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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Border With Belarus Cited as Security Risk

Terrorists and criminals could take advantage of Russia's visaless regime with Belarus to enter the country undetected, Vladimir Pronichev, director of the federal Border Service, said Wednesday.

"Russia's border with Belarus is transparent and effectively unguarded," Pronichev said during hearings at the Federation Council, Interfax reported. "A hole has emerged in the border that citizens of third countries use to cross illegally onto Russian territory from Belarus."

Russia requires visas of citizens of some former Soviet republics, but not from Belarussian citizens, creating a loophole that terrorists could exploit, Pronichev said.

"In this situation any foreign citizen can enter Russia unimpeded, and we cannot rule out that terrorists and smugglers might use this channel," he said.

Russia requires entry visas from the citizens of Georgia and Turkmenistan. Belarus only requires visas from citizens of Turkmenistan.

There have been no reports of terrorist attacks carried out by Turkmen citizens. Ethnic Chechens who are citizens of Georgia and live in the Pankisi Gorge have been captured during fighting in Chechnya, however.

Pronichev said international terrorist and extremist organizations remained active in the North Caucasus and that leaders of these organizations continued to seek out "channels for illegally shipping fighters, finances and materiel across the border."

Belarussian authorities were quick to react to Pronichev's statement, which came at a low point in relations between the two countries following a dispute over energy prices.

Oleg Ivanov, deputy head of the Belarussian Foreign Ministry's Commonwealth of Independent States department, disputed Pronichev's assessment, telling Interfax that the absence of border guards did not mean that people trying to cross the border illegally were not apprehended.

Belarus and Russia operate a joint anti-terrorism center and maintain a joint database, Ivanov said. "We are working in both countries, so the transparency of the border has no negative impact," he said.

Ivanov said authorities in the two countries had combined to arrest 60 people wanted by police in the Commonwealth of Independent States during the last year.