Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 62

Six years after its emergence as an sovereign state, many of the borders of the Russian Federation are not only unpoliced but also unmarked. In the Soviet era borders between union republics were typically the responsibility of local officials rather than a national agency. (Izvestiya, 19 March, Ekspert, 2 February)

Since independence, this problem has become an international issue. Of Russia’s fourteen neighbors, only Norway, Finland, Mongolia, North Korea and Poland have ratified treaties that delineate their borders with Russia. The treaty with Lithuania was signed in October 1997 and is pending ratification by the two parliaments. In nearly all the remaining neighboring countries there are political groups (of greater or lesser significance) making territorial claims against Russia. The old international Soviet borders in Europe are relatively secure, having been recognized, for example, by the 1975 Helsinki accords — though lingering doubts remain over the future of the Kaliningrad enclave. The Japanese claim to the South Kuriles is the most pressing problem. Demarcation commissions are currently at work on the borders with Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and China, and work will soon begin on the Kazakhstan border. The work can be painstaking — the border with Estonia, for example, being measured down to the last ten centimeters.

The process of finalizing borders is ripe for political exploitation, even where no genuine grievances exist. For example, the Russian State Duma will probably delay ratification of the Baltic border agreements in the hope that this may cause those countries difficulty as they negotiate entry to the European Union. The Duma has also been stalling on the question of borders with Ukraine, hoping to reopen the issue of the 1954 transfer of Crimea. Another bone of contention is Russian insistence of joint management of the Kerch straits that link the sea of Azov to the Black Sea, which under international norms would lie within Ukraine’s jurisdiction.

Particular problems arise where borders pass through regions subject to ethnic secessionist claims–such as Abkhazia, south of the Russo-Georgian border, or the Lezgins, astride the Azerbaijani border. At Verkhny Lars, near the junction of Georgia, North Ossetia and Ingushetia Russia wants to regain control of a one-mile stretch of land, in order to control a road that could give outside transport access to otherwise isolated Chechnya.

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