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#7 - JRL 7014
Russian warships preparing to head for Gulf: naval sources
January 12, 2003

Two ships of Russia's Pacific Fleet are preparing to leave for a long-term mission that will take them to the Gulf, naval officers in the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok said on condition of anonymity.

The anti-submarine ships Admiral Panteleyev and Marshal Shaposhnikov are to leave for the Gulf, escorted by a tanker, in the first few days of February, the officers said Sunday.

Official naval spokesmen refused to confirm the reports, although active preparations for a departure by both ships were visible from the quayside.

The officers said the ship's mission would last at least six months, the longest such mission by Pacific Fleet vessels in the past 10 years.

The mission is to be headed by a top rank captain, Valery Terekhin. Its objective is to "observe the military situation in the region of a possible military conflict between Iraq and the United States," the officers said.

The United States is building up its forces in the Gulf region for the eventuality of a military strike on Iraq if Baghdad should be found to be in breach of its obligation under UN Security Council resolution 1441 to fully renounce all weapons of mass destruction.

According to a New York Times report Saturday, it is expected to mass more than 150,000 soldiers in the region by mid-February.

A new order for 27,000 additional personnel to head to the Gulf was issued overnight, the paper said.

Russia, which has extensive economic interests in Iraq, is opposed to the use of military force in the stand-off between the United States, supported by Britain, and Iraq over disarmament.

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