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.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.