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Should Russia Send Its Peacekeepers To Iraq?

peacekeepersThe UN Security Council will continue discussing a new resolution on Iraq during the 58th General Assembly that begins in New York today. The resolution should clearly stipulate the UN role in the restoration of Iraq and the mandate, powers and deadline for the stay of the multinational forces accountable to the UN there.

Moscow does not think the command of the forces is a matter of principle and has a positive view of the idea of creating US-led peacekeeping forces in Iraq. This stand is quite substantiated. First, the USA has hinted more than once that it would not surrender control of the situation in Iraq under any conditions. Second, the Americans have come to Iraq nearly six months ago and it would be simpler for them, at least at the initial stage, to evaluate the operational situation there. Besides, changing military command in conditions of instability would not be effective.

But to whom would the US troops in Iraq be accountable, the US president or the UN Secretary General? This and other questions are at the top of the agenda in the UN.

Yuri Fedotov, deputy foreign minister of Russia said at a press conference in RIA Novosti on Monday that Russia would like the new resolution to cover three issues: the strengthening of effective UN powers in the post-war settlement in Iraq; a clear-cut schedule for the restoration of the Iraqi sovereignty and formation of a legitimate government; and the mandate of the multinational forces in Iraq accountable to the UN Security Council. Russia demands that the mandate should be effective until the restoration of political stability in Iraq.

The deputy minister pointed out that "the issue of the involvement of Russian troops in the multinational forces has not been discussed." However, Russian society keeps wondering if Russian troops should be sent to Iraq.

Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, vice-president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, is against sending Russian troops to Iraq because this would affect Russia's relations with the Arab world. But Colonel-General Valery Manilov, deputy chairman of the Federation Council defence committee, retorts that "there is deep meaning in the systematic presence of Russia in the regions where the future of the world is decided."

So, should Russia take part in the peacekeeping operation in Iraq or not? Russia can and does take part in the UN peacekeeping operations. At present, 338 Russian peacekeepers are taking part in 11 such operations. The dispatch of a few dozen or hundred of Russian military specialists to Iraq does not merit the ballyhoo raised around the issue.

Russian and foreign experts believe that Russia should strive to take part in the peacekeeping operation in Iraq in order to preserve its economic interests there. But the presence of several hundred Russian servicemen in Iraq would not influence Russia's economic interests there. The distribution of contracts in that country actually depends on the USA. According to diplomatic sources, Russia's negotiations with the US administration in Iraq and Washington have saved several contracts launched within the framework of the Oil for Food programme. The fate of the other contracts will be decided after the creation of a legitimate government in Iraq. It will not depend on Russia's military presence or absence in the country but will be decided on grounds of economic expediency.

If the UN decides that it needs the experience of Russian military specialists for the fulfilment of certain tasks in Iraq, Russia will not refuse to grant such assistance to the UN or the Iraqi people.

In addition, Russia's Ambassador at the UN Sergei Lavrov believes that "there are different forms of upholding the sovereignty of Iraq." In particular, Russia is taking part in humanitarian deliveries to Iraq and Russian companies have resumed work on several projects there. Involvement in the economic restoration of Iraq is no less important than the maintenance of security there. Iraq needs Russian engineers, doctors and construction workers more than it needs Russian troops.

Lavrov also stressed that Russia could help train Iraqi policemen and skilled personnel for various economic sectors.

One way or another, Russia will support only such UN Security Council decisions as "will satisfy the Iraqi people, the Moslem world and the Arab countries," said President Vladimir Putin.

Marianna Belenkaya, RIAN

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