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Official Says Russians Can Still Produce firepower

Moscow, May 29 (RFE/RL) - A knowledgeable Russian defense official says the national defense industry remains capable of arming the Russian military with enough efficient weaponry in the next century, although the assortment of its lethal products will be slashed for economic reasons.

Yuri Chervakov, an official of the re-organized Defense Industry Ministry (Minoboronprom) says his agency will have to cut back on overlapping weapons systems. But, he says the agency - together with the Defense and Economics Ministries - has completed a secret program of weapons development. The program provides for narrowing of the assortment of new weapons, and for increasing certain development and production of others.

Chevakov said the program aims to concentrate arms production at state enterprises that are not eligible for privatization. He said other enterprises may be called on as needed.

The Minoboronprom officials would not elaborate further. He said that the program, in his words, "remains on the secret list." He said more general information may be made public after the federal government endorses the program.

Chervakov said that defense production is declining. Orders from the Russian military shrink every year.

Russian news media quoted Minoboronprom's Deputy Chief Economist Vitaly Vitebsky this week as saying that the defense industry produced this April an average of about 17 percent less than in the same month of last year.

Defense industry companies that have converted to producing civilian goods fared even worse. Their civil output fell about 23 percent in April 1996 from the levels of April 1995.