Skip to main content

Belarus leader denies Russian claims about sending troops to Syria

Belarus’ leader has said a Russian government document claiming an agreement with Moscow to send Belarusian troops to Syria is false.
Members of the Belarusian Army take part in a parade at Fort Tiuna, held as part of the celebrations of the Bicentenary of the Venezuelan independence, in Caracas on April 19, 2010.

The Russian government's decision to approve an agreement with Belarus on humanitarian aid to Syria has provoked speculation that the Russian military mission will soon be joined by a contingent from the former Soviet republic. At least, that is what the official text of the pact stipulates. Nevertheless, President Alexander Lukashenko categorically objected to this interpretation, pointing out that right now Minsk has enough of its own problems to deal with. But talks about sending Belarusian troops to Syria have been going on for years, and the Belarusian opposition claims that a specific plan to send troops has long been agreed upon.

Lukashenko said during a Feb. 8 meeting of the United Nations Security Council that he was surprised by the news that the Russian government approved the sending of the Belarusian military to Syria, and called the reports false. “I haven't sent anyone there,” Lukashenko said, adding that Syria had asked for humanitarian assistance and that he discussed sending military medics there at some point. “If they need doctors, we will offer help. But not now — we have plenty of our own problems now and the [coronavirus] pandemic isn't over,” he said.

Lukashenko specifically noted that Belarusian and Russian authorities had discussed logistics to accommodate the Belarusian medical personnel if they are sent to Syria. “That's the whole question,” he concluded.

However, Lukashenko's statement looks like another manipulation. After all, the topic of sending the Belarusian military to Syria under the leadership of the Russian military arose in connection with the official instruction of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to the Ministry of Defense to sign an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the provision of humanitarian aid to Syria with the Belarusian military. Even the opposition media simply reprinted excerpts from this official document, without giving any interpretations that Lukashenko had to refute.

According to the document, the Belarusian military will not work in the combat zone, and will participate in activities of an exclusively humanitarian nature. Their number will be up to 200 people.

But Lukashenko had his reasons for such an emotional reaction.

First, many experts in Russia and Belarus believed Moscow deliberately made the agreement public in order to put Lukashenko in an uncomfortable position on the eve of the referendum on constitutional amendments announced for Feb. 27. “Apparently, the Russian authorities believe that the current situation is a good opportunity to push harder and get Lukashenko to make many more concessions in the military sphere,” Belarusian political analyst Vadim Mozheiko suggested.

This is not the first time Lukashenko has denied official information from the Russian authorities about military cooperation. "In 2013, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that the deployment of a Russian air base in Belarus is a settled issue. Nevertheless, there is still no air base there. In fact, the Belarusian authorities simply ignored it," Mozheiko said. After the protests in August 2020, which put an end to Minsk's attempts to find a balance between Russia and the West, Lukashenko's dependence on Russia has objectively increased. This explains his rhetorical support for aggression against Ukraine and the organization of unprecedentedly large-scale Russian-Belarusian exercises, which many politicians consider preparations for Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine.

But any idea of Belarus taking part in someone else's wars is extremely unpopular among Belarusian citizens. And the Belarusian contingent has just recently returned from Kazakhstan as part of the mission of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the deployment of which, fortunately for Lukashenko, turned out to be bloodless and temporary. Thus, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of the Belarusian opposition, has already called the agreements a payback for Lukashenko's support from Moscow. This violates the neutrality and contradicts the national interests, she stressed.

Second, this agreement turns Minsk into Moscow's junior obedient brother. After all, the Belarusian contingent must be subordinated not to the Ministry of Defense of the Syrian regime, but to Russia's center for reconciliation of the warring parties. As Belarusian military expert Yegor Lebedok noted, this is unusual because, for instance, Armenia sent its medics and sappers to Syria under the protection of its own special services, and they coordinated their actions not only with Moscow, but also with Damascus.

Meanwhile, Minsk has quite a rich history of bilateral relations with Damascus. According to official information, in 2021, the trade turnover between Belarus and Syria increased by more than 41%, and exports increased by almost 44%. The Belarusian authorities have sent humanitarian aid to Syria at least five times through the civilian Ministry of Emergency Situations, including supplies of medicine, food and construction equipment.

Minsk has signed and implemented armaments cooperation with Damascus. This included supplies of laser sights for assault rifles and night vision equipment, which Belarus has officially denied in many ways, as well as upgrades of Syrian S-125 air defense systems and radar stations. Israeli security experts even claimed the Belarusian leadership was actively assisting Bashar al-Assad in the development of the missile program.

In 2016, there was information about agreements to supply Assad with ammunition and Soviet artillery weapons from Belarus to replenish losses and replace equipment that had used up its service life, and their delivery by Russian "Syrian Express" ships. Although this information is not documented, Russian experts are quite confident that such supplies did take place, and not only under Moscow's control and not only to the Assad regime. For example, Belarusian suppliers used intermediaries to deliver ATGM systems and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, which were used by the opposition in Syria.

Since 2017, Russia has been informally agitating the Commonwealth of Independent States countries to send a contingent to Syria for a monitoring mission. But then all the states, including Belarus, referred to the fact that they had not received an official appeal. In 2018, reports again surfaced about the possible dispatch of Belarusian sappers to Syria, as an anti-mine center was then being created in the armed forces of the republic, and then a humanitarian demining unit, whose specialists are constantly being trained in Russia.

And now what every barber knows: Moscow has an extremely complicated relationship with its CSTO allies that cherish their subjectivity. The CSTO is not a full-fledged military alliance, but merely the sum of bilateral military agreements between Russia and the former Soviet republics, which receive preferential treatment for the Kremlin's imperial desire to lead some kind of military bloc. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, for example, curtailed the CSTO operation at the first sign of stabilization in the country. The president of Tajikistan supports the Afghan resistance to the Taliban without looking back at Moscow, etc.

In 2021, the Belarusian opposition disseminated information about training 300 soldiers to patrol Syrian territory. At that time, opposition representatives told Al-Monitor that they had received accurate information about preparations to send troops to Syria from various sources. However, the final decision will depend on Lukashenko's negotiations with Putin, which are of a rollercoaster nature.

For Russia, the participation of Belarus in the Syrian campaign is important because it will allow reformatting Russia's actions in Syria into a CSTO humanitarian operation. This will have an important political significance and will be a continuation of the "peacekeeping activities" initiated in Kazakhstan, Lebedok wrote. Lukashenko, like in other cases where he supports Russia's position, counts on some political and economic preferences from Putin. As Al-Monitor sources noted, the plan to send the military, not doctors, is on Lukashenko's desk, and he is still ready to exchange its implementation for economic preferences, stating publicly the exact opposite.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

Text Alerts - Be the first to get breaking news, exclusives, and PRO content.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial