Russia/Belarus politics: Quick View - Belarus and Russia make little progress on visa-free issue

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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International Relations, Politics, News Analysis, Forecast
Political Geography
Russia, Belarus


On December 27th Grigory Karasin, the Russian secretary of state and deputy foreign minister, told Belarusian journalists that Belarus and Russia were determined to finalise an agreement on the mutual recognition of visas issued to citizens of third countries. Such a vague diplomatic statement suggests that no progress has been made on this issue.


The visa-free travel regime to Belarus began to come under strain in January 2017, when Belarus allowed citizens of 80 countries (including the US and all EU member states) to stay for up to five days without a visa. In addition to the wider implications of this move (which could be seen as an attempt by Belarus to increase ties with Western countries), the issue of primary concern to the Russian government was the possibility for visa-free visitors to Belarus to enter Russia without a visa, as there are no controls at the Belarus-Russia border.

The rules of the visa-free travel regime to Belarus stipulate that the beneficiaries of this arrangement can only travel to and from Belarus through Minsk International Airport and cannot board planes to Russia. In addition, foreign diplomats cannot use this arrangement. However, the Russian government was not satisfied with these stipulations, which it stated posed a security threat to Russia, and in February it introduced a "border security zone" at the Belarus-Russia border (a vague project that did not lead to the introduction of border checkpoints). The controversy continued for most of 2017, with some foreigners bragging on social media that they had illegally entered Russia from Belarus without a visa.

In November 2017 Uladzimir Makei, the Belarusian foreign minister, raised the visa-free travel issue to Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, during a visit to Moscow, the Russian capital. At the time Mr Makei and Mr Lavrov stated that they were working on an agreement on the mutual recognition of visas issued to citizens of third countries. Mr Makei said that he expected the agreement to be signed before end-2017, which did not happen. We think it doubtful that Russia will recognise visas issued by Belarus; the visa-issuance process includes security and background checks that Russia will not want to delegate to Belarus, as Belarus's security capabilities appear rather limited.

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