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.
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.