Belarusian security forces enlisted Russia’s FSB support
On April 6, Head of the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia Vladimir Pronichev said during a meeting of the board of the Union State Border Committee of Belarus and Russia that Russia will not allow Belarusian citizens banned from leaving Belarus to cross Russian border.
The mutual understanding between the State Border Committee of Belarus and the Russian FSB border service substantially reduces the Belarusian authorities’ costs of a symmetric response to the EU visa sanctions against a number of officials. Previously Belarusian authorities have restricted the right to travel outside Belarus for a number of representatives of the Belarusian opposition and civil society, however the Eastern border remained open and some opponents of the authorities could travel to the EU countries via Russia.
Involvement of Russian border guards into the process of “filtering” of the Belarusian opposition and pro-democratic activists means the Belarusian authorities save on tracing and detentions of its opponents in Belarus, for instance, previously Lebedko, Kalyakin and Otroschenkov were detained on a train en route Minsk-Moscow. Now it can be done at the Russia’s external border within the framework of exchange of information between security agencies of Belarus and Russia, which will simplify the job greatly.
In order to finalize co-operation with the FSB Border Service, Belarus will have to somehow legitimize the lists of citizens restricted to travel abroad.
Authorities still have not provided with clear answers to the questions about criteria or the number of listed individuals. It is clear that these lists are not official and were approved by informal orders of the senior management of the country. Earlier, President Lukashenko publicly acknowledged the existence of such lists; he as well indicated the possibility of their extension.
Moreover, the agreement is not only a symbol of support of the Russian partners of the senior Belarusian management, above all, it also strengthens the domestic political influence of the State Border Committee, a power authority controlled by the eldest son of the President Viktor Lukashenko. Law enforcement agencies of Belarus are not interested in the resolution of the conflict between Minsk and the EU. Therefore, it is likely that they will use the agreement with the Russian Federal Security Service to increase repressions and, consequently, their influence on the decision-making in Belarus.
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.