Partial border controls between Russia and Belarus return for first time in decades.
Belarus has partially restored controls on its border with Russia, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik said, the first time in almost 30 years that there have been checks at the 1,239km (770 miles) frontier between the two staunch allies.
The re-introduction of border controls was designed to avoid the entry of third-country nationals into Belarus, Aleinik said on Wednesday, ahead of an agreement on the mutual recognition of visas between Minsk and Moscow.
However, human rights activists believe the return of border checks between the allies was aimed at stopping Russian men fleeing mobilisation into the Russian army to fight in Ukraine.
“It’s not really control, it’s more like monitoring the situation on the border,” Aleinik told reporters in Moscow, explaining that checks on people crossing the Belarusian-Russian border will be carried out by Belarusian border guards in close cooperation with their Russian counterparts.
“Overall, the situation at the Russian-Belarusian border is relatively calm and I am certain that it will remain like this at all times,” he said, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
All border controls between Russia and Belarus were removed in 1995. But checks by the Belarusian border service returned on May 5, though Belarusian authorities did not comment on this development until Wednesday.
The new visa rules come into effect as thousands of Russians have fled to Belarus to escape military mobilisation as well as persecution in Russia of those who do not support Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which was launched in February 2022.
In one recent high-profile case, Russian national Alexei Moskalyov fled to Belarus ahead of a Russian court sentencing him to two years in prison after his daughter drew an anti-war picture at school. Moskalyov was detained in Minsk in March and later extradited to Russia to serve his prison sentence.
Moskalyov, a 54-year-old single father, fled house arrest just before the court found him guilty of “discrediting” the Russian army. His daughter, now 13, had drawn a picture showing missiles next to a Russian flag heading towards a woman and child standing by a Ukrainian flag.
Her head teacher contacted the police. Moskalyov’s daughter was taken away from him and placed in a local “rehabilitation centre” for minors, with the pair denied contact.
Pavel Sapelko, of the Belarusian human rights centre Viasna, said the new border controls would limit the ability of Russians who want to leave the country “to avoid mobilisation and participation in the war with Ukraine”.
Also on Wednesday, Russian Minister for Digital Development Maksut Shadayev said that a unified database of people eligible for military service should be in place in time for the autumn draft, along with the introduction of electronic summonses.
Under Russia’s new rules, signed into law last month, anyone served an electronic summons to join the Russian military is banned from leaving the country before appearing at an enlistment office.
Russia and Belarus are longtime allies.
Russia subsidises the Belarusian economy, via loans and discounted Russian oil and gas, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has allowed his country to be used by Moscow as a springboard to send troops and missiles into the war in Ukraine.