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Meeting with military district commanders

May 15, 2024, The Kremlin, Moscow

Vladimir Putin held a meeting with military district commanders.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, comrades.

I would like to begin by congratulating you on a date we marked recently – May 9. This is the day we commemorate the Victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War.

I wanted to convey these greetings to you in person. I know that all of you had to be at your deployment sites on May 9, and this was the case, in fact, since you celebrated this day in the midst of combat action. In this connection, I would like to thank all of your subordinates, as well as you personally, for what you do on the battlefield.

Action continues according to the plan prepared and approved by the group’s command, the General Staff, and all the objectives are being achieved. Not only last year, I would like to repeat this, but overall, all enemy counterattacks have been repulsed. This year, however, our troops have been steadily advancing across all theatres every day. Once again, they are carrying out every mission planned by the Ministry of Defence and the General Staff, and this is exactly what the nation expects from us – from you.

We can see what the neo-Nazi regime has been up to along the border. This is the way they have been acting since 2014, when we were still trying to settle this conflict by peaceful means. Unfortunately, this effort failed to yield results, which forced us to deploy our Armed Forces in order to defend our people there. But the more effective you become along the line of contact, the greater the chances are that we can settle this matter by peaceful means. This has always been something we aspired to, as I have said many times.

Comrades, you know that under the Constitution, a new federal Government must be formed once the country elects its President. We have six newcomers in the cabinet who will oversee sports, transport, industry, agriculture and defence.

I would like to thank Sergei Shoigu for what he did over the past years in terms of building up the Armed Forces and promoting transformative changes. I think we can all say with great certainty that we have been consistent in our efforts to overhaul our military, including by adapting to present-day imperatives and the latest methods of war. Yes, we all know that we have a lot of work ahead, since neither we nor those developing their armed forces around the world had a clear vision regarding many matters until combat action started. This much is obvious. But the way we have been able to promptly respond to present-day imperatives inspires confidence, proving that we will not fail to deliver on all objectives of this kind.

Mr Shoigu will be moving into a new role, as you all know. He will assume the post of Security Council Secretary and will be in charge of a Constitutional body formed by the President, with a mandate to assist the Head of State in leading the country on military and law enforcement matters.

Andrei Belousov has been appointed defence minister, not least because of the growing defence expenses. I would like to remind you that the Soviet Union’s aggregate defence and security spending amounted to approximately 13 percent [of GDP] in the mid-1980s. In 2024, our total spending on defence and security will be about or slightly more than 8.7 percent. The approximate figure will be 8.7 percent. This is less than the 13 percent the Soviet Union spent, but it is still a considerable sum and a major resource, which we should use sparingly yet effectively.

Andrei Belousov had been Minister of Economic Development and a president’s aide in the Presidential Executive Office, and for the past few years he was First Deputy Prime Minister in charge of economic matters. It goes without saying that he knows very well what should be done to incorporate the economy of our defence and security sector, and the Defence Ministry as its core element, into the national economy. This is extremely important. What I mean is that it will determine the innovative development of our industries with due regard for our economic and budget capabilities.

While increasing our defence and security expenditures, we bear in mind that all our social obligations to the people must be fulfilled, and that our national development goals must be achieved in all spheres, including in social protection. I am referring to education, healthcare, support for veterans, pensions and the like. All this must certainly be done while the growing defence spending is growing. At the same time, we see and understand that growing defence and security expenses are also intrinsically connected, one way or another, with civilian industries, which is boosting economic development as a whole and increasing the number of jobs (the unemployment rate is currently at a historic low in the country). However, this connection between “cannons” and “butter” must be organically incorporated into the general development strategy of the Russian state.

I hope that Andrei Belousov will accomplish this task in the best possible way. On top of everything else, he has recently been doing some dual-purpose things at my request, such as the creation of unmanned aerial vehicles and other drones. Sergei Shoigu was doing the same at the level of the Defence Ministry.

Mr Shoigu, who has left the post of Defence Minister, will not only act as Secretary of the Security Council but will also supervise the functioning of the Presidential Military-Industrial Commission and the establishment of the Federal Service for Cooperation with Foreign Countries. I believe that Mr Shoigu understands better than many the importance of fulfilling our obligations to partners on the export of weapons and military equipment, considering that we must give priority attention to the requirements of our own Armed Forces. It is an extremely delicate and significant combination. Mr Shoigu will be doing this jointly with the Defence Ministry, the ministry’s leadership, and the Chief of the General Staff.

As for the General Staff and the entire structure responsible for our combat operations, no changes have been made or will be made. I would like to make this absolutely clear. This block of our combat activities has taken the final shape and is working smoothly and effectively. No changes have been envisaged. This is all I wanted to say in my opening remarks.

As agreed, I asked Mr Shoigu and Mr Gerasimov to organise this meeting so that we would also be able to discuss the current situation on the contact line. We do this every day with the senior staff of the Defence Ministry and the Chief of the General Staff, but I also wanted to hear your views. Overall, I understand what is going on and how we are acting, but while it is one thing to hear this in reports by the Chief of the General Staff and the Defence Minister, having a straightforward conversation with you is quite a different thing. We meet regularly, even if not very often, and I believe the time is right to discuss our combat activities in every sphere in more detail.

Thank you.


May 15, 2024, The Kremlin, Moscow