Russia to import rather than buy 'outdated' arms: minister
Russia will import arms rather than buy its own outdated models, the defence minister said Monday, slamming the failure of the domestic defence industry to meet modern standards.
In an interview with the weekly Russian Newsweek, Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Russia was forced to look abroad as it plans to spend more than 600 billion dollars on modernizing the armed forces in the next years.
"Our weapons often do not meet the required standards," Serdyukov said.
"We are acting as consumers in this situation... Our producers want to issue outdated models, but we don't want to buy them."
Russia, the world's the second-largest arms supplier, has been in talks with France on possibly buying Mistral-class warships -- which would be its first ever purchase of military hardware from a member of NATO.
However, the talks have stalled amid disputes over the technology transfer.
"There are the same issues with the Mistral. The Russian military-industrial complex does not meet our standards. Therefore, we are talking about buying imported ships," Serdyukov said.
He added that Russia was even interested in buying technology from its former Cold War foe and the world's top weapons producer the United States but did not elaborate further.
Russia last month announced plans to triple its defence spending to 19 trillion rubles (613 billion dollars, 454 billion euros) over the next decade as part of a drive to modernise its Soviet-era army.
But Serdyukov, a civilian former tax official installed by the Kremlin in 2007 to push forward difficult reforms, admitted that corruption and kick-backs on weapons contracts remained a paramount problem.
"When I came to the ministry, I can honestly say the amount of theft was daunting. That sentiment has not yet faded: the finances are lax and people, who have never once been audited, act with impunity," he said.
Last month, President Dmitry Medvedev witheringly described the state of Russia's weapons sector as "quite bad, quite difficult."
Only about 10 percent of Russia's armaments meet modern military standards, with much of the remaining hardware dating back to Soviet times, military expert Pavel Felgenhauer wrote in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
The weapons purchases are just part of a massive reform of the armed forces which gained speed after Russia's 2008 war with Georgia showed up the need to overhaul its outdated command structure, unchanged since 1945.
But despite the unprecedented arms spending, Serdyukov acknowledged Russia had shelved plans to move to a system of a fully professional army, in line with all other G8 powers, due to a lack of funds.
"We could have foregone rearming and spent the money on the development of a contract-based army. But then we would have had outdated weapons that would not have met modern technological and weapons standards," Serdyukov said.
Previous attempts have failed because the army was not prepared to offer its soldiers competitive salaries, he said:
"It was completely clear that a contracted soldier would not join the army for 7,000 rubles a month (230 dollars,167 euros), if they could earn at least 15,000 as civilians."
Reform initiatives to build a professional Russian army have thrice failed since the 1991 Soviet collapse, when the nation's military might crumbled and its manpower fell from about four million to one million troops today.
The army now relies on one-year conscription to fill its ranks.
© 2010 AFP