Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 106

Russian security officials, aware of the diverse security threats facing the country, are taking steps to raise the overall effectiveness of the border guard service. Plans to gradually increase the numbers of professional or contract personnel will be augmented by more state investment in order to adequately respond to the demands of protecting the state border. In addition, communications upgrades and the construction of more border guard compounds and border posts will demonstrate the practical effects of the federal program targeting border security.

Such grand designs, produced by central planning staffs, reflect the growing preoccupation of the Russian security apparatus with soft security threats and specific regions. Tasked with protecting the longest border in the world, the Russian border service has always faced overstretch, leaving itself open to criticism and often scrambling for sufficient funding. Senior officers in the border guard service are now more optimistic, in view of the government’s new attitude toward improving Russia’s border security. Army General Vladimir Pronichev, head of the Federal Border Guard Service and first deputy director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), believes some of these features will be addressed in the long-term planning for enhancing border security in the state budget. Over the next five years, for example, it is anticipated that 60 billion rubles will be needed to support current efforts to improve the quality of the border personnel, upgrade communications systems, and utilize space communications to allow real-time image transmissions between a border post and FSB headquarters in Moscow.

Pronichev revealed Moscow’s plans to build more than 1,340 border facilities between 2005 and 2011. But the spending and location of many of these facilities indicates traditional Russian security thinking on the sources of border security threats. New facilities as well as high technology assets will be deployed along Russia’s borders with Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and the Baltic states. In part this emanates from the porous nature of these borders and the lack of substantial border patrolling. In this sense, it is hardly surprising to find that Pronichev also hails the spending of around 15 billion rubles in the same period to reinforce the Russian border with Georgia. Indeed, the North Caucasus will witness the building of 72 border guard compounds, 51 border posts, nine border detachment directorates, and a new training center at Stavropol.

Such planning confirms the timescale within which the various security agencies anticipate their only option is to settle down to strengthening existing structures. Instead of seeking to address some of the causes of political instability in the North Caucasus, Kremlin advisors appear locked into concentrating on reforming and strengthening Russian security agencies involved in protecting Russia’s southern border. Pronichev, sensitive to the preoccupation of the power ministries with boosting the numbers of contract servicemen throughout the armed forces, noted, “In 2004, we abandoned the conscription of 6,000 young men. In 2005 we reduced the number of conscripts by a further 10,000. And by 2008 the border guard service will do completely without conscript service.”

Russia faces multiple security challenges that require sophisticated, highly trained border personnel. These range from narcotic trafficking, arms smuggling, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to poaching in Russia’s territorial waters. Valery Putov, commander of FSB northeast border directorate, sees the battle against foreign poachers in Russia’s Far East as an essential test facing the border service. These waters contain an estimated one-third of the world’s stocks of fish and seafood. Poachers seek rich picking from the Kamchatka crab — a lucrative catch for sale in Japan or South Korea. Putov boasts that good quality combat-patrol vessels, aircraft support, and determined vigilance from maritime border patrols are winning the “battle.” Unfortunately, he illustrates the dated thinking of his peers; evaluating the success of the border service comes down to number crunching.

Reforming the Russian border guard service, updating technological assets, and tackling the manning structure are made infinitely more complex owing to the instinctively conservative and secretive nature of Russian border troops. Rooted in the Russian intelligence service, these individuals embody Peter the Great’s belief that Russia’s borders could best be defended by a valiant heart and a good gun. Pronichev himself tends towards such views of Russian security, but equally recognizes that changes are required to make improve the service. The weaknesses in these plans, however, stem from the nature of the individuals involved, life-long intelligence professionals, making difficult the task of sharing intelligence with neighboring countries. Pronichev will therefore be faced with substantial internal opposition, if not inertia, as he tries to consolidate the long overdue reform of the border service. Tackling corruption, raising the standards of professionalism, training, and morale among servicemen will be much tougher than merely constructing new border facilities.

(Channel One TV, May 27, 29; Itar-Tass, May 27; Interfax, May 29)