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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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Celebrate Easter at Pavlovsk during the Easter Fair that begins today and continues through next Sunday. Visitors will have the chance to paint Easter eggs and children can take part in games as well as help decorate a tree in honor of Christianitys holiest day.


Today is one of the final days to see the exhibit Cacti Children of the Sun at the Peter the Great Botanical Garden. Starting Apr. 17, budding botanists will marvel at the variety and beauty of the deserts most iconic plant.


Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDAs Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBAs Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.