Russian Warships on Standby to Sail to Gulf
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow
The Guardian UK
Friday 10 January 2003
Russia has put three warships on standby to go to the Persian Gulf within the next month to protect its "national interests" in the event of an American invasion of Iraq.
Russia's Pacific fleet has been ordered by the central command to prepare two cruisers and a fuel tanker for immediate deployment to the Gulf.
The move will heighten tension between Moscow and Washington, who both have interests in Iraq's oilfields.
The Marshal Shaposhnikov and the Admiral Panteleyev cruisers would be called upon to defend Russian "national interests" in the Gulf if the conflict between Iraq and the US escalates.
The ships - armed with missiles and reconnaissance equipment - have been ordered to be ready for deployment between late this month and early February.
Lukoil, Russia's biggest oil firm, had a six billoin dollar contract with Baghdad to develop the West Qurna oilfield cancelled last month, reportedly after the Iraqi regime discovered Russia had been negotiating with Iraq's opposition.
Military analysts pointed out that the defence of "national interests" may also refer to the Russian military's desire to conduct surveillance on both sides during any conflict.