Russia eyes Golan Heights mission
The Russian Navy’s anti-aircraft ship Adm Panteleyev is moored during a call in Limassol. AFP photoRussia is ready to replace peacekeepers from Austria in the Golan Heights, President Vladimir Putin said June 7, after Vienna said it would recall its troops from a U.N. monitoring force due to worsening fighting in Syria.
Austria, whose peacekeepers account for about 380 of the 1,000-strong U.N. force observing a four-decade-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel, said it would pull out after intense clashes between Syrian government forces and rebels on the border. “Given the complicated situation in the Golan Heights, we could replace the leaving Austrian contingent in this region on the border between Israeli troops and the Syrian army,” Putin said at a televised meeting with Russian military officers. “But this will happen, of course, only if the regional powers show interest, and if the U.N. secretary general asks us to do so,” he said. The U.N. Security Council will meet today to discuss the Austrian withdrawal after anti-Assad rebels briefly seized the crossing between Israel and Syria, sending U.N. staff scurrying to bunkers before Syrian soldiers managed to push them back.
Meanwhile, Russia has deployed a naval unit to the Mediterranean Sea, it said June 6, a move President Vladimir Putin said was to defend Russian security but which comes as Moscow faces off with the West over Syria.
In what is Russia’s first permanent naval deployment in the Mediterranean since Soviet times, it has stationed 16 warships and three ship-based helicopters in the region, the chief of staff said. The Defense Ministry said it would regularly rotate them to keep a presence of about a dozen.
Putin said the deployment was not “saber-rattling” and not meant as a threat to any nation. Russia cooperates with NATO navies against piracy and its ships call at Western ports. “This is a strategically important region and we have tasks to carry out there to provide for the national security of the Russian Federation,” Putin said.