Lawmaker Leonid Slutsky calls for massive Russian army

A senior Russian lawmaker who has been involved in a number of negotiations related to Moscow's campaign in Ukraine called late on Monday for a professional army.
FILE PHOTO: Russia's State Duma member Leonid Slutsky attends a meeting of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Moscow, Russia March 14, 2022.
FILE PHOTO: Russia's State Duma member Leonid Slutsky attends a meeting of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Moscow, Russia March 14, 2022. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo

(Reuters) - A senior Russian lawmaker who has been involved in a number of negotiations related to Moscow's campaign in Ukraine called late on Monday for a professional army seven-million strong to ensure that no mercenary groups are needed for the country's security.

Russia has been shaken by the weekend's failed mutiny by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenary troops who briefly took control of a military command steering Moscow's campaign in Ukraine, then started a march on Moscow before aborting it.

Lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, who early in the 16-month war took part in peace negotiations with Ukraine, said that Russia needs a contract army of at least seven million military and civilian personnel, on top of the current conscript army.

"The country does not need any PMCs (private military companies) and their likes," Slutsky, the head of the Liberal Democratic Party, said on the Telegram messaging app. "There are problems in the regular army, but PMCs cannot solve them."

President Vladimir Putin made a defiant address on Monday saying he had deliberately let the one-day mutiny go for so long to avoid bloodshed. He said Wagner fighters can continue fighting with Russian army, go home or go to Belarus.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin Wall on the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow, Russia, February 23, 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin Wall on the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow, Russia, February 23, 2023. Sputnik/Pavel Bednyakov/Pool via REUTERS

When sending troops to Ukraine in February 2022 Putin assumed he would take Kyiv within days, but the war is still far from over, with many weaknesses of the Russian army and internal disputes of how to lead the campaign coming to the fore.

At the end of 2022, Putin backed beefing up the army to 1.5 million combat personnel - including 695,000 contract soldiers - from 1.15 million.

Creating a contract army of seven million would require a huge budget allowance. The Russian economy, crippled by the war and subsequent Western sanctions contracted 2.2% percent last year and is expected to rebound only marginally this year.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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