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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, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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