Nominee for Russian defence minister underlines need to take better care of soldiers

FILE PHOTO: Andrei Belousov attends the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Andrei Belousov, the surprise choice of President Vladimir Putin to become Russia's new defence minister, said on Monday that soldiers needed better access to housing, hospitals and welfare benefits.

Belousov, an economist who previously served as deputy prime minister, underlined the need to take better care of Russia's soldiers in comments to a parliamentary committee, his first since Putin named him on Sunday to replace Sergei Shoigu.

State media quoted him as saying there was too much bureaucracy surrounding the payment of benefits to military personnel. There were also issues with housing and medical treatment.

"I think it’s a mess when participants in the special military operation who come back on vacation are driven from civilian medical institutions to hospitals which are often simply overcrowded. This issue needs to be resolved," Belousov said.

The comments by Belousov, who has no military background, appeared aimed at demonstrating to members of the armed forces that he understands their concerns and will work to improve their conditions.

He was addressing the defence and security committee of parliament's upper house, the Federation Council, as part of a confirmation process for a new government line-up after Putin started his fifth term as president earlier this month.

(Reporting by Reuters, writing by Mark Trevelyan, editing by Timothy Heritage)