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'[N]ew hypersound-speed, high-precision new weapons systems that can hit targets at intercontinental distance and can adjust their altitude and course as they travel', President Vladimir Putin on Russian missile tests, February 18

'Press statement and answers to questions, Plesetsk,' February 18, 2004.

President Vladimir Putin: Good day, dear comrades, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to say that I think the headquarters, units and troops taking part in the training exercises that have taken place performed well. We have not held exercises on this scale for almost 20 years.

The exercises tested highly important aspects of management, mobilisation preparedness and coordination between the different forces and different arms and technology. What we have seen is that we have combat-ready armed forces, and this includes the nuclear forces, which are a key factor in our national security and in maintaining the balance of power and ensuring strategic stability in the world.

Today, we face a whole number of serious threats. As you all know, these include terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, local conflicts and so on. The only way to effectively counteract these threats is for the international community to join its efforts and work together with firm commitment to the fundamental principles and norms of international law. But even these basic principles of international law have today been considerably weakened, somewhat devalued and are facing a serious test.

Today's Russia does not have imperial ambitions and does not aspire to hegemony. The Russian Armed Forces are modernising and becoming stronger not in order to act in aggression, but so as to provide reliable protection for Russia's people and help create the conditions necessary for our country's peaceful and stable development.

We and our partners in the club of nuclear powers share responsibility for ensuring global stability, and we have particular responsibility for security in the Eurasian region. This means that we need a military arsenal that measures up to the demands of the times, a military potential that, as I said, always was and remains a component part of the international security system.

I have already spoken about our nuclear deterrent force, about how we can be sure about it for some decades ahead, and about how we are able to resolve any tasks, including penetrating missile defence systems, should such systems be created. This has all been discussed on numerous occasions. But at the same time, we have also said repeatedly that as other countries increase the number and quality of their arms and military potential, then Russia will also need to ensure it has new generation arms and technology.

In this respect, I am pleased to inform you that successfully concluded experiments during these exercises enable us to confirm that the Russian Armed Forces, the Strategic Missile Forces, will receive new hypersound-speed, high-precision new weapons systems that can hit targets at intercontinental distance and can adjust their altitude and course as they travel. This is a very significant statement because no country in the world as yet has such arms in their military arsenal.

This gives us grounds to affirm that with the powerful means we have at our disposal for conducting armed warfare, and I refer here to the new arms I just described and to other new technology that we have, Russia can reliably ensure its strategic stability in the long-term perspective.

Russia will reach this objective through its own means, not relying on new arms and security systems developed in other countries. I particularly want to emphasise that we will ensure our security through using the militarily most effective means and the optimum economic solutions. What this means is that Russia will continue to be one of the world's great nuclear powers. Some may like this, others may be not, but either way, this is a fact that will have to be reckoned with.

In conclusion, our country, like any other country, has its national interests. Of course we intend to stand up for and protect these interests. But we will do so above all through legal, diplomatic and economic means. We will learn to stand up for our national interests with the help of information technology, as many other countries do so today. But we will do all we can to ensure Russia's military invulnerability and be absolutely certain that our country's Armed Forces can neutralise any threat.

Thank you for your attention.

Question: Good day, from what you said, we can draw the conclusion that Russia has tested a new type of weapon. How do you think the United States will react to this news?

Vladimir Putin: You will have to put this question to our foreign partners, including our American partners. The United States are actively developing their military potential. You know that they withdrew from the ABM Treaty not so long ago. At that time they assured us that this decision was not in any way directed against the Russian Federation, and we took note of that. Indeed, the nature and level of our relations confirm what our American partners said. I can say today that our work to modernise our arms and the new weapons systems we have developed are not in any way directed at the United States.

We really have become partners. We want to emphasise that we will do everything we can to make yesterday's opponents our partners and to make today's partners our friends and allies. But we retain for ourselves the right to modernise our armed forces in the interest of ensuring our national security. We are working constructively with our American partners and are raising the level of trust between us. Both sides are showing a lot of interest in expanding our cooperation. I think that as our cooperation develops, the level of trust between us will increase further.

Question: This is not the first time you are in Plesetsk and not the first time you have visited the Northern Fleet. How do you think the situation has changed in the Armed Forces over the last four years? Can we now say that the crisis is over?

Vladimir Putin: I think that the armed forces have begun to put the crisis behind them. I do indeed visit different units regularly. As for the naval fleets and such important areas as the Strategic Missile Forces and the Space Forces, they are under my constant attention. I visited the Northern Fleet some three years ago, and I have visited all the naval fleets. During those visits the aim was to establish what state the armed forces were in and what state particularly important facilities were in, including Plesetsk, the very place where we are today. Back then it was a space launch centre in name, but in reality it was suitable only for military launches.

Today we can say that a colossal amount of work has been done over these last three-three-and-a-half years. There is still a lot of work to do but what we have today is a real space launch centre. We have also just held exercises the likes of which we have not seen for almost 20 years. Of course, there were pluses and minuses during the course of these exercises. Everything is being covered absolutely objectively and this will continue to be the case. The minuses will also be public and we will draw the necessary conclusions from them. We only stand to benefit from this. Overall, I am happy with the exercises.

There are definite pluses. For example, the infrastructure that the armed forces overall and different branches in particular need in order to develop has been restored. Then there are breakthroughs such as that, which we are witnessing today. Yesterday we observed how naval air defence systems work, and they are one component of what could form a missile defence system. But the big event is definitely what took place today - the experiment to test the new weapons system. This is a clear sign that Russia has not just come through its crisis but is now breaking new ground. This really is a breakthrough.

Question: If everything is going so well, perhaps Russia will develop its own missile defence system?

Vladimir Putin: Concerning a missile defence system, today's experiment is a great success for our military and technical specialists, and I have already congratulated the chief designer, the engineers and scientists who put several years' work into today's experiment. Anyway, our specialists in this area think that it would be still too early to take practical decisions and invest large sums in this area. Work in the area of missile defence began back in the Soviet years and has continued to this day. We have been working in this area for several decades now. We think that the time has not come to invest big money in such a project yet. We do not have this money to spare. We have good cooperation with our American partners and they are interested in working with our specialists. This is understandable. We do, after all, have some good developments in this area, developments that other countries, perhaps, do not have. We will work together, but we first need to agree on the principles for this cooperation. This is another demonstration of the level of relations between the United States and Russia today. Incidentally, I informed the U.S. President by phone of today's exercises before they got underway. We spoke a few days ago, true, we just covered the general lines. Our military specialists will use their own channels to inform their American colleagues within the extent made possible by the level of our cooperation on these issues at this time.

So, we shall see how work moves ahead in other countries and we will continue the work we have begun. I don't rule out that at some point in the future we could begin practical work to build a missile defence system, but as I said, we would strive to make such a system as cost-effective as possible and as effective as possible from a military point of view.

Thank you very much and wish you every success.

Source: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, http://www.russianembassy.org.

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