Threat to weaken control of EU border: attempt to lower stakes in next round of dialogue with West
On April 18, a representative of the State Border Committee of Belarus said that because of the sanctions imposed against Belarus, the agency would loosen control over the out-migration, and give priority to inbound migration, in particular on the Belarusian-Polish border.
The threat voiced by the Border Committee is clearly a political order from the country’s leadership. The sanctions had no impact on migration flows through Belarus and did not impose additional burden on the Belarusian border guards.
Special reference to the Belarusian-Polish border, where the control will be loosened in the first place, most likely is a political message to the Polish Foreign Ministry, which was the first one to react to the release of two political prisoners last week and demanded to release the rest.
Finally, border services’ statement reflected the “dissenting opinion” of the Belarusian security forces close to the eldest son of President Viktor Lukashenko. This group inside Belarus is the least interested in resolving the conflict with the EU, as political tension allows them to expand the sphere of their influence, and justifies the use of habitual repressive measures in the public administration.
“Viktor Luakshenko’s Group” embraces the KGB leadership. The latter on April 18 issued a threatening statement about a network operating at the Belarusian-Polish taking illegal immigrants from countries with terrorist activity over to the EU. The KGB statement implies that so far this illegal activity was contained.
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.