Sunday, February 8, 2009

Window on Eurasia: At Russia’s Borders, Bureaucracy Defeats Both Law and Putin

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 8 – Despite the adoption more than two years ago of a law calling for simplified procedures at border crossings and Vladimir Putin’s insistence both as president and as prime minister that it be implemented, rival groups within the bureaucracy have blocked any serious improvement in the way that country’s crossing points work.
Sergey Koval’chenko, a analyst, says there is little chance that this situation – in which competing bureaucracies make crossings often take eight hours rather than two – be rectified anytime soon or that Russians can look forward to “civilized” border crossings like those other countries now have (
The reason for this is the existence of multiple “regime zones” inherited from Soviet times which require truck drivers passing through the border to show their documents not once but three or four times. And that in turn means that a crossing that might take two hours may take as many as eight, with long lines at each stage of the process.
To rectify this situation and encourage trade across the borders, the Duma at the government’s insistence passed a law in December 2006 calling for the creation of what that legislation called “a single window” approach, one in which drivers of trucks carrying goods would only have to show their documents a single time.
Vladimir Putin has repeatedly made the case for the implementation of this law. Last November, for example, he visited one crossing point on the Finnish border and complained that despite the law, there was “still no palpable improvements in the situation.” On the day, he was there, there were no lines, “but they remain typical” he said at most places most of the time.
Koval’chenko suggests that the reason for this situation, one in which the bureaucracy has blocked and unless something changes effectively killed for the time being any improvement in Russian border crossings, is to be found in the “regime zones,” which each of six federal agencies have established.
Each of these bureaucracies insists on doing its own checking. That means each needs an office at each of the border posts and that every driver taking a truck through has to report separately to all six, a requirement that creates terrible delays and imposes serious costs on those involved in cross-border trade.
Some of them, including most prominently the Federal Customs Service, have indicated that they are willing to move in this direction, but others, like the FSB, clearly are not. And those which are dragging their feet actually can point to two serious reasons for their reluctance to live up to the letter of the law.
On the one hand, as the Rosbalt analyst concedes, there are a large number of administrative measures needed for such a step that the government simply has not taken. And on the other – and this is far more serious – the Russian government has not provided the funds necessary to modernize border crossings and communication among the agencies involved.
At the present time, Rafael Daerbaev, the first deputy chief of the Regional Border Administration of the FSB for the North West Federal District, acknowledges that “there is not a single border crossing point, which is working according to the single window regime” but says there is a good explanation.
“Today, all the infrastructure [at the crossing points] is old,” he notes. “In order to leave at the border only border guards and customs agents, one must create the [necessary] conditions of work for the other agencies. Now, when these questions are not resolved, to drive them away from [such border crossing points] would be incorrect.”
There is some hope that the new Federal Agency for the State Border, which was created last year, will introduce some improvements, Koval’chenko said. But it is still in the process of being put together and must secure the agreement of all the interested agencies if it is going to succeed in improving the situation.
In the absence of political will from the top, that is unlikely to happen, the Rosbalt writer said. And he concludes that “as practice shows, the bureaucratic machine is [and is likely to remain] both stronger and more authoritative than the laws and the expressions of dissatisfaction by the powers that be.”

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