With Lithuania joining the EU and Belarus’ attachment to the Customs Union (together with Russia and Kazakhstan), the two largest economic agglomerations have met. On the one hand, this simplifies their co-operation; intermediate borders have disappeared. This has already led to transit growing five fold between Belarus and Lithuania in the past five years. In 2010 alone, so far, imports into Belarus have risen almost 25 percent; transit goods are up 24 percent (against the same period of 2009), while turnover between Lithuania and Belarus has risen by about one third. Goods and travellers can cross the border quickly and with fewer formalities
This is how Benyakoni border checkpoint operates now. It re-opened in late 2010 on the Belarusian-Lithuania border, after major reconstruction (conducted with state money). Its throughput capacity has increased 2.5-fold, servicing up to 1,000 trucks and passenger cars daily. Its old buildings have been replaced with contemporary constructions and its new control equipment meets all necessary requirements. Registration of cargo and checking of transport and passports is conducted with the use of modern electronic and computer systems. As a result, it only takes a few minutes for law abiding citizens to cross the border. Meanwhile, it takes lorries about an hour. The preliminary e-declaration of cargo, launched in early 2011 along the border of Belarus and the European Union, has made this possible.
Clearly, core transformations have occurred along Belarus’ borders in these post-Soviet years. It’s not just the buildings and equipment that are new; changes to the psychology of those serving at the border are evident. The Chairman of Belarus’ State Border Committee, Igor Rachkovsky, explains that their goals include comfortable passage for law-obedient citizens (rejecting the stereotype that anyone leaving the USSR must be a potential traitor and those entering must be a spy). Mr. Rachkovsky sets the example, being open and friendly. A graduate of three universities, he prefers a stylish suit to a general’s uniform and has five children. He orders staff to smile on checking documents. He’s also interested in how often student-border guards go to the theatre and whether officers with large families have suitable accommodation. Mr. Rachkovsky is confident that, alongside specific knowledge and skills, the morale and professionalism of border guards depends on their personal contentment. That ‘border troops’ are now called the ‘border service’ is no mere play on words.
The reformation of Belarus’ border service has been conducted with active technical assistance from the EU and the OSCE. Its new co-operative programme envisages the allocation of 360,500 euros for these purposes (among other aid). Throughout Belarus’ border regions, various training sessions and seminars have been held, with specialists from Poland and Lithuania taking part. To find out more about the psycholo-gical state of officers at border checkpoints, an anonymous poll was undertaken. Belarusian border guards also visited Poland to see the work of their colleagues and a risk analysis system is being set up as part of the project. This should help correct decisions be made in emergency situations. Europe has accumulated huge experience in this field, while Finland has taken up patronage of Belarus, helping adapt the system to our local conditions.
Speaking about new buildings constructed recently on the western border of Belarus, we can say that they are equipped with the most modern equipment and meet the terms of the special state programme. The Belarusian part of the western border is 2,190km long, featuring 24 car checkpoints. Nine (on the border with Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine) have already been drastically modernised, using millions of dollars allocated by Belarus itself, the Belarus-Russia Union State and the EU. As a result, throughput capacity has risen from 7,500 passenger cars, trucks and buses to over 20,000 daily. In addition, several programmes on border infrastructure development have been realised, with funds allocated to complete the construction and equipment of Minsk Central Customs’ Information-Calculation Centre and the creation of a single information network. This has further enhanced the efficiency of customs officers.
Let’s shift from the Belarusian-Lithuanian side of the border to the Belarusian-Polish. Bruzgi checkpoint is the largest of those which have undergone reconstruction. Since 1997, over $11.6m has been invested into the site, with the complex expanded from 7 to 28 hectares. Several dozen buildings have been erected, servicing up to 5,000 cargo and passenger cars and buses daily; 70 percent of these travel on to Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and China. Are these figures high? The Head of Grodno’s Regional Customs, Yuri Senko, takes us into a light, spacious building, where trucks pass through the clearance procedure without hurry or crowds. “The international economic crisis has barely altered the volume of transit through our customs,” he notes. “Every year, cargo shipment rises by 20 percent; in the first nine months of 2010, so many trucks passed through Bruzgi that they could have been placed end to end from Grodno to Moscow three and a half times.
To register documents, each driver uses the one-stop-shop principle, with minimal time spent waiting. Most documents are submitted beforehand, in e-form.” Reconstruction of Bruzgi, like neighbouring Berestovitsa, has been very profitable for Belarus, Russia and the EU. The picture looks rosy but customs’ work is, naturally, far from complacent. Its main function is to collect duties for the state budget from those who should pay, by law. Additionally, it prevents smuggling — including of dangerous weapons and drugs. Belarusian customs officers often have their resolution tested since, every year, about 500 drug traffickers are detected. Rapiskan — a huge x-ray device for trucks — helps find smugglers. If anything seems suspicious to the operator, a thorough search is organised separately. Smaller devices are also on hand, to allow personal searches. Equipment enables officers to see who has touched particular illegal substances. The State Customs Committee’s electronic communication system allows everything to remain under strict control.
The number of those wishing to smuggle expensive goods (pretending that they have a cheaper value) has dropped several times and Belarusian customs now conducts seven times fewer checks than before. Only one truck in 75 is inspected (selected by a computer programme which analyses the risk of smuggling) but detection rates are much higher. “Customs officers are not allowed to interfere with the computer’s work,” explains the Chairman of the State Customs Committee of Belarus, Alexander Shpilevsky, who advocates the prompt introduction of European standards. “We’re working hard to eliminate personal contact between drivers and staff. We’ll be ready to ensure all control functions once they are moved to the border of the Customs Union and the EU (expected in mid-2011).”
Belarus independently finances the provision and functioning of its border infrastructure. Moreover, a state programme for its further modernisation has been developed. In 2011, the border checkpoint at Domachevo, for cars, is to be reconstructed, with a new site built on the border with Poland at the Kozlovichy-2 cargo terminal. From 2011 — 2015, seven new checkpoints are to be built on the border with the EU and Ukraine, while old sites are to be reconstructed. Specialists say that, after their launch, daily throughput capacity on the western Belarusian border should grow from the present 21,000 cars and buses to 27,900, with queues becoming a thing of the past.
By Vladimir Yakovlev
Formula of transit
[b]With Lithuania joining the EU and Belarus’ attachment to the Customs Union (together with Russia and Kazakhstan), the two largest economic agglomerations have met. On the one hand, this simplifies their co-operation; intermediate borders have disappeared. This has already led to transit growing five fold between Belarus and Lithuania in the past five years. In 2010 alone, so far, imports into Belarus have risen almost 25 percent; transit goods are up 24 percent (against the same period of 2009), while turnover between Lithuania and Belarus has risen by about one third. Goods and travellers can cross the border quickly and with fewer formalities [/b]This is how Benyakoni border checkpoint operates now. It re-opened in late 2010 on the Belarusian-Lithuania border, after major reconstruction (conducted with state money). Its throughput capacity has increased 2.5-fold, servicing up to 1,000 trucks and passenger cars daily.