Minsk follows "amber fever" in Ukraine closely
Currently, military confrontation in the western part of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border is only a hypothetical threat. Despite the positive nature of the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations, should there be an attempt to break Belarus’ sovereignty in the border regions, odds-on that Minsk will have a harsh response. Moreover, Belarus is ready to take a decisive action.
Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities anticipated a possible smuggling of firearms and ammunition in Belarus, as well as the penetration of persons with combat experience. However, over the past two years, the crime situation on the border has not significantly deteriorated.
Belarus is facing new challenges due to the illegal extraction of amber in the bordering areas in Ukraine, including Volyn, Rivne and Zhytomyr regions. The Ukrainian authorities have largely lost control over the area. Given the scale of the local residents’ involvement in the illegal amber extraction and illegal weapons circulating in the region, the situation could potentially become a critical one. In addition, some illegal miners could attempt to cross the Belarusian border, in order to continue illegal extraction in Belarus and/or to gain access to water for washing amber from the ground.
The ongoing demarcation and settlement of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border has marked the presence of water in many areas on the Belarusian side. This has upset local residents in the Ukrainian border regions. Some Ukrainian politicians from the ‘second division’ have attempted to use such sentiments and accused the authorities in Kyiv of illegal transfer of allegedly Ukrainian territory to Belarus.
Previously, conflicts between Belarus and Ukraine were resolved without serious consequences for bilateral relations. Meanwhile, Belarus has taken measures to prepare for negative developments. Western border units at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border receive equipment and technology as a matter of priority. In the case of a crisis, the Belarusian border agency has the reserves to increase its presence in these regions. Stationed in Brest assault brigade is ready, if necessary, to support the border guards.
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.