Minsk follows "amber fever" in Ukraine closely

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October 10, 2016 10:55
Image: UNIAN

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.

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The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.

Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.

Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.

In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.