MOSCOW Russia needs to build up its armed forces and intelligence potential in the face of new security threats including U.S. military plans in Europe, President Vladimir Putin told his top brass on Wednesday.
"A comprehensive strengthening of the armed forces is one of our unquestionable priorities," Russian news agencies quoted Putin as telling a Kremlin meeting of top military and security service officers.
Lavish praise for the role of the Russian military and calls to build up national defence are traditional for such annual meetings at which the president announces new nominations and hands out new ranks to senior staff.
This time Putin said defence and security officials had new reasons to step up their efforts apart from threats caused by terrorism and local conflicts.
"There are a number of other global threats," he said. "The United States is becoming more active in pushing forward plans to deploy new bases in Eastern Europe; the ratification of the Conventional Forces (CFE) in Europe treaty has stalled."
Russia has threatened to pull out of the CFE pact, signed in 1990 to limit the number of heavy weapons deployed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Urals Mountains, accusing the Western partners of failing to ratify it.
NATO members refuse to ratify the CFE treaty, amended in 1999 to reflect new realities after the Soviet Union collapsed and its Eastern Bloc ceased to exist, until Russia meets its promise to withdraw troops from ex-Soviet Moldova.
Putin has said Washington's plans for bases in Bulgaria and Romania and to deploy elements of its missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic are the last straw pushing the Kremlin to its decision on the CFE pact.
Russia rejects U.S. assurances that interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic and a radar in Poland were intended to avert potential missile attacks from countries like Iran and says the real target was Russia.
The Kremlin also says elements of the U.S. missile shield and new bases in Europe would damage the strategic balance of forces on the continent.
"The current task of the military is strengthening combat readiness of the army and the navy, equipping them with most modern weapons and other military hardware," Putin told the generals.
"The enhanced capability of troops should be strictly tested in (military) exercises," he added.
Rows over the missile shield and CFE have highlighted new rifts in relations between the West and resurgent Russia, seeking to revive the global role it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Putin, who will step down next year after eight years in power marked by strong economic growth, has said that Russia's new assertive policy aimed to secure its strategic interests rather than fuel a new Cold War.
The president, a former officer of the Soviet era KGB security service, made clear Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service also had a stong role to play.
"The international situation and domestic interests require that the SVR step up its potential, first and foremost in supplying the national leadership with information and analytical data," Putin said.