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In 1989 the Border Troops' personnel strength was estimated at 230,000. Although under the operational authority of the KGB, border troops were conscripted as part of the biannual callup of the Ministry of Defense, and troop induction and discharge were regulated by the 1967 Law on Universal Military Service applicable to all the armed forces of the Soviet Union.
In the 1980s, the duties of the Border Troops included repulsing armed incursions into Soviet territory; preventing illegal crossings of the border or the transport of subversive or dangerous materials; monitoring the observance of established procedures at border crossings and of navigation procedures in Soviet territorial waters; and assisting state agencies in the preservation of natural resources and in environmental protection. In carrying out these duties, border troops were authorized to examine documents and possessions of persons crossing the borders and to confiscate articles; to conduct inquiries in cases of violation of the state border; and to arrest, search, and interrogate individuals suspected of border violations.
In the Soviet system, the border soldier was expected to defend both the physical border and the state ideology. The second of those assignments involved detecting and confiscating subversive literature and preventing, by violent means if necessary, the escape of citizens across the border.
In 1992 the Committee for the Protection of State Borders, an agency subordinate to the Ministry of Security, succeeded the KGB's Border Troops Directorate in administering frontier control. Although the personnel level had been reduced to about 180,000, the basic structure of the agency and the border configuration remained substantially the same as they had been in the late Soviet period. Viktor Shlyakhtin, the first post-Soviet chief of the border troops, was dismissed in July 1993 after more than twenty Russian border guards were killed in an attack on their post along the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border. Yeltsin replaced Shlyakhtin with General Andrey Nikolayev, who had been first deputy chief of the General Staff of the armed forces. This appointment was a sharp departure from the usual practice of naming a career border troops officer to the top post.
In late 1993, Yeltsin established the Federal Border Service to administer frontier control and gave that agency the status of a federal ministry under direct presidential control. The FSK (and then its successor, the FSB) retained operational responsibility for counterintelligence along the borders, however. In 1995 Nikolayev announced an ambitious program for building up and improving the border service in the years 1996-2000. The 1996 federal budget authorized a total troop strength of 210,000, which would be a significant increase from the 135,000 troops on duty in 1994. In 1996 the Federal Border Service oversaw six border districts and three special groups of border troops in the Arctic, Kaliningrad, and Moscow, as well as an independent border control detachment operating at Russia's major airports.
Given the agency's ambitious personnel requirements, staffing and financing the new border posts became problematic in the mid-1990s. Although Nikolayev warned parliament that his resources were insufficient, the Federal Border Service's 1995 budget was only 70 percent of the amount requested. Equipment was hopelessly outdated and in need of repair. According to estimates, in 1995 some 40 percent of the signaling and communications systems along the border had surpassed their service lives.
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.
Data as of July 1996