Lukashenka concerned about his image in Europe
Alexander Lukashenka is very sensitive about shortcomings in border guards’ activities. On the one hand, this is due to the fact, that he briefly served in the Soviet KGB’s Border Troops. Both his eldest sons served in the border troops, too. On the other, border security is a very important issue for the Belarusian-European dialogue. As well, it is one of the few Minsk’s potential trump cards.
Following the audit at the State Border Committee held by the Security Council, Lukashenka organised a debriefing. Officials did not report exactly what shortcomings in the work of the border agency had caused the president’s discontent. However, during the debriefing they emphasised that Belarus was a transit country. That said, ensuring economic security is border guards’ one of the most important tasks.
This suggests that at least one of the discussion issues at the debriefing was smuggling from Belarus to the EU. Previously, European countries accused Belarus of being a major source (or a transit country) of contraband cigarettes. Apparently, there were discrepancies between the smuggling volumes to the EU unravelled by the Belarusian border guards, and those identified by their EU colleagues on the other side of the border, which put efficiency of the Belarusian border guards in question.
Minsk is very interested in normalising relations with the EU. Amid immutability of the economic and political system in Belarus and the lack of reforms, security issues, (including border security) are virtually the only "commodity", which the Belarusian authorities may attempt "selling" to Europe in exchange for political and financial support. That said, Lukashenka regards the shortcomings in the work of the Belarusian border guards, which come to Europe’s notice, as a potential obstacle in improving relations between Belarus and the EU. The Belarusian authorities are likely to step up measures to improve border control and enhance control over the border agency by the security services. If necessary, Lukashenka may reshuffle the State Border Control Committee’s staff.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.