While the first Russian peacekeepers were sent to the Middle East in 1973, Moscow’s peacekeeping policies today are heavily influenced by its experiences deploying peacekeepers to the Balkans in the 1990s, as well as the operations Russian forces have led in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) territory, a regional organization consisting of ten former Soviet states. The dissolution of the Soviet Union saw an increase in Russian interest in multilateral operations and contributions to UN peacekeeping (see Figure 1). While the increase was mostly tied to Russian contributions to UN missions in the Balkans, two in ten Russian peacekeepers were also sent to Angola, Cambodia and the Golan Heights. Nevertheless, the military operations in the Balkans came to be seen as a failure and subsequently influenced Russian perception of peacekeeping operations performed together with the West. In Kosovo, Russia viewed the Western powers as operating illegally and forcefully in its sphere of influence. Russian contributions to UN peacekeeping subsequently declined towards the end of the 1990s. Since then, Russia has taken a much more cautious stance towards UN peacekeeping. In the Security Council, Russia frequently sanitizes peacekeeping mandates, particularly from including any actions or parameters that might be perceived as encroaching upon the national interest of the host state. However, even when mandates pass without the use of the Russian veto, Russia continues to criticize how peacekeeping missions are managed. Its rhetoric often stresses that senior peacekeeping leadership is inclined to take operational decisions closely aligned with Western interests, which the present Russian government perceives as being in opposition to its own national interests. Thus, while Russia has a say in the legal parameters of a peacekeeping mission set by a mandate, it often argues that it has less influence over how the mandate is subsequently carried out on the ground.
In parallel, the Russian military has long needed reforms to address the challenges of modern warfare. Meeting much resistance in the military’s senior ranks, modernization efforts finally started in 2008 and continued through 2015. However, there are still large discrepancies within the Russian military, since some groups, especially regular ground forces, have continuously been overlooked in terms of training, equipment and funding. Only elite units and Special Forces, which were used in the annexation of Crimea, showed improvement compared to the performance of some regular forces in Georgia in 2008.
Today, a typical Russian deployment to a UN peacekeeping operation is a small and specialized unit, sometimes only a limited number of military experts. Those teams are spread across multiple locations in order to retain a presence but with few overall contributions. Nevertheless, the government’s annual report on peacekeeping from March 2014 along with other official declarations consistently underscores the importance of increasing Russia’s role in peacekeeping as a way of strengthening its authority on the world stage. Russia has prioritized increasing the number of Russians in senior posts in both peacekeeping missions and in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
Similarly, Russia has emphasized its influence over the choice of the new UN Secretary-General as a way to shape UN peacekeeping. While a strong supporter of Chapter VIII operations, it has been cautious of delegating peacekeeping mandates to other organizations, in particular those that Russia is not part of, due to the potential it claims the CSTO has to handle peacekeeping mandates through its 17,000 troops strong Collective Forces for Operational Reaction (CORF) as well as the potential use of its specialized peacekeeping brigade (see below) as a reaction force. Russia has therefore consistently opposed the idea of a UN “reserve-force” which could negatively affect Moscow’s ability to control operational decisions in peacekeeping missions, especially since there is very little Russian presence in senior positions in the UN Secretariat. As such, both its position as permanent member of the Security Council and as the seventh largest financial contributor has been seen as a way of getting more weight in peacekeeping policy.
Russia did not attend or sign the declaration of the World Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping organized by the Obama administration in September 2015, where some 40 countries pledged new contributions to boost UN peacekeeping. Nor did Russia attend the September 2016 follow-up summit in London. The report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) was not well received by the current Russian administration, which opposed what it sees as increasing UN encroachment on the sovereignty of its member states.
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