Putin orders housing for soldiers serving for over 8 yrs by 2010

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MOSCOW, February 13 (RIA Novosti) - President Vladimir Putin has instructed the government to provide soldiers who have been serving in the army for more than eight years with permanent housing by 2010.

"I ask you to pay particular attention to providing permanent housing for servicemen who joined the army before January 1, 1998," Putin told a conference devoted to the issue, which is one of the most pressing facing Russia's huge army, as many officers cannot find appropriate accommodation when they leave forces.

The president said the deadline was 2010, and added that the flats would go above all to those who had been discharged from the army on guarantees that they would receive housing.

"And also those who will retire in the next two years, or those who have served for over 20 years," Putin said.

Putin said the majority of soldiers of this category had been or were serving in five regions - the Moscow, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Leningrad and Kaliningrad regions - where housing is the most expensive.

"For the purpose, I have given instructions to allocate an additional 30 billion rubles [over $1 billion] in the regions in 2006-07," Putin said, adding that this would account for over 18,000 flats for the servicemen in question.

However, Putin expressed concerns about a possible rise in inflation on the way to the goal. "If [housing] is bought on the second-hand market, then it is all right, but if new construction is launched for the purpose, then I am afraid it could drive up spending and devalue the 30 billion rubles in allocations," Putin said.

The Economic Development and Trade Minister, German Gref, assured the president that his decision would not spur inflation, as the mechanism had been well considered.

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