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Corruption Flourishes in Russias Border Zones

Published: May 15, 2013 (Issue # 1759)



  • Blagoveshchensks exception to usual border zone limitations allows visitors freedom of movement.
    Photo: WIKICOMMONS

MOSCOW Onthe face ofit, there are few similarities between thecity ofBlagoveshchensk, located inthe Far East, andthe countrys natural gas capital ofNovy Urengoi, 3,000 kilometers away inthe tundra just below theArctic Circle.

But both cities are part ofofficial border zone territory: areas ofland abutting Russias borders that are closed tovisitors andunder thedirect control ofthe Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Frequent changes tothe exact boundaries ofborder zones andarbitrary enforcement ofaccess suggest that they are asource oflarge scale corruption anddesigned tocontrol population movements rather than being anecessity fornational security, according toexperts.

Thedifference between therestrictions inBlagoveshchensk andNovy Urengoi reveal some ofthis ambiguity.

Visitors toBlagoveshchensk, which sits onthe other side ofthe Amur River fromthe Chinese city ofHeihe, enjoy complete freedom ofmovement because it is inexplicably exempted fromthe usual border zone limitations.

Novy Urengoi, incontrast, saw roadblocks go up onits outskirts last year as officials activated its border zone status that had lain dormant forfive years. Novy Urengoi is thousands ofkilometers fromthe nearest foreign country.

It is thelite version ofthe Soviet Union, said Natalya Zubarevich, director ofthe regional program atthe Independent Institute ofSocial Policy.

Inplace since the1930s, border zones, or pogranichnie zoni, were abolished in1993 after thefall ofCommunism but re-instated in2006 under President Vladimir Putin. Toenter thezone, all non-residents, foreigners andRussians alike, must obtain aspecial permit fromthe FSB aprocedure usually requiring about amonth tocomplete. Thelimitations onentering border zones are one example ofa panoply ofSoviet-era restrictions being enforced with increasing zeal inmodern Russia. Legislation tobroaden thesignificance ofthe residence permit, or propiska, is currently moving through theState Duma andis expected tocome intoforce later this year.

Inrecent years, there has been asteady growth inthe intensity with which restrictions onmovement inborder zones have been applied bythe security services.

In2007 just 13,364 people were caught illegally entering border zones. But this rose to33,797 people in2012, according tostatistics provided toThe St. Petersburg Times bythe FSB.They need toshow that they are catching more andmore people, said Andrei Soldatov, asecurity expert andfounder ofthe Agentura.ru think tank. Especially inthe regions, themindset ofthe FSB is thesame as it was inthe Soviet Union.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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