How Russia and Belarus reinstalled the border control

Minsk criticized Russia's decision to establish a border zone on the border with Belarus. The measures are directed against the nationals of third countries, says Moscow. However, they can affect the citizens of both countries, and the decision may be political, experts say.
Origin source
FSB Orders

On February three orders of the Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov were published, according to which the border zone is established on the borders of the Smolensk, Pskov and Bryansk regions with Belarus. The border zones are established to "create the necessary conditions for the protection of the state border of the Russian Federation", the document says.

The regional FSB offices in the three regions will have to set the place and time for entry and passage of persons and vehicles in the border zone, to organize the installation of warning signs. Previously, the border areas on the borders of Russian regions with Belarus were open. 

The decision on the establishment of the border zone on the border of Russia and Belarus is a preventive measure against possible border crossings by citizens of third countries, as on Thursday Russian Ambassador to Minsk Alexander Surikov told journalists. He stressed that the establishment of the border zone does not change anything for the citizens of Russia and Belarus. To introduce border controls in trains arriving from Belarus is not planned, as he said. "We are talking about the citizens of third countries. For example, neighboring Ukraine," insists the chairman of the committee insists on International Affairs of the Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev (as quoted by Interfax).

Border area existed until 1995 and was abolished after the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Good-Neighborliness and Cooperation between Russia and Belarus. Since 1995, the countries have not agreed the rules of entry for citizens of other countries: it was possible to get to Russia through Belarus without a visa, as the source familiar with the work of the Border Guard Service told RBC. According to him, there also was no inspection of goods, which were transported from Belarus to Russia, allowing to bypass the restrictions on import of goods under sanctions. In addition, the lack of border controls allow persons involved in criminal proceedings and debtors to leave Russia and go through Belarus to other countries, said the source. The databases of the law enforcement agencies of the two countries are not synchronized to the full, so the person wanted by the Russian security forces could cross the border, to pass control to the Minsk airport and fly away. Now the border zone between Russia and Belarus will be organized as well as with other countries: for example, there will be checkpoints for cars.

Creation of a border zone suggests that cross the border will be possible only through the checkpoint, that is, there will be carried out continuous inspection of documents although earlier inspections at the border did not exist, says the former head of the Federal Migration Service, Vyacheslav Postavnin.

The border area is the area of land adjacent to the state border on the average depth of 30 kilometers, within which introduced a special regime of entry, residence, movement of natural persons and vehicles: the so-called border regime. The territory of the border zone is marked by special signs, and the control is implemented by the Border Service and Internal Affairs, writes Sputnik Belarus.

Mutual claims

Russian officials on Thursday, February 2 also pointed out that the measures taken are the response to the decision of Belarus to introduce from February 12 a visa-free regime for the citizens of nearly 80 countries. On the introduction of visa-free regime for tourists from the United States, European Union and other Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced on January 9, and Bortnikov's orders dated 29 December 2016. Visa-free regime will be valid for five days after arriving. The new procedure will not apply to persons who intend to carry out the flight in the Russian airports, and those arriving from Russian airports. "We respect the sovereignty of Belarus, but we were a bit wary this decree on visa-free entry into the national 80-country nationals airport," said Ambassador Surikov.

The Belarusian party has sharply commented on the decision of Moscow. "The Russian party has taken the decision without prior notice," said Maria Vanshina, head of the press service of Foreign Ministry of Belarus. This is contrary to all existing arrangements for the protection of state borders between the two countries and the order they are crossing, she said. According to her, this is not the first such case: "A similar situation occurred at the beginning of 2016, when Russia actually began to impose restrictions on the entry of third country nationals across the border of Belarus and Russia."

The question of tightening the border regime between Russia and Belarusv emerged in the autumn of 2016. As reported by Kommersant, in September, a bus with Austrian tourists was not allowed from Belarus to Russia through a checkpoint on the highway M1, they had to make a detour. In early November, the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova said that over the years, foreign citizens had been freely crossing the Russian-Belarusian border without going through passport control, but the world situation changed dramatically. According to Zakharova, foreigners could enter Russia only through special checkpoints. However, PPC for international traffic on the Russian-Belarusian border were not equipped.

An official representative of the State Border Committee of Belarus Anton Bychkovsky said that the decision of border zones is Russia's internal business. The Belarusian border has guards and border zone there, he recalled.

Shattered union

"Many have an impression that these actions lead to the restoration of full control on the Belarusian-Russian border, canceled more than twenty years ago. And it goes against a number of existing agreements" noted Vanshina in her statement. The simplified procedure for the movement, the virtual absense of the border, is one of the most obvious and convenient for the citizens achievements in the relationship between the two countries, said earlier RBC's source in the diplomatic circles of Belarus.

