UN, June 8 (RIA Novosti) – President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Russia was ready to deploy its troops to the Golan Heights, in eastern Israel, to replace Austrian peacekeepers as part of a UN monitoring mission on the border between Israeli troops and the Syrian army.
Austria had announced on Thursday morning that it was withdrawing its 377 troops from the United Nations’ 1,100-strong force following battles at Quneitra in Syria.
“In view of the complex situation that is emerging in the Golan Heights, we could replace the Austrian contingent that is leaving the area,” Putin said. “Needless to say, [we would do so] only if regional powers are interested in that and if the UN secretary general asks us to do that.”
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said that Russia was ready to send around 300 peacekeepers to the Golan Heights.
“We are talking about the replacement of the same number from the Austrian contingent, in other words about 300 peacekeepers or roughly a battalion,” Churkin said.
Russia’s UN envoy added that a number of UN Security Council member states welcomed Russia’s initiative, but said that the parties involved must give their agreement for Russia to send peacekeepers.
Churkin also said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a telephone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday night and explained the UN chief Russia’s proposal on peacekeepers.
A UN spokesman on Friday told RIA Novosti that the United Nations would welcome Russian peacekeepers in the Golan Heights.
“The UN welcomes any contribution by the world community to peacemaking efforts in the Golan Heights, and the UNDOF [UN Disengagement Observer Force] is very important for the maintenance of peace in the region,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for the UN secretary general, thanked Russia for its initiative, but said the peacekeeping agreements “do not allow for the participation of permanent members of the Security Council in UNDOF.”
Russian parliament members on Friday supported Putin’s move.
Russian peacekeepers in the area would enhance the country’s international standing and the authority of its armed forces, and have a positive impact on the situation in the region as a whole, said Valery Shnyankin, deputy head of theinternational relations committee at the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament.
Frants Klintsevich, deputy head of the State Duma Defense Committee, said Russian peacekeepers in the Golan Heights would be the best possible deal for both Syria and Israel, since “there is a significant level of trust [in Russia] on both sides there," compared with peacekeepers from any other country, including the United States.
In any event, this is a “big politics” issue and it is up to the president to make the final decision, Klintsevich said.
Originally posted and updated on June 7 at 19:35 to change headline, update lead and highlights, and expand Putin’s statement, on June 7 at 22:25 to include Nesirky's comment and on June 8 at 1:35 to include Vitaly Churkin's comments