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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army to Go Professional in 2004

Russia will start building a fully professional army from 2004 after it completes current military reform, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Wednesday.

Ivanov said his ministry has decided to submit a concrete plan to end the traditional dependence on the draft by 2004, while the process of turning the military into a fully contracted force would be "quite long, taking several years."

"This is a historic choice and we shall not have another possibility" to introduce the change, Ivanov said.

Speaking to reporters after President Vladimir Putin's meeting with defense ministers from former Soviet republics who gathered in Moscow, Ivanov noted that Russia would complete its present military reform plan by 2004.

"That will demand significant allocations, so it would be very dangerous to superimpose the two reforms," Ivanov said in comments cited by Interfax.

The Defense Ministry estimates that Russia would need tens of billions of rubles to make its army fully professional, he said.

Meanwhile, Putin on Wednesday told Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov that he agrees with a plan to increase the number of professional soldiers in the army, presidential spokesman Alexei Gromov said.

"Vladimir Putin agrees with the document from government representatives on ... the gradual shift of all the Russian Federation's armed forces to a contract basis instead of conscription," Gromov said. He gave no further details.

Currently, some 150,000 professional soldiers are serving in the army, of them some 30 percent in the volatile Northern Caucasus region that included Chechnya, RTR television reported. They are paid 5,000 rubles ($167) a month plus an additional 800 rubles ($27) for every day of fighting.

"If we compare the number of contract soldiers today and five years ago we shall easily see that there is progress," said Ivanov. "But we cannot count on this noble goal being achieved quickly."

Putin has made the modernization of Russia's declining armed forces a major goal of his administration.

His government has approved a 15-year weapons program that is intended to upgrade or replace Soviet-designed military hardware. Earlier this month, Putin said he also wants to increase payments to servicemen, boost financing for military housing and make the military more transparent.

In spite of resistance from the military top brass, Putin has championed plans to trim the 1.2 million-member armed forces by nearly one-third in the next three years, abolish the draft and radically change the armed forces' structure. But analysts say that the plans have not begun to be implemented.

During his 1996 re-election campaign, former President Boris Yeltsin promised to do away with conscription by 2000 in a clear bid to win votes. However, all Russian men over 18 years of age are still now required to serve a minimum of two years in the army or three in the navy, although draft dodging is widespread.(AP, Reuters)