The commander of the Russian navy has vowed to return Moscow’s fleets “to the world’s oceans” by replacing aging warships and providing better training for seamen and naval officers.

Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov, in an interview with the Strana news agency this week, said he is mindful that the task ahead of him is daunting. However, he pointed out that while the past three years of reforming the navy “have seen mistakes,” there have been accomplishments, as well.

Kuroyedov said he realized “there is a long way to go before stabilization in the navy could be achieved,” but said it was “no longer relevant” to talk only of “Russia’s economic zone. … It’s time to talk about the ocean.”

The Russian navy chief said Moscow could not afford “serial production” of new warships and submarines, but said he was confident the financing was there “to start the manufacture of new types of ships this year.”

Nearly 60 percent of Russia’s warships have served two-thirds of their useful service life, Kuroyedov said. But beginning in 2001, the navy’s focus will be to sustain its technical abilities “and improve the professional skills of the seamen.”

“I think that in the new age, we shall break away from the piers and finally enter the oceans,” he told the news agency.

Current plans call for Russian warships to spend two months on combat duty in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Kuroyedov said the deployments would help “restore the naval skills required for operation at sea at many levels of navy management.”

“There is a difference between operating close to the shore or in the sea just outside and operating in the ocean,” Kuroyedov said. “As far as the fleet is concerned, we are now reviving what was there 40 to 50 years ago, although, objectively speaking, it is necessary to create a new Russian fleet rather than restore” the existing fleet.

Kuroyedov also said the government, under President Vladimir Putin, is increasingly recognizing the importance of using the Russian navy to protect Moscow’s interests worldwide, much as the navy was used during the Soviet era.

“With the arrival of the year 2001, I can confidently say that the state’s attitude toward the navy is changing,” Kuroyedov told the news service. “It is now not necessary to explain to anybody that the navy is an instrument of state policy representing Russia’s interests in any part of the world ocean and in any state in peace time.”

He added, however, that the Kremlin is planning a 20 percent cut in the Russian navy between 2001-2003; “a difficult but necessary process,” Kuroyedov noted.

Kuroyedov said the current reforms will cause the most changes in Russia’s Northern Fleet. He said current navy planning calls for the Northern Fleet, under an experimental system, to be transformed into mostly “naval submerged forces” — a submarine fleet — and established as a separate naval command.

The navy chief said six years ago the Kremlin gave the navy a quarter of its defense budget, but that had been cut to about 9 percent in recent years. However, the most current budget gives the navy 16 percent of the total defense budget, a figure which Kuroyedov says has “grown in the past two years.”

Also, Putin has instructed state-owned defense industries to secure a better position for Russia in the world’s arms markets. Weapons sales include naval ships, which the Kremlin has been using to modernize all its forces.

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