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Russia: Moscow Reluctant To Finalize Border Agreements With Former Soviet Republics

  • Valentinas Mite

More than a decade has passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But so far, Lithuania and Ukraine are the only former Soviet republics to sign border treaties with Russia, and Moscow has yet to ratify either one. Analysts say there are several explanations for Russia's reluctance to formalize border arrangements with its post-Soviet neighbors.

Prague, 2 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- This January, Ukraine signed a border treaty with Russia, becoming only the second former Soviet republic to procure such an agreement. The first was Lithuania, which signed a border treaty with Russia in 1997.

Neither treaty is ratified, and in the case of Ukraine, the border has yet to be fully delimited. But both agreements mark the first step in the process of finalizing the borders between the former republics of the Soviet Union.

Oleksandr Sushko is an analyst with the Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy, a Kyiv-based think tank. He said he believes the Russian-Ukrainian border will remain relatively open and uncontrolled despite the recent treaty.

But the Baltic states are in a different position. With Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia all poised to join the European Union and NATO next year, they are slated to become the eastern frontier of those organizations and must bring their control of the borders in line with Western standards.

But Russia appears determined to challenge the Baltics' border control. The Russian State Duma has made no moves to ratify the Lithuanian border treaty, although Vilnius itself ratified the agreement three years ago.

Boris Makarenko is deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies, a think tank in Moscow. He told RFE/RL that the Russian State Duma is delaying its ratification of the treaty in order to pressure Vilnius on the Kaliningrad issue. The Russian exclave is due to be surrounded by EU territory once Poland and Lithuania join the bloc next year, and the issue of transit to and from the rest of Russia through Lithuania has proved bitterly divisive. "The border agreement with Lithuania is signed but not ratified because the left-wing majority in the former [Russian] parliament did not go through with it [in 1999, when Lithuania ratified the agreement]. Now this treaty is getting mixed up in all the Kaliningrad [transit] problems. However, I still think Lithuania will be [the first post-Soviet country] with which Russia will have a legitimate border treaty," Makarenko said.

Makarenko said Moscow has yet to sign border treaties with either Latvia or Estonia. He said the Kremlin remains concerned over the status of Russian speakers in those two states and angry that Latvia and Estonia made territorial claims against Russia at the beginning of their independence. "These countries had territorial claims against Russia and abandoned them only several years ago, when the claims became an obstacle to their membership in the EU and NATO. In this case, Russia is punishing these countries for their foolishness during their first years of independence," Makarenko said.

But Makarenko said that ultimately, Moscow will have no choice but to sign the treaties with Latvia and Estonia in order to maintain cordial relations with both the EU and NATO.

For the 12 former Soviet republics making up the Commonwealth of Independent States, the issue of border agreements is a different matter. Makarenko said Russia is decidedly reluctant to formalize its borders with the former Soviet republics because of the sensitivity many Russians feel about the issue. "To sign such treaties, even symbolically, is a little bit too painful for Russians, who are nostalgic [for the Soviet Union]. The public would take is as a move to build even higher fences between brotherly peoples and a severing of ties with their compatriots who live in these countries," Makarenko said.

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said economic problems also stand in the way of border delimitation and treaties. Neither Russia nor the other CIS countries have sufficient funds to undertake a massive border enterprise, he said, adding that the Baltics were able to press ahead only with help from the EU.

Petrov said delimitation and demarcation are particularly important to Russia's three largest neighbors: Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. "Concerning Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, they are in a different situation [from the Baltic states]. The problem with Kazakhstan is that there is no such thing as a [clear] border between Russia and Kazakhstan. It is clear why [the border never existed before]. The border with Ukraine exists and always existed as a border between regions. Now, it is formally a border -- border posts are set on the roads between Russia and Ukraine -- but it is not a border in the strict sense of the word," Petrov said.

Petrov added that there are almost no roads through the steppe that holds the Russian-Kazakh border and that large chunks of territory have been arbitrarily claimed by Russia or Kazakhstan as their own. "Russia needs not only political will but also a huge amount of money just to tackle this problem in Kazakhstan alone," Petrov said.

On the other hand, Petrov said, all of Russia's post-Soviet neighbors -- with the exception of the Baltic states -- are members of the CIS. The current informality of the border arrangements, he said, reflects the close economic ties that remain between the states. "The present situation and border regime reflect the level of relations [among the CIS countries]. I don't think that any serious moves [to formalize Russia's border arrangements], except those dictated by temporary need, will occur with either Belarus or Ukraine in the near future," Petrov said.

Makarenko said that for all CIS countries, the "minuses of border treaties for the economy are evident. And there are almost no pluses."