergeyev's usually placid public demeanor.

Sergeyev called for public support "from all who are not indifferent to Russia's fate, the security of its people and its place in the world," Interfax said.

Kvashnin's plan, discussed at a meeting of military officials earlier this week, would overturn Sergeyev's competing idea to put the nuclear capabilities of the navy and air force under an expanded missile force, to be renamed the Strategic Deterrent Force.

At the heart of the dispute are inter-service rivalries as well as differing views of how to guarantee the country's security, analysts say.

Sergeyev and others think nuclear deterrence is the key to Russia's security as its conventional forces have deteriorated due to economic woes. They have put scarce funds into developing the new Topol-M strategic missile.

Other generals, however, argue that Russia needs to buy conventional equipment to meet threats like the rebellion against federal rule in Chechnya.

Putin, meanwhile, was busy Friday trying his hand at firing heavy artillery. Assisted by Governor Eduard Rossel, he yanked on a cord to fire a 1938-vintage howitzer to signal the start of a military parade at the Ural-Expo-Arms-2000 show. The exposition is showing off weapons and equipment from some 200 defense enterprises in 22 regions of Russia.

Putin has been embroiled in a dispute with governors over his plan to deprive them of their seats in the upper house of parliament but has been careful to maintain at least the appearance of cordial relations. He turned to Rossel, governor of the Sverdlovsk region, and beckoned to him to help him fire the gun before television cameras.

Flanked by generals and officials, Putin also peered into vehicles and looked over electronic and aviation equipment at the exhibit, including a small pilotless airplane used for reconnaissance against rebels in Chechnya.

But the president, who has flown in a jet fighter and sailed on submarines during his visits to the provinces, passed up a chance to drive Russia's latest model tank or to don a camouflage uniform.

The exhibit, held in the town of Nizhny Tagil, near Yekaterinburg, is a chance for the arms industry to showcase its wares for potential foreign buyers.

The arms industry is struggling to find customers to make up for a lack of orders from the government, which lacks money for major weapons purchases.