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Russian, Belarusian Officials Agree On New Level Of Cross-Border Security Cooperation

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus (file photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus (file photo)

Russian and Belarusian authorities last month signed a new cooperation agreement that allows for police and security operations in Belarus by troops from the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia), which is controlled directly by the Kremlin, according to a copy of the deal just made public.

An official Belarusian legal portal published the four-page agreement between the Belarusian Interior Ministry and the Federal Service of the Rosgvardia on December 18.

But it is dated November 19 and states that it went into immediate effect.

It says either side may carry out a wide range of law-enforcement-type operations on the other's territory if "such assistance is of interest to the other."

The agreement comes as Belarusian security forces loyal to longtime ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka continue to crack down on months of anti-government protests since a presidential election in early August that the opposition insists was stolen.

Tens of thousands of Belarusians continue to march weekly to demand Lukashenka's resignation despite mass arrests and beatings, detentions, and expulsions of opposition leaders, including exiled presidential challenger Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and a tightened grip on media in the former Soviet republic.

Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, has resisted Western calls to hold a new election and speak to the opposition.

He has also appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for help to suppress the movement, with mixed results, as Moscow continues to try to prod Minsk toward fulfilling a decades-old agreement on joint statehood.

Putin established the Rosgvardia in 2016 with a former Kremlin security chief at its head and has steadily expanded its responsibilities and political dimensions.

The new Russian-Belarusian agreement spells out broad areas of possible cooperation, including maintaining public order and safety, combating extremism and terrorism, and ensuring fuel and energy infrastructure.

It provides for either side to waive assistance if the party requesting help fears it could threaten sovereignty, security, or national interests, or contravenes legal or international obligations.

The European Union on December 17 imposed a third round of economic sanctions on dozens of Belarusian individuals and entities over their suspected involvement in the crackdown on the ongoing pro-democracy protests.

Exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who entered the presidential race against Lukashenka after authorities jailed her candidate-husband, this week predicted it was just "a matter of time" until Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, steps aside.

At the end of August, Putin said Russia had formed a reserve of law enforcement officers to assist Belarus at Lukashenka's request.

He said both sides agreed such assistance "will not be used unless the situation gets out of control."

In Sochi on September 14, Putin and Lukashenka reportedly agreed that the reserve of Russian security forces -- created near the border -- would be removed and sent to places of permanent deployment.

In October, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin tasked officials with hammering out the details of the agreement.