Rusian peacekeepers' equipment impressed UN inspectors. Seen here is an air-conditioned tent.
Photo: Alexey Kudenko
Russian Military Declared Fit for Sudan
Yesterday, UN personnel inspected the first group of Russian peacekeepers being prepared for operations in southern Sudan at the deployment and retraining center for army flight staff in Torzhok, Tver Region. The UN commission had no criticism of the peacekeepers' equipment except for the fact that their trucks had no air conditioning. Military inspector Dieter Lussem said that the use of Russian aviation in Sudan will be a “key moment” in the peacekeeping operation. That is apparently because no other pilots can fly in the Sudanese heat.
There was less than 48 hours left before the first group of Russian peacekeepers leaves for Sudan when the UN inspectors came from Moscow to Torzhok. While they waited for the “missionaries” (as the Russian military calls UN representatives here) at the deployment and retraining center for army flight staff, Air Force generals told journalists about how the peacekeeping operation in Sudan will differ from that in Sierra Leone, which the Russian military participated in for five years and for which ten pilots were awarded honors from the state.
“In Sierra Leone, we had Mi-24 helicopters, but here we will have Mi-8 helicopters,” head of the army aviation department Gen. Viktor Ivanov said. “There our basic task was intelligence gathering and support for UN units, but here we will have purely transport function. The helicopters are being sent to Sudan without weaponry.”
“What if the helicopter is fired on?” they asked the general.
“There is practically no fighting in the south of Sudan,” he answered. “Our tasks will include evacuating the injured and search and rescue work. If it is necessary to go into conflict areas, our pilots won't work without a military escort. But the military escort is part of the UN's function. All pilots have experience working in complex situations – Afghanistan, Angola, Chechnya.”
I asked senior instructor pilot Mikhail Petrovichev, who has the experience the general spoke of, whether the peacekeepers would be able to perform the duties assigned them if the temperature in Sudan in the summer rises to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). It is practically impossible to get a helicopter into the air under those conditions.
“It will be problematic,” the colonel, who will head the Russian aviation group in Sudan, answered. “Although I lifted a machine up in 45 degrees in the Turkestan Military District. But 50 degrees is a judgment call. You know, there are temperatures at which it is impossible to touch the controls. Foreign pilots don't fly under those conditions, but our pilots do. That's why they're asking us there.”
Col. Petrovichev was in Sudan a year ago for recognizance, or, plainly speaking, to get acquainted with the area.
“We land at the Friendship Airfield and will be located in that area. There are not supposed to be any rebels in the area – the authorities have reached a truce with them – but last time, there was a huge number of refugees who need help. That, I understand, is why we are going.”
The equipment the peacekeepers were taking with them to Sudan had been put out on display for the UN representatives. There were tents equipped with air conditioners, metal crates with combined field kitchens and refrigerators, and bathing and laundry facilities, a five-bed infirmary and trucks with water reserves. All the equipment was blindingly white.
“That is one of the basic requirement of the UN,” Petr Gratsianov, head of logistics for the aviation group, explained to me. “We had the same snow-white equipment in Sierra Leone. It's only snow-white at the beginning though… They also required that all our trucks ran on diesel. The UN considers gasoline too expensive. They're economical. So we even bought diesel UAZ trucks. The UN will provide us with fuel and food. Everything else is ours. We bring air conditioners, refrigerators, trucks and tents. Twenty Il-76 transport planes will take it all there. In a month, our guys are supposed to be deployed in the south of Sudan, in Juba, a military garrison in order to receive the main group of about 200 people. Conditions are hard there – heat and humidity. I spent two years in Sierra Leone and have chosen people who were there too for the logistics group. Without experience from Sierra Leone, there is nothing to do in Sudan.
At that point, the truck carrying the UN representatives pulled up and the officers went to meet it. Four missionaries, only one of whom seemed to be military, went immediately to look at the equipment.
The first thing they came to was a UAZ truck with diesel engine, which was, as the UN requires, painted white. Listening to a report on the truck's technical specifications, military inspector Dieter Lussem asked, “But is there an air conditioner?”
The translator translated uneasily and the general answered uneasily, “There is none.”
“Okay,” the inspector said, and moved on to the next piece on display.
“A Ural ambulance,” Col. Gratsionov reported. “Intended for the regular transport of patients, equipped with first aid equipment. Six places lying or 12 seated.”
Col. Lussem looked with interest, climbed into the canopied cab and began to examine the oxygen masks and stretchers, opened the window, and asked how the patients were secured in their places. He listened to the answer and moved on, his civilian specialists tagging along behind him. He checked the condition of the water truck, which was insulated to keep the water cold for two days, and glanced at the tents and field kitchens.
“We should have given them some salo [salted pork fat],” one of the Russian officers said.
Another officer agreed. “Lanch skoro [lunch soon],” he said in Russian and pointed in the direction of the cafeteria. The UN representatives, who did not know a word of Russian, understood and nodded their heads approvingly.
“Could the generator be turned off?” Col. Lussem asked, wincing at the noise.
“Then the refrigerators, air conditioners and all electricity would be shut off,” they explained to him. “But you haven't seen the smoke generator yet.”
That turned out to be a device hat looked like two gas tanks. It gave off acrid smoke that was intended to keep mosquitoes away. The UN inspectors joked that there were no mosquitoes in Torzhok, but the machine would probably kill every other living thing as well. The inspection concluded with the bathing and laundry block. The Russians examining it sighed. “If only we had had that in Chechnya and Afghanistan!” they exclaimed. The UN representatives were interested in a huge gauge on it, as if they doubted that it worked, or were simply amazed by its size.
“How many inches is this?” one of the civilians asked.
The officers looked uncomfortable. No one knew how many inches it was. Then the inspector pulled out his business card and, apparently knowing its size in inches, began to measure the gauge with it.
“What? They never saw a gauge like that before?” the Russians asked in surprise. They were tired from the meticulous UN inspection and began to invite the representatives to lunch. The generals pressed ahead, but Col. Lussem made a last circle around the equipment on display and took pictures of it.
“Basically, all the equipment we examined is in good condition. We have no objections to anything,” Lussem told journalists. “I really liked the six-wheel ambulance. It is ideal for the conditions it will be working in. And the tents with air conditioners. In the difficult temperature conditions of Sudan, that is a very appropriate place to put people.”
The colonel noted that the Russian peacekeepers who would work in the first sector of the peacekeeping operation “ensure the main thing for the mission – air support, which will play a key role in the whole peacekeeping operation.”
“We are very glad that Russia responded to the UN's offer and is making a contribution to restoring peace in that territory,” he concluded.
They began disassembling the tents and turn off engines.
“What will the peacekeeping mission cost Russia?” journalists asked Gen. Ivanov.
“We didn't add it up,” he answered. “The Finance Ministry does that. Ask them.”
The Finance Ministry did not give an exact figure, but said that all expenses would be reimbursed by the UN.
The first group of Russian peacekeepers leaves for Sudan on Thursday from Migalovo Military Airfield in Tver.
All the Article in Russian as of Apr. 19, 2006