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Belarus: Minsk Wants Brussels' Help To Monitor Its Western Borders Ahead Of EU Expansion

Minsk says the European Union should allocate money to help Belarus control its western borders ahead of the bloc's planned expansion in 2004. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says that without such aid, his country will not be able to effectively control illegal immigrants crossing the Belarusian border en route to the West.

Prague, 8 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is urging the European Union to allocate money to help Belarus control its western borders. He said that if such aid is not forthcoming, Belarus will not be able to stop immigrants from illegally crossing its border into Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, all of which are expected to become members of the European Union in 2004.

In recent comments to the Belarusian State Border Guard Committee, Lukashenka said: "The West wants to get everything from us, exploiting our material and human resources. They want us to guard and defend them, but Belarus has no money for it, and the West gives no compensation for the expenses we have defending the security of Europe."

How much money Belarus actually wants from the EU is unclear. Belarusian officials refused to comment for this story.

Analysts say Lukashenka's request for aid is unlikely to be met positively in Brussels. Belarus's relations with the EU are strained. The EU criticizes Lukashenka's government for human rights abuses and the suppression of independent media.

Moreover, Belarus has no readmission treaties with Lithuania, Latvia, or Poland for the return of third-country nationals.

Jakub Swiecicki is an analyst at the Swedish Institute of International Relations. He said the policy of the EU is to limit its contacts with Belarusian authorities. "I don't think that the EU can feel any obligation to compensate Belarus for anything concerning the border. The border will be supervised from the [western] side," Swiecicki said.

Swiecicki admitted it will be more difficult to control the borders without Belarus's full cooperation, but he said he does not think it will be impossible.

Swiecicki said the EU is interested in cooperating with all the states that it borders. It already has given Ukraine 15 million euros ($14.75 million) to secure its Western border. Seven million euros more are coming in the next year.

Unlike Ukraine, however, Swiecicki said Belarus does not show the slightest interest in genuinely cooperating with the EU.

Professor Rainer Lindner, a specialist on Belarus at the University of Konstanz in Germany, also told RFE/RL that Western assistance for Belarus will only become possible when relations between the EU and Minsk improve.

Linder said that until an atmosphere is created for open dialogue, there cannot be any discussion about EU compensation for the expenses Belarus incurs in fighting illegal migration.

However, the future EU borders are more tightly controlled than they were a couple of years ago.

The Lithuanian Border Guard Service, for example, has received 10 million euros from the EU to increase border controls. Lithuania shares the longest border with Belarus, at some 460 kilometers.

Giedrius Mishutis, a senior official in Lithuania's Border Guard Service, told RFE/RL that authorities there have detained only 100 illegal immigrants from Belarus so far this year. "If we compare the situation we have now with the situation we had around 1995, we find a big improvement. Around 1995, we detained 1,500 or 1,300 illegal migrants. The control of the border and the work of border-intelligence services became more effective, and the numbers of migrants started to decline," Mishutis said.

Mishutis said it is now harder to cross the Lithuanian border illegally and that cooperation with Belarusian border guards is quite effective.

A consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Belarus, Mikhail Zaleski, told RFE/RL that Belarus has tightened its border controls -- he said Belarus detained some 2,500 illegal immigrants in 2000 -- but that many problems still exist. "There are approximately from 2 [million] to 3 million people in Russia who come from Afghanistan, Iraq, China, Sudan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and so on. These people are ready and are waiting for a hole in the border that would allow them to go to the West," Zaleski said.

These illegal immigrants often travel from Russia to Belarus before looking for an outlet to the West. Zaleski said border checkpoints in Belarus are out-of-date. "The equipment that is used to check the documents is as old as all equipment [in Belarus]. It is 80 percent worn. From all the 60 border control points, only one -- at Minsk-2 airport -- corresponds to [Western] requirements, and it was installed with the help of the United Nations," Zaleski said.

Andrei Piontkovskii, a director of the Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank based in Moscow, said Lukashenka's move to demand financial help from the EU is an interesting shift but that there is nothing new in it. "It is very interesting news. It is in the character of Lukashenka's demagogy. Until recently, in discussions with Moscow on hundreds of millions of dollars of Belarusian debt for gas and electricity, Lukashenka insisted that he is defending the western borders of Russia from NATO expansion and that, in fact, it is Russia that owes Belarus hundreds of millions of dollars," Piontkovskii said.

Piontkovskii said that after it became clear there would be no union between Minsk and Moscow on Lukashenka's terms, he turned his attentions to the West, insisting that Belarus could help the EU defend its new borders from illegal immigration. But he said the EU will be much less inclined to cooperate with him than Russia would be.