Russian History


Post-Soviet Border Policy

In the 1990s, Russia lacked the secure buffer zone of Soviet republics and subservient East European countries that had provided border security in the Soviet era. The status of Russia's borders with neighbors Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, and Ukraine has required the presence of a substantial force of armed troops. In Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Tajikistan, ethnic conflict has caused chronic instability near Russia's borders in the first half-decade of independence. In early 1996, the FSB reported that 13,500 kilometers of the national borders were not defined by internationally recognized treaties. After negotiations with Estonia failed in 1996, Russia unilaterally defined its border with that state, requiring the presence of border forces until disputes can be resolved. The border between Latvia and Russia also remained in dispute as of mid-1996.

After the Soviet Union was dissolved, it soon became clear that Russia did not have the resources to establish a fully equipped border regime along its boundaries within the CIS. In 1993 Russia stated openly that its top priority was to guard the outside borders of the CIS (hence most of what had been the international borders of the Soviet Union) rather than the borders that Russia now shared with CIS countries (see The Near Abroad, ch. 8). Such a policy reestablished the border republics as a buffer zone against potential invasion from China or the Islamic states of Central Asia. The other CIS states do not have the resources to secure their outer boundaries, a situation that led in the early and mid-1990s to the mutually acceptable deployment of Russian border forces in each of the five Central Asian republics. In Kyrgyzstan a few thousand troops were stationed along the Chinese border. Certain outer boundaries of the CIS, such as the Tajikistani border with Afghanistan, required extra troop strength because of constant armed conflict. In 1994 Russia doubled its Tajikistan border force to about 15,000 troops.

One goal of this policy was to preserve the capability for quick action in case of border conflict and to protect Russia's "internal" frontiers from the smuggling of people and contraband, including arms. The second goal, most visible in Georgia and Tajikistan, was "peacekeeping" in pursuit of Moscow's foreign policy priorities within the border country. In pursuit of the second goal, in the mid-1990s border forces increasingly were used as an extension of Russia's military power in the CIS.

The revised view of border security naturally brought with it an effort at reintegration of the former Soviet republics. Russia began to advocate "transparent borders" with the coterminous CIS states--Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakstan, and Ukraine. This meant that borders would remain open for the unrestricted passage of people and goods. Strict border regimes would be established only in zones of acute conflict, such as the North Caucasus. The April 1993 Law on the State Border of the Russian Federation reflected this policy by abolishing the specially designated border districts of the Soviet system, leaving only border strips five kilometers wide. The law stipulated the goal of establishing a reduced and simplified border regime with all CIS states.