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Kazakhstani soldiers wearing blue UN peacekeeping helmets pick up flashbang grenades in Almaty. January 6, 2022.

Belarusian peacekeeping insignia adds to confusion as UN criticizes Kazakhstan over troops wearing blue helmets 

Source: Meduza
Kazakhstani soldiers wearing blue UN peacekeeping helmets pick up flashbang grenades in Almaty. January 6, 2022.
Kazakhstani soldiers wearing blue UN peacekeeping helmets pick up flashbang grenades in Almaty. January 6, 2022.
Vladimir Tretyakov / NUR.KZ / AP / Scanpix / LETA

Kazakhstan has come under criticism from the United Nations after troops deployed to protect strategic infrastructure amid a crackdown on protests in Almaty were seen wearing blue helmets reserved for UN peacekeepers. According to UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, Kazakhstan’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations has offered assurances that the issue has been resolved. However, as reported by RFE/RL’s Kazakh service, the presence of forces from Belarus’s peacekeeping company has caused further confusion, as their insignia closely resembles the UN emblem.

The United Nations has expressed concern after military personnel in Kazakhstan were seen wearing blue helmets reserved for UN peacekeepers, the organization’s spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told journalists in New York during a press briefing on Monday. 

Photographer Vladimir Tretyakov took photos of Kazakhstani troops wearing blue helmets in Almaty on January 6. The snapshots were then distributed by the Associated Press. They began to attract attention after journalist Jake Hanrahan posted them on Twitter with the comment: “Troops in #Kazakhstan seen wearing UN helmets. Is this some dark form of trolling?”

UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said on Monday that the organization had verified the sources of the photographs and raised the issue with Kazakhstan’s Permanent Mission to the UN. “Any UN troop and police-contributing countries are to use UN insignia only when they are performing their mandated tasks as UN peacekeepers in the context of their deployment within a UN peacekeeping operation, as mandated by the UN Security Council,” Dujarric underscored. The spokesperson added that the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan had assured that “this issue has been resolved.”

The peacekeeping contingent of Kazakhstan’s Armed Forces, known as KAZBAT, cooperates with the UN and takes part in joint missions — in Lebanon, for example. KAZBAT peacekeepers are authorized to wear blue helmets, but only while on duty as part of UN peacekeeping missions and during parades, reports RFE/RL’s Kazakh service, Radio Azattyq. 

Speaking to Radio Azattyq, a representative from Kazakhstan’s Defense Ministry confirmed that the soldiers photographed by Tretyakov in Almaty were part of the KAZBAT unit. At the time the photo was taken, the source said, they were not on duty as part of a UN peacekeeping mission, but rather involved in “the protection of strategic facilities, airports, and government buildings” in the city.

On Twitter, Kazakhstan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Magzhan Ilyassov wrote that the KAZBAT peacekeeping unit “was put on high alert to assist and protect strategic infrastructure facilities” in Almaty from “terrorists and extremists.” “Except for the helmets that were worn as part of the official gear of local peacekeepers during the high threat, no ‘UN’ marked equipment was used,” he stressed.

As reported by Radio Azattyq, “the confusion over the blue helmets in Almaty was further aggravated by photos and videos that appeared in Belarusian state media on January 9.” In the photographs, Belarusian peacekeepers — deployed to the country as part of a Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) mission — can been seen wearing uniforms with sleeve patches that appear to resemble UN insignia. Journalist Jake Hanrahan also drew attention to these photos on Twitter. 

In fact, the sleeve patches show the insignia of the Peacekeeping Company of Belarus — a subunit of the country’s armed forces. The patches have the inscription “Peacekeeping Company” in both Belarusian and English. Like the UN emblem, the insignia of the Belarusian Peacekeeping Company depicts a map of the world surrounded by olive tree branches. However, it also includes crossed swords.  

Story by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Eilish Hart

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