Sami Amara, Fayez Al-Thumali, and Michel Abu Najm
on : Tuesday, 11 Jun, 2013
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Russia maintains offer of peacekeepers for Golan

Moscow says Golan peacekeeping deployment legal if Syria and Israel agree
 United Nations peacekeeper directs an armoured vehicle after it crossed from Syria to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights at the Kuneitra border crossing May 8, 2013. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

United Nations peacekeeper directs an armored vehicle after it crossed from Syria to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights at the Kuneitra border crossing on May 8, 2013. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

Moscow, Asharq Al-Awsat—Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering sending Russian peacekeeping forces to the Golan Heights, according to Russian sources.

A Russian Foreign Ministry source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that Putin most likely discussed the move during the visit by Israeli deputy foreign minister Zeev Elkin and deputy interior minister Faina Kirschenbaum to Moscow yesterday.

The source stressed that Moscow confirms that there is a legal basis for sending its forces to the Golan Heights, so long as it obtains permission from both Syria and Israel. This would counteract the international reservations that have been in place for more than 40 years.

Elkin, who is in charge of the Foreign Ministry’s affairs, said in a statement published by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass that he would be prepared to look into this issue if the Russian side presented it. He revealed that Israel made its position very clear during the recent phone call between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kremlin sources revealed that Putin and Netanyahu had discussed bilateral relations, as well as regional and international issues, in addition to Israel’s targeting of alleged Syrian arms conveys heading to neighboring Lebanon last May.

This was the first telephone call between the two leaders since Putin announced that Russia had suspended the S-300 missile system contract to Syria.

Netanyahu had expressed Israel’s concerns about S-300 missiles finding their way into Syrian regime forces’ hands. Moscow appears to have addressed these concerns, according to Putin’s comments about Russia’s eagerness to “maintain the balance of power in the region.”

According to a report published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, a Russian Defense Ministry official, speaking at a news conference at the end of the Russia–EU summit in Katrineberg, said that Moscow was prepared to send peacekeeping forces to the Golan Heights. The official claimed that the Russian 31st Guards Airborne Brigade began peacekeeping training in January 2013.

This brigade has had experience in conflict resolution after carrying out a number of missions in Kosovo and Abkhazia, as well as taking part in the war in Georgia in August 2008 and protecting the Russian embassy and other installations in Kyrgyzstan during the unrest in October 2010.

Military sources revealed that the brigade could be equipped with M-24 attack helicopters, which have proved their capability in Angola and Sierra Leon, and other international hotspots. The sources also pointed to the continuing attempts by Syrian opposition forces to recapture the crossing between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights.

Russia’s most senior foreign policy MP said relations between Damascus and Tel Aviv required a “qualitatively new solution,” saying Russian peacekeepers could provide additional security guarantees.

“The issue has not yet been solved; it is being considered. We must take some real action because we cannot exclude that the Syrian–Israeli topic would be involved in large-scale military action,” said MP Aleksey Pushkov during a press conference in Moscow.

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