Corruption Flourishes in Russiaĺs Border Zones
Published: May 15, 2013 (Issue # 1759)
MOSCOW Ś Onáthe face ofáit, there are few similarities between theácity ofáBlagoveshchensk, located ináthe Far East, andáthe countryĺs natural gas capital ofáNovy Urengoi, 3,000 kilometers away ináthe tundra just below theáArctic Circle.
But both cities are part ofáofficial border zone territory: areas ofáland abutting Russiaĺs borders that are closed toávisitors andáunder theádirect control ofáthe Federal Security Service, or FSB.
Frequent changes toáthe exact boundaries ofáborder zones andáarbitrary enforcement ofáaccess suggest that they are aásource ofálarge scale corruption andádesigned toácontrol population movements rather than being aánecessity foránational security, according toáexperts.
Theádifference between theárestrictions ináBlagoveshchensk andáNovy Urengoi reveal some ofáthis ambiguity.
Visitors toáBlagoveshchensk, which sits onáthe other side ofáthe Amur River fromáthe Chinese city ofáHeihe, enjoy complete freedom ofámovement because it is inexplicably exempted fromáthe usual border zone limitations.
Novy Urengoi, inácontrast, saw roadblocks go up onáits outskirts last year as officials activated its border zone status that had lain dormant foráfive years. Novy Urengoi is thousands ofákilometers fromáthe nearest foreign country.
ôIt is theálite version ofáthe Soviet Union,ö said Natalya Zubarevich, director ofáthe regional program atáthe Independent Institute ofáSocial Policy.
Ináplace since theá1930s, border zones, or pogranichnie zoni, were abolished iná1993 after theáfall ofáCommunism but re-instated iná2006 under President Vladimir Putin. Toáenter theázone, all non-residents, foreigners andáRussians alike, must obtain aáspecial permit fromáthe FSB Śáaáprocedure usually requiring about aámonth toácomplete. Theálimitations onáentering border zones are one example ofáa panoply ofáSoviet-era restrictions being enforced with increasing zeal inámodern Russia. Legislation toábroaden theásignificance ofáthe residence permit, or propiska, is currently moving through theáState Duma andáis expected toácome intoáforce later this year.
Inárecent years, there has been aásteady growth ináthe intensity with which restrictions onámovement ináborder zones have been applied byáthe security services.
Iná2007 just 13,364 people were caught illegally entering border zones. But this rose toá33,797 people iná2012, according toástatistics provided toáThe St. Petersburg Times byáthe FSB.ááôThey need toáshow that they are catching more andámore people,ö said Andrei Soldatov, aásecurity expert andáfounder ofáthe Agentura.ru think tank. ôEspecially ináthe regions, theámindset ofáthe FSB is theásame as it was ináthe Soviet Union.ö
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