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Is Belarus scheming against Russia's reconstruction policies in Syria?

Belarus is tacitly promoting its own businesses in Syria, but not all of them are necessarily to the detriment of the Russians.
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (R) and Belarus' Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei attend a news conference in Damascus February 9, 2015. Syria will not compromise on its sovereignty by allowing foreign troops on its soil to fight Islamic State militants, Walid al-Moualem said during a news conference on Monday. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CONFLICT) - GM1EB291NOL01
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On Aug. 29-30, the seventh meeting of the Belarusian-Syrian Commission on Trade, Economic and Technical Cooperation convened in Damascus. The event was co-chaired by Pavel Utiupin, the minister of industry of Belarus, and Suahail Mohammad Abdullatif, the Syrian minister of public works and housing. The meeting produced seven documents on a wide range of issues. These included the following: foreign trade, marketing and pricing; radio and TV communications; high education and academic science; investment; agriculture; veterinary service; and health care and the production and exchange of medicines. In December 2018, the 11th meeting of a similar commission with Russia took place in Damascus. Against the background of rising complaints from the local Syrian business community about slow progress in the business-to-business format with Russia in the aftermath of that meeting — the 49-year rental of the Tartus seaport that emerged from that meeting doesn’t count, given the amount of political will behind it — August's meeting with the Belarusians heated up speculation over whether Minsk is actually competing with its ally, Moscow, in Syria.

On Aug. 28, Utiupin and Belarusian Health Minister Vladimir Karanik joined Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis at the opening ceremony of the 61st Damascus International Fair. They visited the “Made in Belarus” exposition, which housed 14 industrial, science and technology, medical and food enterprises, among them the Minsk Tractor Works, the Minsk Automobile Plant, the Minsk Motor Plant, the Sohra Group, the BelMAPO medical academy and the NatiVita pharmaceutical company. Russia was represented by 16 companies — a stark contrast with the 37 enterprises present at the fair last year when the Russian delegation was headed by the deputy minister of industry and trade. Both Russia and Belarus were well behind Iran in representation — nearly 100 Iranian companies participated.

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