Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to send a military unit consisting of up to 200 servicemen to Sudan where they will participate in a peacekeeping operation. According to the decree published on February 10, on the president’s website, the group will be sent to Sudan with weapons, ammunition and military hardware until March 24, 2006.

The military group will be in charge of helicopter support to the rapid response force, transportation of airmobile reserves, evacuation, air surveillance, search-and-rescue operations and transportation of the property and personnel of the UN to the bases. According to the decree, the military unit’s term in office will be prolonged if the UN Security Council extends the peacekeeping group’s warrant. The decree was signed on the basis of the Federation Council’s decision dated December 27, 2005, and resolutions of the UN Security Council No. 1590 dated March 24, 2005, and No. 1627 dated September 23, 2005.

The civil war, which began 22 years ago, has killed over 1 million people. Government troops counter armed units of rebels living in southern Sudan. The government of Sudan and the people’s liberation movement signed a global peace agreement on January 9, 2005. This was the formal end of the war. The results of the agreement are as follows – southern regions will become autonomous for six years, and its further destiny will be determined in a referendum.

The peace agreement concerns the distribution of oil revenues. However, the agreement does not concern the conflict in Darfur (western Sudan). The UN characterizes this conflict as the most serious humanitarian disaster in the world. Russian helicopter pilots will operate in this zone. The point is that Russia is one of the few countries where pilots can fly at night.

Peacekeepers’ tasks will boil down to organizing search-and-rescue operations and supporting rapid response forces from the air. The UN Security Council sanctioned the deployment of 10,130 servicemen and 755 policemen in Sudan. Experts say that the UN operation in Sudan will probably end in late March 2007. However, the mission may be prolonged. If this happens, Russian servicemen will be replaced twice a year.

Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky, chief of the press service of the Air Force, said that the Air Force is not selecting experienced pilots and engineers. Selected servicemen are examined by medical commissions. They will soon attend a special training course at the 344th center in Torzhok (the Tver region). There are plans to send the pilots and military hardware to Sudan from the Migalovo airfield (Tver). Drobyshevsky said that “the Il-76, An-124 Ruslan and An-22 Antei military-transport planes will have to perform 30, five and five flights respectively.” He noted that “the task will be fulfilled on time”. The official representative of the Air Force said, “We have repeatedly solved such tasks in the past.”

The peacekeeping mission in Sudan is the only operation conducted by the Russian Army. Colonel Vyacheslav Sedov, chief of the press service of the Defense Ministry, said that Russia participates in UN peacekeeping operations very actively, sending peacekeepers and military observers to different regions. He noted that around 100 Russian military observers participate in UN peacekeeping operations in 12 regions, including Western Sahara, Congo, Liberia, Burundi and the Middle East. Sedov said that over 3,000 Russian servicemen are involved in peacekeeping operations in the CIS.

He noted, “The major contingent – around 1,800 servicemen – is deployed in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. In addition, 700 Russian peacekeepers operate in the Trans-Dniester territory and 580 in South Ossetia.” The Defense Ministry’s representative said that peacekeeping operations are an efficient tool for stopping armed conflicts. Russia’s participation in UN peacekeeping activities coincides with Russia’s political interests and strengthens its prestige abroad.