MOSCOW – President Dmitry Medvedev made his debut as the commander in chief of Russia's armed forces Thursday, touring a missile base and promising to provide the funding needed for nuclear forces to counter global threats.
Medvedev inspected Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles and spoke to officers at the base near Teikovo, a town in the Ivanovo region some 150 miles northeast of Moscow.
"I'm impressed by both the weapons and the level of training," Medvedev said after inspecting the missiles, which are concealed by the military in a dense pine forest. "It's good that the military is getting new missiles like the Topol-M."
Missiles from the base were displayed in the May 9 Victory Day parade, when Russia showcased its combat vehicles and other military hardware on Red Square in Moscow for the first time since the Soviet collapse.
Medvedev said that he "felt a drive" when he watched the missiles and other weapons rolling across the square. He promised that such parades will continue and may even be expanded.
"Our task for the next few years is to make sure that the Strategic Missile Forces receive the necessary funding to respond to modern threats and the current situation on the planet,"
Medvedev said in televised remarks during a meeting with servicemen. "Certain progress has been made recently, and we mustn't lose the tempo."
He also promised to raise officers' salaries.
Medvedev, who was sworn in on May 7, has cast himself as a liberal and avoided the harsh anti-Western rhetoric of his predecessor and mentor, Vladimir Putin.
Most observers, however, expect Medvedev to continue the policies of Putin, who has taken an increasingly assertive posture on the international scene and vowed to strengthen the military.
Putin, now the prime minister, fiercely opposes a U.S. plan to deploy missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as NATO plans to grant membership to Ukraine and Georgia. Putin has threatened to point nuclear missiles at countries that take part in the U.S. missile defense shield, and he opted out of a key Soviet-era arms control treaty.
Topol-M missiles are capable of hitting targets more than 6,000 miles away. They are deployed in both silo-based and truck-mounted versions.
"It's a new step in missile design," Strategic Missile Forces chief, Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, said in describing the Topol-M to Medvedev.
Putin and other officials have boasted about the Topol-M's ability to penetrate any missile defense.
Its designer, Yuri Solomonov, has said the missile drops its engines at a significantly lower altitude than earlier designs, making it hard for an enemy's early warning system to detect a launch. Solomonov also has said the missiles' warhead and decoys closely resemble one another in flight.
Windfall oil revenues have allowed the Kremlin to buy weapons and fund the development of new missiles. The deployment of Topol-Ms, however, has proceeded slowly, and Soviet-built ballistic missiles have remained the backbone of the nation's nuclear forces.
While the government put cash into modernizing ground-based missiles, the naval component of Russia's nuclear forces has deteriorated. Soviet-built nuclear submarines frequently need repairs and rarely leave their bases. The first in a series of new nuclear submarines is to be commissioned this year, but the nuclear-armed missile developed for it has failed tests.