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