The Kremlin will have a new favourite in Belarus

On October 20, 2017 news agencies of Belarus issued a statement by First Deputy Minister of the Internal Affairs of Russia Alexander Gorovoy that Moscow is ready to establish temporary border posts on the border with Belarus during the World Football Championship next summer if both countries do not unify the migration legislation. In case Belarus and Russia do not switch to a single migration policy until March 2018, Russia has previously worked out the issue of establishing temporary border posts both on highways and on the railway without stopping passenger trains. Toughening control is tentatively scheduled for May next year. The Russian official claims that the traffic of drugs has increased many times across the Russian-Belarusian border and Russian law enforcement agencies are concerned about the visa-free entry of foreigners into Belarus.

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Everything in this statement is amazing. Firstly, the Ministry of Internal Affairs is not the body that determines the border policy. In Russia this function is performed by the Federal Frontier Service of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Secondly, it is not the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia that determines the visa policy — it is the prerogative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thirdly, in general, Russia acts as a transit country for drugs and similar substances to Belarus,  not vice versa. So the claims of the Russian official are, to put it mildly, unexpected. Fourthly, border control (albeit simplified) on motor roads is already taking place. Moreover, Russian border guards have started to protect the «green border» since this summer. The only new initiative is the control over the railway communication, which so far is relatively free of control.

In fact, we can observe the blackmail from the Russia. Moscow seeks to coerce Minsk into the conduct of a common visa policy. Which actually means providing Russia full control of «common visa policy». So, the consular service of Belarus become completely useless. This is also the issue of money. As well as a part of the sovereignty that Moscow would like to get from Minsk. Here the main thing is to start the process; It will be practically impossible to stop the transfer of foreign policy subjectiveness of Belarus to Russia.

Obviously, there is very few time until March even to agree on the bases of a joint visa policy not to mention a full-scale agreement.

Moscow can not fail to understand that Minsk will not yield to blackmail and there will not be a common visa policy. So, the deployment of a full-fledged border guard system from the Russian side is inevitable. Russia side has already carried out organizational measures and invested serious financial resources in this. What allows to assert that the establishment of full-fledged border control on the Belarusian-Russian border is inevitable and irreversible. The visa space is just an excuse. If the issue of visas is resolved, some other one will arise. For example, preventing the penetration of terrorists into the territory of Russia from the territory of Belarus. Sooner or later Minsk will have to react symmetrically. There is a question: why did Moscow need to lower the level of transparency of the Belarusian-Russian border just now? What is the need for this? The prevention of import from Belarus to the Russian territory of sanctions products does not require the deployment of a full-fledged border guard system. So the reason is different.

The exclusive character of the Belarusian-Russian relations is the only foreign policy asset of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. Among other things, during the presidential elections the Belarusian leader regularly converts it into the Kremlin’s financial and political support to his candidacy, acting as a non-alternative partner for Moscow in Belarus. Dismantling the special nature of bilateral relations, Russia gives a clear signal that the Kremlin may have another favourite at the next presidential election in Belarus.

Whom? It does not matter. Vladimir Putin is the most popular politician in Belarus, whose personal rating can not be lower than the percentage of Belarusians who approve of the annexation of Crimea by Russia. And most likely — somewhat exceeding it. Thus, the personal rating of the Russian leader in Belarus can approach 70%. Of course, loving Putin automatically does not mean being against President Lukashenka or for Belarus’ entering Russia. But the authority of Vladimir Putin among the Belarusians is very high – this is an undeniable fact. About a third of voters can be attributed to the protest electorate, who will vote against Lukashenko for anyone. It is doubtful that Lukashenka’s personal rating currently exceeds 20%.

Russian authorities doesn’t need to form a certain pro-Russian political force in Belarus. It will be enough to support one of the alternative candidates in the forthcoming presidential elections in Belarus, which can take place already in 2019. USD 5-7 million, the appearance on prime-time on federal television channels, several protocol meetings with Vladimir Putin and a call from Moscow to Minsk with advice on which candidates should not suffer from political pressure is quite enough.

It is obvious that the Belarusian electoral machine is able to provide any election result. Therefore, Moscow does not have to overthrow Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The goal is to weaken him as much as possible. Therefore, it does not matter what percentage of the votes in the elections a potential Kremlin favourite will get. If the Moscow candidate wins – it will be great, but the victory of another alternative politician will also be good. For the simple reason that he will be much weaker than even the weakest version of Lukashenka. The victory of the current leader of Belarus will not be a failure of Moscow either. Firstly, the presence of an openly pro-Kremlin candidate means a sharp weakening of Lukashenka’s positions and disorganization of the entire Belarusian administrative mechanism. Secondly, ensuring the recognition of the election results by Russia can cost much for the Minsk leadership. In any case, for the first time in many years an alternative to Aliaksandr Lukashenko may appear on the internal political field of Belarus. An alternative, which will be impossible to supress and to compete with.

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