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21 Oct, 2009 06:00

Russian security companies demand legislative support to work in Iraq

A Russian private security company is calling on lawmakers to provide legal support for their operations abroad in countries like Iraq, where it could do a much better job of protecting Russian staff and property there.

Russian companies are finding opportunities to profit in Iraq, recovering from decades of conflict, but there are risks.

“I think this will be a serious problem. Coalition Forces are leaving Iraq gradually, but as a result of this period of ‘imported democracy’, people there have changed,” says Oleg Maslov, coach at Oryol anti-terror training centre. “Now they have bandits at a whole new level; now they have world-class terrorists. So this will be a problem.”

An Anti-terror Center, Oryol is a leading private security team made up of former Russian special forces officers and secret service agents. An international law requires businesses in Iraq to provide their own security. Their mission is to keep Russians working in Iraq safe. Those who work for this exclusive group say they are part of a long-standing tradition of Russians protecting their own.

In 1943 near Oryol, there was an epic battle, a major turning point in WWII, where the Red Army faced off against Hitler’s troops, protecting Moscow from invasion. In some ways it is poetic that a company which has Russians protecting other Russians chose this area as their headquarters.

“At the core, everything is the same as it was during WWII,” believes Sergey Epishkin, head of Oryol anti-terror training center. “The heart of an officer, the frontline brotherhood – these things are still here. And it did not start during WWII. It goes back to the times of Aleksandr Suvorov [an 18th Century general] and so on.”

But when it comes to Iraq, the desire to protect is not enough in itself – the logistics of working there can be complicated.

“We need support from the Foreign Ministry and our embassy there,” outlined Epishkin. “We already have a good, friendly relationship with our diplomats there, but when it comes to official support, there may be some problems with that.”

Unlike their American counterparts Blackwater, Anti-terror Oryol cannot be designated as a private security force. Instead they work in Iraq as “consultants”.

“We have no status there, no rights. If a person asks me, “Why are you armed?” all I can say is I need to protect myself,” laughs Oleg Pyrsin, one of the Centre's instructors. “We are not allowed to use weapons except for self-defense. In case something happens and we have to open fire, I cannot even imagine how we can explain this later.”

These complications have forced the Oryol group to work differently from the controversial Blackwater organization, relying more on cultivating relationships and less on weapons and force. As a result, Anti-terror Oryol stands out in a positive light against concerns about their Blackwater colleagues using the excessive force, and even killing civilians with little regard.

However, even with their successes, those who are charged with keeping people safe say they need more support, calling on the Russian parliament to find ways to give Russian private security companies more freedom to operate.

State Duma deputy Gennady Gudkov says, “We suggest that Russian regulations for private security companies should cover Russian companies working outside the territory. I mean jets, ships and objects that are outside the country, but still belong to us. It might become law if it is put in the right form.”

Hopefully, this will open the door for better security option for Russians helping a country to rebuild.