U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton warned Armenia against sending combat troops to Syria to aid Syrian government forces or their allies when he visited Yerevan on Thursday.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian announced the impending launch of a Russian-Armenian “humanitarian mission” in Syria following his September 8 talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He declined to give any details.
Deputy Defense Minister Gabriel Balayan clarified on September 11 that Yerevan is planning to dispatch medics and demining experts primarily tasked with helping civilians in the war-ravaged city of Aleppo. They are expected to be from the Armenian military.
Balayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the deployment will be carried out “at the request of the Syrian government.” "We do not rule out cooperation with Russia in some ways, but the group will operate exclusively under the flag of the Republic of Armenia,” he said.
Bolton said he discussed the issue at a meeting earlier in the day with Pashinian, which was also attended by Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan.
“The prime minister said this was not going to be military assistance, it would be purely humanitarian,” he told a news conference. “I think that’s important. It would be a mistake for anybody else to get involved militarily in the Syrian conflict at the moment.”
“There are already … seven or eight different combatant sides. To get involved with anyone of them for any other country would be a mistake,” he said.
Bolton said he told the Armenian leaders that while providing “extensive humanitarian assistance” to Syrians the United States has sought to “avoid aiding terrorists on the one hand and the regime on the other.” Washington believes that “any important long-term humanitarian assistance in reconstruction should depend on progress toward a political resolution in Syria,” he added.
Russia has been trying to legitimize its strong military presence in Syria, criticized by the West, by getting other countries to also deploy military personnel there. A top Russian military official said in August 2017 Armenia and Serbia are ready to join a multinational “coalition” which Moscow hoped would help its soldiers clear landmines.
The former Armenian government seemed reluctant to commit troops for such a mission. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in September 2017, then President Serzh Sarkisian said Armenian deployment in Syria requires a UN mandate.
An estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians lived in Syria before the outbreak of the bloody civil war there in 2011. Most of them have since fled the country. Thousands of Syrian Armenians have taken refuge in Armenia.