Russia president defends military spending hike
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday vehemently defended plans to increase the country's military spending, dismissing criticism by an influential finance minister who quit after expressing frustration over the subject.
Alexei Kudrin's resignation Monday followed the announcement of plans for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Medvedev to switch positions after next year's elections. Kudrin said he would not stay as finance minister if Medvedev became prime minister because he disagreed with his military spending plan, among other issues.
Kudrin, who some had thought could be a candidate for prime minister, had earlier warned that a planned 1.3 percent increase in military spending next year would greatly complicate efforts to balance the budget and keep previous social commitments.
Medvedev, who was watching military exercises in the Ural mountains Tuesday, said in televised remarks that an efficient army is Russia's "mission towards its citizens and neighbors alike."
The president also said Russia needs to spend on its army more than "a banana republic" because it is "a (U.N.) Security Council member with nuclear weapons."
"However, deplorable this is for the budget, we will always have high spending to maintain defense and security," Medvedev said while addressing a panel of officers. Russia "would not exist if we were weak and if our armed forces had fallen apart."
Analysts said the spending hike was likely sanctioned by Putin, who is widely considered more powerful than Medvedev. Next year's election results are all but guaranteed to see Putin back in the presidency, when he then would appoint Medvedev as prime minister. Their United Russia party dominates the country's politics.
Kudrin has been widely credited with helping Russia weather the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
During Putin's presidency from 2000 to 2008, Kudrin stashed some of the revenue from Russia's soaring oil exports into a stabilization fund despite strong opposition from other ministers who wanted to spend the money. But when the financial crisis hit and oil prices sank sharply, those savings proved crucial in reducing the blow to Russia's economy.