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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Reasserts Its Peace Role in Near Abroad

Russia will dispatch an additional 300 soldiers to former Yugoslavia later this week to beef up international peacekeeping efforts, but Moscow prefers to do the job alone in hot spots of the former Soviet Union, the deputy defense minister said Tuesday.

"No international organization or other big government can replace our peacekeeping forces on the territory of the former Soviet Union," said Colonel General Georgy Kondratyev, who oversees Russia's peacekeeping operations. "Russia was and remains today the only force capable of separating different warring parties and sitting them down at the negotiating table."

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has introduced troops to a variety of hot spots, including Georgia, Tajikistan and Moldova.

Some leaders in the former Soviet republics as well as Western policymakers say these forces are a sign of Russian imperialism in what Russians call the "near abroad."

According to Defense Ministry statistics released Tuesday, Russia has more than 9,000 peacekeeping soldiers in these three republics: 1,000 in Abkhazia, 523 in southern Ossetia -- both rebel sections of Georgia -- about 6,000 in Tajikistan, and 1,800 in Moldova.

In addition to their "peacekeeping" forces, Russia has tens of thousands of other soldiers in the former Soviet republics, doing everything from maintaining nuclear weapon installations in Ukraine and Kazakhstan to running former bases and ports in the Baltic.

Among Russian troops fulfilling peacekeeping operations in the former U.S.S.R., 105 have died over the last 18 months -- about the number of people who die on Moscow's roads every month -- and 178 have been wounded, according to the Defense Ministry.

"These are very big losses," Kondratyev told a press conference. "It is only with tears in my eyes that I look at these numbers."

Russia has already sent 1,232 soldiers to help end the carnage in the former Yugoslavia. In accordance with a decision of the upper house of parliament last month, the military has been training a battalion of 500 men and will send 300 of these to Bosnia starting Friday, Kondratyev said. Since Russian troops first entered the former Yugoslavia two years ago, two Russians have died by stepping on mines, and 19 have been wounded, he said.

Russia's contribution to the 11,000-strong international contingent in central Bosnia is limited by finances, he said. "Unfortunately, we cannot pay for as many troops as other countries for economic reasons," said Kondratyev.

He complained that the Defense Ministry had spent 26 billion rubles (about $21.6 million at the time) on peacekeeping forces in 1993. In the future, the military would like parliament to allocate funding for peacekeeping in addition to the Defense Ministry's regular budget, he said.

In recent weeks, top officials have often spoken of gaining a UN mandate for Russian peacekeeping forces in the former Soviet republics, but Russia has not yet received this seal of international approval.