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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

Friday, Jan. 30



The Lermontov Central Library, 19 Liteyny Prospekt, will screen 'Almost Famous in English with Russian subtitles at 6:30 p.m. Cameron Crowe's Academy Award-winning comedy from 2000 stars Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit, and tells the story of a budding music journalist at Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s. Admission is free.



Meet renowned Russian poet, journalist and writer Dmitry Bykov, famous for his biographies of Boris Pasternak, Bulat Okudzhava and Maxim Gorky, and winner of 2006 National Bestseller Award. Bykov will read old and new poems as well as answer questions about his works at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Main Hall, at 7 p.m. Tickets start at 1,000 rubles and are available at city ticket offices and the from the Philharmonic website www.philharmonia.spb.ru.



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of Repulsion at 7 p.m. and Rosemarys Baby at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy The Tenant, the cult comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers and Cul-de-sac among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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