* Putin looks at new stealth figher
* Says diplomacy fallible, Russia must rearm
* Says Russia under threat of conflict near borders
(Adds Putin quotes, colour, changes dateline)
By Gleb Bryanski
KOMSOMOLSK-ON-AMUR, Russia, Feb 20 Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin inspected one of Russia's new stealth
fighter jets on Monday and said Russia needs a stronger military
to protect it against foreign attempts to stoke conflict around
Less than two weeks before a presidential election in which
he hopes for a resounding win, Putin visited Komsomolsk-on-Amur,
a snow-swept city in Russia's Far East where military and
civilian planemaker Sukhoi is a big employer.
He prefaced his trip with a newspaper article
intended to burnish his image as a strong leader, saying Russia
would spend 23 trillion roubles ($768 billion) over a decade to
modernise the former Cold War superpower's armed forces.
"New regional and local wars are being sparked before our
very eyes," Putin wrote in the article published on the front
page of Russia's official gazette, Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
"There are attempts to provoke such conflicts in the
immediate vicinity of the borders of Russia and our allies," he
wrote ahead of the March 4 election which he is expected to win.
Putin gave no details of specific threats but said Russia
needed to develop weapons that were better than those of any
potential enemy and called for making Russia's armed forces more
professional and versatile.
Russia's once-mighty armed forces underwent a decade of
spending cuts after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991,
although Putin tried during his 2000-08 presidency to slow the
decline. The military now has about 1 million personnel.
With his calls to increase Russia's might and spend state
cash to improve military technology, Putin can count on strong
support from the defence industry.
Dressed in a black coat on a visit that mixed elements of
governance and campaigning, Putin looked down into the cockpit
of a Sukhoi Su-30 fighter. He also examined a T-50, which Russia
designed to rival the U.S. F-22 stealth fighter.
"With him it is getting better and better. It is not getting
worse. I am afraid that if someone else comes to power, only God
knows what may happen," said Sergei, a Sukhoi factory worker who
was assembling a fighter jet.
But with other plants in the city of 260,000 are struggling,
many did not share Sergei's enthusiasm for Putin.
"I am not going to vote for any of these power
usurpers," said Andrei, a 28-year-old technician, referring to
all five presidential candidates including Putin.
Putin, 59, has presented himself as the guarantor of
stability and accused foreign powers of helping the organisers
of the biggest opposition protests of his 12-year rule. But many
are concerned with rampant corruption and political stagnation.
Andrei, sitting at a cafe with his girlfriend, said he had
been trying to set up his own business but had failed because of
kickbacks demanded by local authorities.
Putin acknowledged the role of corruption in the defence
industry and urged the private sector to help in boosting
competition. He cited oil companies Surgutneftegas and
TNK, which he said helped pay for the renovation of a submarine
base at the Pacific port of Kamchatka in 2002.
"We need to ... attract enterprises from the civilian
sector, private companies to compete for military tenders,"
Putin told a government meeting on the arms industry.
"In order to rearm the army and the navy we need to involve
not only the defence industry but the potential of the whole
Russian economy," he said.
Russia has criticised the NATO mission in Libya, saying it
overstepped the mandate it was given by the United Nations
Security Council and helped rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi last
year, and it has stood behind Syrian President Bashir al-Assad,
one of Moscow's few allies in the Middle East.
In the latest of his articles published on the key policies
if his presidential campaign, Putin made no specific mention of
uprisings in Libya, where NATO air assaults helped topple
Gaddafi, or Syria, whose president has been under Western-Arab
pressure to step down.
But he wrote that recent events showed the diminished
stature of international law.
Putin said Russia, which has vetoed two U.N. Security
Council resolutions on Syria with China, must rely on a powerful
military to make sure its position is understood.
"Under these conditions Russia cannot depend solely on
diplomatic or economic methods of resolving conflict," he wrote.
"Before us stands the mission of developing our military
potential in the framework of a strategy of containment and
remaining sufficiently armed."
($1 = 29.9300 Russian roubles)
(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove; Writing by Thomas Grove;
Editing by Timothy Heritage and Steve Gutterman)