Belarus opens up for foreigners but not for own nationals
Economic challenges have prompted the Belarusian authorities to open up Belarus to foreign businesses and tourists. The authorities are likely to continue to liberalise the entry for foreigners. However, they are unlikely to simplify the visa regime with the EU for own nationals, primarily due to economic reasons and fears of currency export from Belarus.
Belarus introduced a five-day visa-free regime for nationals of 80 states, including the European Union, Brazil, Indonesia, the US and Japan, as well, she reduced the visa cost.
Earlier, the Belarusian authorities allowed foreign citizens to visit some areas bordering with the EU without a visa – Belovezha Forest and the Augustov Channel. Meanwhile, analysts doubt the substantial influx of foreign tourists in Belarus due to inadequate infrastructure and unattractive image of the country abroad.
Preparations and the introduction of the visa-free regime has caused tension among the state agencies involved – the Foreign Ministry, the Sports and Tourism Ministry, and the Interior Ministry. Apparently, the security forces responsible for migration issues, did not welcome the Foreign Ministry efforts to open up the country for foreigners.
Meanwhile, cooperation between Minsk and European capitals on border control issues has been the most successful. In the past two decades, the European Commission spent a large amount of grant aid on border cooperation projects with the Belarusian authorities.
However, the Belarusian authorities are holding back the introduction of a visa-free regime for residents of the Belarus-EU bordering territories. The delay with the launch of small border traffic with Poland and Lithuania is likely to be due to economic concerns of currency export from the country. According to the Polish authorities, thanks to the cross-border trade, Belarusians spend circa EUR 1 billion per year in Poland.
The visa-free regime and economic recession are likely to prompt the Belarusian authorities to creating a better environment for advancing foreign tourism in Belarus, including implementing initiatives by local and regional authorities.
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.