MOSCOW - The Russian military is gradually increasing its combat-readiness after a long post-Soviet decline, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Friday, but cash shortages still limit training and the supply of state-of-the-art weapons.
"The process of decline of the combat readiness of the Armed Forces that continued throughout the 1990s has been stopped," Ivanov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency on the second anniversary of his appointment as minister.
In a separate interview published Friday in the military daily Krasnaya Zvezda, Ivanov said that Russia needs to revise its military doctrine to more effectively counter terrorism threats. He indicated that the military should be given the right to strike at terrorist facilities outside Russian borders.
"The armed forces must be able, in case of necessity, to deal strikes at facilities which are used by terrorists to prepare acts of terror and sabotage both on the territory of our state and against Russian facilities and citizens on the territories of foreign nations," Ivanov was quoted as saying.
He added that such strikes can only be carried out after "political and diplomatic means are exhausted." Ivanov's comments echo a statement last year from President Vladimir Putin, who warned after a Moscow hostage-taking crisis that Russia could strike terrorists "wherever they may be."
Despite the ambitious goals, the cash-hungry military has not only struggled to house, feed and uniform its soldiers and officers, but also to keep its aging, Soviet-built equipment up-to-date. Fuel shortages have meant that pilots fly an average of 20 hours a year compared with the minimum of 200 hours in Western air forces, and many Russian naval ships are stranded in harbors, due to a lack of fuel and spare parts.
Ivanov was quoted as telling Interfax that last year, training improved greatly with tactical exercises increasing 50 percent, naval voyages 25 percent and flight hours 11 percent.
"This is not much, of course, and does not satisfy us, but still it is a tangible step forward toward what the Armed Forces should be doing in the first place - combat training," Interfax quoted Ivanov as saying.
He also said that while the Russian Armed Forces don't need the vast scale of equipment sought during Soviet times, "the problem of rearmament is very acute."
Meanwhile, senior Russian military officials gathered in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don for command-staff training exercises around the Caspian and Black Seas, said Major Igor Kaverin of the North Caucasus Military District. Anatoly Kvashnin, the chief of the Russian military's general staff, and more than 70 generals and officers arrived for the opening of the exercises, due to last through April 4.