Is Belarus-Russia border a “hole” for terrorists?

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The Russian and Belarus border guards seem to have lost understanding, with Vladimir Pronichev, the chief of the Russian Border Guard service, saying in public that the border between the two countries became a “hole” for terrorists.

He alleged that illegal migrants, including the would-be terrorists, could easily penetrate the Russian Federation through the transparent eastern border. Belarus refuted the statement with a clear discontent. The Belarus border control authorities tried to make it clear that they tracked down no single person who would come to Russia from Belarus and was associated with the terrorist activities. On the contrary, they could logically show up from where they are, Belarus said.

 

The word “terrorist” in the Belarusian realities has so far been pronounced only in connection with the opponents to the current authorities, for example, those who protested at the central square in March 2006 in Minsk. The anti-terror legislation, developed by the anti-terror unit of the KGB, is rather designed for the future. But, in the view of Viktar Huminski, deputy chairman of the National Security Commission at the House of Representatives of Belarus, the legislation is sometimes working today.

 

The lawmaker also explains why Belarus should not be regarded as an unreliable neighboring country. He totally objects to the statement of the Russian border guard chief.

 

“The Belarusian border is completely closed from the three directions – the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine. If a terrorist enters the Russian territory from Belarus, it means they first come to Belarus from Russia and then reenter back, because there is no Belarus-Russian border in a true sense of the word. Of course, we should not rule out some isolated instances. But, this is not a common practice. We protect our border and cooperate in the framework of European community. We are being provided assistance for the reinforcement of the border controls with better equipment,” Huminski told the European Radio for Belarus.

 

The statement of Pronichev has come unexpected not only to the Belarusian side. The Council of CIS Border Guard Commander noted that cooperation with the Belarusian colleagues had always been at a very high level.

 

According to the press office of the Belarus presidency, the Belarusian border guards worked hard for the sake of Russia. Over the past three years, 27 thousands Chechens crossed the Belarus border, with only 2 of them arrested as terrorists and passed over to the Russian authorities.

 

Siarhej Satsuk, who runs the Investigative Journalism Agency in Minsk, says that border guards are normally not involved in searching for criminals, because the latter have other ways of getting into the country. He describes the statement of the Russian general as the willingness of the border control services to lobby their interests.

 

“The way I see it, the next step will be as follows. Putin may demand a report. If the border guards or customs authorities prove that the problem does indeed exist, then the border will be locked. All depends on how persuasive the border guard chiefs will be. For example, the State Control Committee of Belarus managed to persuade the leadership that the power was under threat of change before the elections last year. Under this pretext, they received a huge funding,” Satsuk suggested.

 

The Belarusian politicians and commentators have seen a political context in this situation. Ljudmila Hraznova, the deputy chairman of the United Civil Party, believes that the transparent border between Russia and Belarus is one of the strongest arguments of Lukashenka. This move by the Russian services is an attempt to push him aside from the political arena, she says.

 

Sergei Pankovski, a political commentator with the Nashe Mneniye web site shares this view and adds that these statements by the leadership of the Russian border troops are linked with the discussion within Russia on the Belarus issue. This also reflects how sensitively different services and structures in Russia react to the chill in the relations between the two countries.

 

“It is hard to forecast anything. We are just at the beginning of the further escalation of the conflict. If the tension is going to build up, we could not rule out theoretically that the issue of restoring the border would be raised. However, today it looks rather hypothetic,” Pankovski said.

 

If this is to happen, it will likely be initiated from the Russian side. Last week Aliaksandr Lukashenka stated that he did not plan to close the border with Russia, despite the stance of the Russian leadership.