Belarus building Bialowieza forest dam violates EU and EU-Ukraine rules

Written by By Ashley Arnold, CNN

This story has been updated.

In the summer of 2014, peace broke out in Bialowieza Forest.

Peace is not always inevitable. Instead, it can be fleeting or impossibly fragile.

After a three-year conflict, warring republics, border guards and politicians have now added their two cents to the factious border between Belarus and Poland.

But some consider it to be an indication of things to come.

The Bialowieza Forest at the border between Poland and Belarus. Credit: @davroccapino/Twitter

Tensions are mounting after plans were announced in March to expand the border around the forest.

Local authorities say it’s an attempt to stop the logging that has taken place in the Bialowieza Forest — the largest woodland in central Europe — despite opposition from the population.

A hydro-electric plant in the Bialowieza Forest lies on the border. Credit: @davroccapino/Twitter

When they were first announced, it sparked violent protests and further deadly clashes.

The forest is heavily visited by both Belarus and Poland and at the time a 17-year-old from Belarus was killed during a government raid in 2015, allegedly by a police officer.

This renewed tension threatens to disrupt one of Europe’s last pristine wildernesses.

Belarus’ heavy-handed tactics with its neighbors have caused a stir in Warsaw. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

The forest has become the focus of Poland’s ire after Belarusian energy company Mosenergo — a subsidiary of oil giant Lukoil — proposed plans to expand the Bialowieza River, which is already under a hydroelectric dam.

Construction of the dam would allow an additional 2,200 hectares of forest to be cut down, including more than a half-million trees and other ecological plants.

The Belarusian government has also announced a plan to close an abandoned forest area near the border to the public and restock with trees sourced from the Bialowieza Forest.

In addition, Belarus has publicly discussed the possibility of a military incursion, a move that risks further muddying already tense relations between the two nations.

Tensions could escalate further between Belarus and Poland. Credit: AFP/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

The conflict between Belarus and Poland could get ugly. Other neighbors have witnessed this before. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has engaged in a series of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats and other public gestures.

Michal Gacyk, Director of the Europol European Criminal Intelligence Monitoring Centre (ECIMC), agrees: “It could become a hotbed of rivalry and intrigue and relations could deteriorate dramatically… I believe that the borders will escalate tensions.”

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