Amid ceasefire in south-eastern Ukraine, Belarus strengthens border security

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April 22, 2016 18:56

Having secured its status as a regional negotiations platform, official Minsk is strengthening national security. The Kremlin’s attempts to freeze the conflict in eastern Ukraine have prompted Belarus to strengthen border security with the conflicting parties – Russia and Ukraine. The Belarusian government will continue to work with Russia and Ukraine and to gain benefits from making concessions to both parties in the conflict.

Pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government have signed a cease-fire deal which came after talks in Minsk, which also included representatives from Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

On September 5th, the Trilateral Contact Group (Russia - Ukraine – OSCE) met in Minsk for the third time in the last two months. Official Minsk also hosted the Eurasian Union – EU – Ukraine summit in late August. Before the most recent meeting of the Contact Group in Minsk, when a cease-fire deal was signed, talks between the parties in the conflict had not had any significant results. 

In addition, amid growing Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities have strengthened security at the borders with Ukraine and Russia.

It should be noted that Belarus and Russia have not had their border delineated and demarcated. In fact, when the Belarus and Russia Union State was founded in the late 1990s, the border between Belarus and Russia was only a formality and was not controlled by either Belarusian or Russian border services. As of 2011, transport controls were abolished. However, when Russia was preparing for the Olympic Games in Sochi in February 2014, she resumed passport control at the Belarusian-Russian border from the Russian side, which continues to function. There are reports that Russian border guards pay particular attention to the documents of the Ukrainian citizens entering Russia – checking if they are on banned/restricted lists or if they are subject to criminal prosecution.

Amid escalation in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, President Lukashenko signed a decree to strengthen border security in areas adjacent to the state border between Belarus and Russia. Presumably, the Belarusian leadership is following the Kremlin’s request to strengthen border security. The president’s press service emphasised, “This will enable the border service to carry out its duties and tasks within this area, as well as to ensure proper cooperation with the border authorities of the Russian Federation, aiming to detect and prevent illegal migration, drug trafficking and illegal cross-border movement.”

The Belarusian authorities realise that the fact that Kiev lacks control over the Russo-Ukrainian border in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions has led to military conflict escalation and Russian troops penetrating eastern Ukraine.

In addition to enhancing border security with Russia, Lukashenko signed a decree to simplify procedures and reduce costs for demarcating the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Previously Belarus’ Foreign Minister Makey said that the demarcation process could take up to seven years. By demonstrating its desire to expedite the demarcation of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, Minsk is sending a signal to Kiev that there are no threats from the North.

Official Minsk is taking cautious steps to strengthen national security. The Belarusian authorities are preparing the grounds and infrastructure for establishing border control with Russia.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.