The problem with the movement is not the only one in bilateral relations. In 2016, Moscow and Minsk failed to agree on the terms of gas supplies, Russia restricted the supply of meat and dairy products from several Belarusian enterprises, which caused criticism from Minsk. Problems appeared on the level of integration associations. During the past year, President Lukashenko repeatedly criticized the Eurasian Economic Union and the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) because of their low efficiency, and at the end of the year for the first time in a long time he did not come to the summits in St. Petersburg. However, the probability of withdrawal of Minsk from these associations is non-existing, as informed RBC a source close to the leadership of Belarus. The CSTO secretariat of Belarus received no appeals to withdraw, the country regularly conducts meetings of the CSTO Permanent Council, told RBC the CSTO press secretary Vladimir Zainetdinov.

However, as says the RBC's source in the Belarusian diplomatic circles, the relations between Moscow and Minsk have accumulated a lot of problems and a decreased level of confidence.

As stated by the first deputy chairman of the Duma committee for state construction Mikhail Yemelyanov, President of Belarus plays "a dangerous game". "If Lukashenko continues his "multi-vector policy", relations with Belarus will not be affected positively, predicted the MP (according to "Interfax" quote). In addition to the decision to grant visa-free regime for foreign tourists, Minsk agreed with the EU on the construction of a Belarus migrant detention center using the EU funds. Last year, Bruxelles lifted santions from Belarusian officials. 

"Moscow and Minsk have understandable economic contradictions: the energy prices, the access of Belarusian goods to the Russian market and a coordinated economic policy," told RBC Belarusian political analyst Vadim Gigin. "However, the contradictions between the countries occur periodically, and there is always a mechanism to overcome them." Gigin expects that the results of government and expert consultations, and then the meeting of leaders of the two countries will resolve the problems. The meeting of presidents may take place in the first half of February, the press secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov informed.

FSC Decision on the introduction of border areas, according to Associate Professor Alexander RSUH Gushina is demonstrative step, the cause of which lies in the layering of several crises in bilateral relations. However, the analyst does not rule out that Moscow's actions will be the subject of bargaining in future bilateral negotiations, in particular at the presidential level. "Russia and Belarus too close relationship, and understand which of them who most needed and whose bargaining position would be more beneficial, it is difficult - said RBC analyst, associate professor of Russian State Humanitarian University, Alexander Gushchin. - Minsk depends on Russia and is trying to diversify its international relations, in order not to fall under the full political influence. But Moscow and Belarus need: for example, the integration processes "in military-strategic terms and from the point of view.

The history of conflict between Russia and Belarus

· 2006 - under the guise of Belarusian sugar beet in Russia cane imported from Latin America. Sugar produced in Belarus from imported raw sugar, was subject to duty at the rate of $ 340 per ton. Russia has limited the importation. In response, Minsk stopped the import of alcohol and confectionery products from Russia. In early 2007, restrictions were lifted.

· January 2007 - Russia has imposed duties on Belarusian oil sale. In response, Minsk introduced the duty on oil transit from Russia, and Moscow cut off supplies. After a telephone conversation the presidents of Belarus canceled the restrictions agreed with the Russian conditions.

· Beginning of June 2009 - the ban on the import into Russia of hundreds of items of dairy products due to non-compliance by Belarus of technical regulations on it. Minsk in response to strengthened customs controls. Belarusian milk deliveries to Russia were resumed in the second half of June after the talks.

· June 2010 - Russia cut gas supplies to Belarus because of debts. Belarus has paid back the loan provided by Azerbaijan.

· September 2015 - Vladimir Putin instructed to sign an agreement on the establishment of a Russian air base in Belarus. In response, Alexander Lukashenko said that the topic was not discussed. Later, Lukashenko promised to discuss the issue with Putin. As reported by the press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, recently, the presidents discussed this topic in October 2015. In April 2016 the Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makey said that the issue is currently closed.

· May 2016 - between Belarus and Russia have any contradictions due to untimely and incomplete payment for gas supplied to Belarus. In June 2016 the two countries' presidents instructed the heads of energy agencies to resolve the dispute on gas prices. October 10, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said that the matter has been settled. Despite this, in January 2017 the debt reached $ 550 million. At the same time, in August 2016 Russia cut oil supplies to Belarus, after which the official Minsk has increased the tariff for transit of Russian oil (20.5% on average).