The hypothetical Belarusian military mission in Syria is unlikely to be intended as a combat mission
By Andrei Parotnikau
Minsk officialdom traditionally considers participation in foreign military missions as a tool for achieving political goals.
On January 30, 2021, the ByPol initiative (security officers in a forced into exile) announced that up to 600 Belarusian servicemen might be deployed to Syria in September this year and selection of candidates has already begun. This information was later confirmed by the Ministry of Defense of Belarus (by way of declining to issue a denial).
Expanding participation in international peacekeeping missions is a long-standing Minsk foreign policy objective. In addition to peacekeeping troops from the 103rd Airborne Brigade, there are two other areas where the Belarusian Army has expertise relevant to peacekeeping missions; the mine clearance specialists of the 2nd Engineering Brigade and medical specialists in gunshot wounds and mine-explosive injuries.
Previous operations were conducted under the aegis of an international mandate (UN, OSCE), such as the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) mission in the Golan Heights, which has been operating in Syria since 1974, with approximately 1,100 troops. However, outside of the Golan, troops are deployed from several countries, only some of which are there at Damascus’s invitation. Turkey is one of the uninvited participants and a regional power with which Minsk attaches great importance to developing strong relations.
It must be borne in mind that foreign military missions require rotation of personnel, so it highly likely that no more than half of the 600 troops would be deployed to Syria at any one time.
The legal basis of the Belarusian military mission to Syria is not yet defined and could take the form of either an international mandate or a bilateral agreement with the Assad regime. In either case, we anticipate that Minsk will try to avoid an adverse reaction from Turkey and Western countries, either by acting as part of a UN operation or by confining the mission scope to humanitarian tasks involving medicine and mine clearance with combat activity restricted to self-defence.
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