Thursday, July 22, 2010

Window on Eurasia: FSB Seeks Even Greater Voice in Control of Russian Border Areas

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 21 – In yet another indication that the FSB is regaining ever more of the powers the KGB had in Soviet times, officials at the Russian security service are seeking the inclusion of a provision in a law under preparation that would give them an effective veto over economic activities in a five kilometer deep zone along the Russian state border.
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” journalist Ivan Rodin reports that as Russian officials are finalizing a draft on a new law governing the country’s borders because the current one, adopted in 1993, is now out of date, the FSB is working to increase its role in this area of Russian life (
The existing border law was adopted prior to the adoption of the Russian Constitution in December 1993, and Russian leaders since that time repeatedly have called for new legislation. In 2005, FSB Border Service Chief Vladimir Pronichev presented a draft, and in 2007, then-President Vladimir Putin set up a new federal agency to deal with border issues.
But these actions took place without the support new laws would provide, and as a result, various groups now view the drafting of a replacement border law as a chance to maximize their powers. That is certainly what the FSB is trying to do, Rodin says, and it has focused on the question of land use, traditionally the most sensitive issue in Russian legislation.
According to the FSB proposal now circulating in the government, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist says, there would be established a five kilometer deep border zone, in which local officials would not be able to approve any land use without the approval of the FSB, something that would give the security service an effective veto over the border.
First of all, the journalist reports, the draft law would not allow the establishment of any businesses in zones along borders where the state border had not been defined by treaty. Among the borders that would affect most profoundly is the one between the Russian Federation and Ukraine.
Second, the FSB draft would prohibit any land use that would interfere with border security, a provision so undefined and potentially expansive that the FSB would take near total control of all activities in the Russian Federation’s enormously long border zones much as the KGB had in Soviet times.
And third, the FSB proposals would prohibit, in ways that recall “the totalitarian past rather than the modernized future,” the presence in such zones of any firms where more than 50 percent of the ownership belonged to foreign citizens or foreign companies or to “people without citizenship.”
A staffer at the Duma security committee suggested that this last proposal looked “quite strange” given that unless one assumes that a firm with 51 percent foreign ownership is somehow more likely to be engaged in espionage or subversive activities than one in which 40 percent of the shares belong to foreigners.
Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of that committee, agreed, and he pointed to another shortcoming in the FSB proposals. A universal five kilometer border zone doesn’t make sense everywhere, he said. “It is one thing in Siberia, there perhaps it should be 50 kilometers, and quite another in Kaliningrad.”
Just what will emerge, of course, is far from clear, but Gudkov undoubtedly speaks for many legislators and those concerned about Constitutional rights when he says that he “would like to see in the text of the law a more precise listing of criteria, on the basis of which businessmen all the same could obtain agreement from the border services.”
If the new legislation retains the general language the FSB prefers, Gudkov and those who share his fears clearly believe, the risk is great that the Russian intelligence service will use such a new “law” to subvert the Russian Constitution and push Russia not forward to modernization but backward to some of the features of the Soviet past.

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