UNITED Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has declined to grant Russian troops the status of UN peacekeepers in the former Soviet Union, dealing a blow to Russia's perceived role as Big Brother to neighboring states in its former empire.
The UN refusal, which came during Mr. Boutros-Ghali's five-day visit to Moscow where he met with President Boris Yeltsin and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, may also end Russia's hopes for receiving UN funds to finance its peacekeeping operations.
Boutros-Ghali told the weekly Itogi television program Sunday that Russian troops could not become full UN peacekeepers since they had not been involved in such operations from the beginning.
``I don't see any obstacles for Russian troops to participate in peacekeeping operations on the territory of the former [Soviet Union] under the Russian flag,'' he said, adding that they could join UN-led operations there or act alongside UN forces.
He said Russian troops should make up not more than 20 to 30 percent of peacekeeping contingents. They would receive funding only if the UN retained political control over them.
UN rules demand that peacekeepers be comprised of multinational troops from neutral countries, and that they be under UN command.
Peacekeeping has become the priority of Russia's military following the Soviet collapse. Russia's new foreign policy aims to place Russia in the role of ``Big Brother'' to mediate conflicts in the ``near abroad,'' or former Soviet republics.
Russia has a battalion of 1,200 troops participating with UN forces in the former Yugoslavia, and 16,000 more are deployed as peacekeepers in former Soviet republics such as Moldova, Tajikistan, and Georgia.
But Moscow's critics see Russia's peacekeeping efforts as thinly disguised attempts to restore imperial rule. They agree that Russia can help end bloodshed, but warn that Russian troops may never leave.
Worries about Russia's possible imperialist ambitions have been heightened by the rise of ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. A leading contender in the 1996 Russian presidential race, he has advocated restoring Russia's imperial borders.
President Yeltsin told reporters before meeting with Boutros-Ghali that the ``world situation has changed significantly over the last two years. There are no opposing blocs and the role of the UN has significantly increased.''
Seeking to calm Western fears, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said he understood how turning Russian troops into peacekeepers could set a dangerous precedent, paving the way for other countries to send troops into neighboring states and then ask to be granted UN peacekeeper status.
General Grachev, who has lobbied for the status, linked the UN's reluctance to budgetary problems. Critics, however, say the mediating body cannot sanction operations on former Soviet territory where Russia may be inclined to take sides.
Col. Gen. Georgy Kondratyev, the military commander of Russia's peacekeeping operations, told the Red Star military newspaper that Russia's peacekeepers on border areas ``guarantee stability on these territories, which is vitally important for the Russian state and its citizens, 25 million of whom reside in the near abroad.''
In talks with Grachev yesterday, Boutros-Ghali thanked Russia for its peacekeeping efforts in the former Yugoslavia. Grachev said the praise was ``especially important'' at a time when Russia is accused of harboring ``imperial ambitions.''
He also said yesterday's signing of peace agreements between the former Soviet republic of Georgia and its rebellious Abkhazia region highlighted successes of both UN and Russian diplomacy.
The rich Black Sea region broke away from Georgia last year, and fighting to reclaim it has taken more than 3,000 lives and turned about 200,000 ethnic Georgians into refugees. The agreements call for a cease-fire and returning refugees to Abkhazia.