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Russia: Border Chief Says Illegal Immigrants 'Invading' Russia

Moscow, 12 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Director of Russia's Federal Border Guard Service (FPS) says a flood of illegal immigrants settling in Russia's border regions threatens the country's already fragile territorial integrity. The top border official, Army General Andrei Nikolayev, said in an interview that what amounts to an invasion of Russia's frontiers is occurring, as he put it, "without the use of force."

In the interview, first published by the Defense Ministry daily Krasnya Zvezda, Nikolayev said all citizens of other lands need do to affect annexation of a swathe of Russian lands is to settle down en masse in a border district and achieve economic domination there.

He said that what he called "such demographic expansion" is particularly notable in the Far East, where thousands of Chinese families have illegally settled in recent years. He said the number of Chinese illegally residing in Russia has already reached 50,000.

Nikolayev said that Chinese are outnumbered only by Afghan refugees among illegal immigrants arriving from what Russia defines as "far abroad," -- that is, countries located outside the former Soviet Union's borders.

General Nikolayev said that border guards are struggling to limit the alien influx. They have increased by 900 percent the number of illegal immigrants apprehended in the past five years, he said. They barred 40,000 from crossing Russian borders last year, including 3,000 intruders who tried to enter the country with fake documents. He said border guards also captured large amounts of contraband in 1996, and intercepted tons of drugs and nearly 700 weapons.

The director of the Federal Migration Service, Tatyana Regent, says that nearly a million "far abroad" immigrants are illegally in Russia. She says that about 30,000 of these may be transit refugees, striving to move to Western countries.

Nikolayev's sounding of the alarm was seconded by a former top intelligence officer reached by our correspondent. But it also was disputed by a prominent military analyst.

Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, former deputy head of the former KGB Intelligence Directorate and head of its Analytical Directorate, said that the configuration of Russia's borders and the absence of efficient armed forces make Russia defenseless against effective invasion, in Leonov's words: "a perfect victim for any predator eager to get hold of (Russia's) vast natural resources." Leonov said that Russia's Far East in effect may be colonized by Chinese, taking advantage of a Russia-Sino agreement that frees tourists of visa requirements.

A senior researcher at the Socio-Political Institute of the Russian Armed Forces, General Vladimir Serebryannikov, told our correspondent that Nikolayev overstated the threat posed by illegal immigrants. In Serebryannikov's words: "Russia should draw resources both from the East and West, including human resources." He said there is no evidence to suggest that China would seek to use ethnic Chinese settlers effectively to annex Russian Far East lands.