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.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.