Russia says UN Golan force in 'dire straits'
UNITED NATIONS — Russia said Friday that the UN peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights is in "dire straits" and called on the United Nations to rethink a rejection of President Vladimir Putin's offer to send Russian troops there.
Putin said Russian troops could replace 377 soldiers that Austria is withdrawing from the UN ceasefire force between Syria and Israel. But the UN turned down the bid because of an accord saying the five permanent members of the Security Council, including Russia, cannot take part in the force.
"Obviously we are aware of that document but we believe that times have changed," Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters as he entered emergency UN Security Council talks on the UN force.
The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was set up in 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria ending their 1973 war. But the force has been the target of abductions and attacks as Syria's civil war spreads. Austria followed Japan and Croatia in withdrawing their contingents.
"The document was signed 39 years ago at the height of Cold War and the whole context of the war of '73. Now the context is completely different and UNDOF seems to be in dire straits," said Churkin.
"We are offering essentially to rescue UNDOF but of course that problem needs to be sorted out," he added.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke to UN leader Ban Ki-moon about Putin's offer on Friday.
"We will see what the reaction -- most importantly of the interested parties, meaning Syria and Israel -- is going to be," said the Russian ambassador.
Putin said earlier that the move would only be possible if there was a request from the United Nations and "if the regional powers express an interest in this."
But the UN responded that it would not be possible for Russian troops to go to the Golan.
"We appreciate the consideration that Russia has given to provide troops on the Golan. However, the disengagement agreement and its protocol between Syria and Israel does not allow for the participation of permanent members of the security council in UNDOF," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
Ban has already said he "regrets" Austria's move to withdraw its contingent which makes up more than a third of the current UNDOF force.
But the Austrian government said the threat to its soldiers had "reached an unacceptable level."
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said Friday that discussions with troop contributing countries are being held to find a replacement for the Austrian contingent.