The Soviet Union's top military officer said yesterday about one-third of the 206 Soviet military technical advisers for tanks, aircraft and artillery will be pulled out of Iraq later this month when their contracts expire, despite requests from the United States shortly after the invasion of Kuwait that Moscow remove all of its specialists.
Soviet Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Mikhail Moiseyev said yesterday the Soviet technicians are not making a major contribution to the Iraqi military and "one ought not to create an issue" over them.
U.S. intelligence sources report that the issue has prompted a major disagreement between some top Soviet officials, with the military pushing hard to keep the advisers in Iraq, while high-ranking foreign ministry officials have urged their withdrawal.
While the Soviet Union said it has suspended all new sales of military equipment to Iraq, Moiseyev said Moscow doesn't want to break long-standing contracts for the advisers.
Moiseyev said the personnel in Iraq include 146 weapons specialists, 42 interpreters and a 15-member management team. U.S. intelligence sources say there may be as as many as 800 Soviet civilian and military advisers inside Iraq.
Moiseyev spoke to reporters yesterday in a press conference with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin L. Powell following a six-day tour of U.S. military and cultural sites.
Moiseyev denied allegations by U.S. officials that the Soviet Union is attempting to circumvent upcoming arms treaties by moving large numbers of conventional weapons east of the Ural Mountains.
He said newer weapons are being transferred to military units outside of central Europe and older, outdated weapons will be destroyed. U.S. military officials said that action is similar to U.S. military policies for replacing older equipment.
Powell said he would be satisified , "if it goes the way he says it goes," and added, "We'll be watching it."