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

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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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.