MOSCOW, June 7 (Itar-Tass) - Russia is ready to replace Austrian peacekeepers on the Golan Heights with approval from the United Nations and if the regional states show interest in the Russian proposal, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday.
"In view of the complicated situation which is currently unfolding on the Golan Heights, we could replace the Austrian peacekeeping contingent, which is withdrawing from this region, on the disengagement line between the Israeli troops and the Syrian army,” Putin said.
“Naturally, that will happen only if the regional powers show interest in our proposal and if the U.N. secretary-general asks us to do that,” Putin said at a meeting with Russian officers who had been appointed to top army posts and received top military titles.
At the same time, the Russian head of state said that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had personally asked him to increase Russia’s participation in the United Nations peacekeeping operations during his visit to Russia some time ago.
On Thursday, the Austrian Defense Ministry ordered a withdrawal of its peacekeeping contingent from the Golan Heights. Austrian Defense Minister Gerald Klug said that the withdrawal mechanism had been launched and that the pullout would take from two to four weeks according to schedule. Klug emphasized that Austria could evacuate its soldiers in several hours if the situation got radically worse.
According to Klug, if the withdrawal goes according to plan, the first group of soldiers could return to Austria on June 11. For his part, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the withdrawal would be agreed with the United Nations in order to ensure uninterrupted functioning of the U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Austria’s decision to withdraw peacekeepers from the Syrian-Israeli border was taken after Syrian insurgents had seized a border checkpoint in Qunteira which Austria uses to rotate and sustain its peacekeepers. A regular rotation of the Austrian peacekeepers was scheduled for June 11.