The geography of threat perceptions of Russian borders

Aappo Kahonen


This chapter analyses the Russian border policy and border-related threat images or perceptions from two main perspectives: the development of Russia-EU relations; and the historical legacies of state building in multinational and national contexts. The principal argument is that in addition to the external changes of international relations differences in internal state building shape international actorness and the related conceptualisations of state borders.

Borders are therefore not taken as self-evident, but as consequences of social and political processes. How borders are perceived is a reflection of historical patterns of the conceptualisation and representation of space and territory. However, though in no way denying the larger and multidimensional understandings of borders, this chapter focuses on their national or state relationship. This is based, first, on how they are discussed in Russia. Traditionally, the realist paradigm has been hegemonic there since the mid-1990s in both academia and foreign policy, especially during Vladimir Putin’s administration (Laine, 2017: 85-88, for Russian views see Golu- nov, 2012: 54; Sergunin, 2017: 44-45). Second, a more general “return of the state” as an actor has occurred since the 2001 terrorist attacks and the peak of globalisation in the 2010s (McCall, 2017: 16), and has perhaps even strengthened during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Historical differences in state building in multinational and national contexts construct a different asymmetrical agency and conceptually different ways of understanding state security, territory, and space (Scott, 2017: 28-29). In studying Russian borders, the following questions need to be asked. What are the central border-related Russian threat perceptions? How are they supported in argument? Which changes have occurred during the last twenty years?

Answers to these questions will be provided through observations of two cases. The first is the Russia-EU relationship in the light of a comparison of Russian border policy documents of 1996 and 2018 during the administration of Boris Yeltsin and the third term of Vladimir Putin. This comparison focuses mainly on the relationship of external and internal threats to bor- ders and border-related territories, as well as the relationship of national interest and national security in their definition. These documents are publicly available on Kremlin websites. The second case is based on a study of the Russian-Finnish border, which is the longest EU member state border with Russia. It also exemplifies a border between a nation state and a multinational state. Here, the documents of both the Finnish (RVL) and Russian (PS FSB) Border Guards provide interesting information concerning their self-understanding, how borders are perceived, and the threat perceptions historically presented in the respective countries.

Russia and EU cooperation 1991-2014

Although the EU is seldom named directly in Russian border policy documents, Russia’s western and southern borders receive most attention in practice. Whereas the attention paid by the EU to the Russia relationship is revealed in the number of cooperation programmes established since the disintegration of the Soviet Union - for example, Technical Assistance for Community of Independent States (TACIS, 1991), the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA, 1994), the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP, 2004), and, indirectly, the Eastern Partnership (EaP, 2009). A central aim of these programmes has been the promotion of territorial cooperation and the creation of “common spaces” of synchronised policies such as: 1) economic space; 2) the space of freedom, security, and justice; 3) the space of external security; and 4) the space of research, education, and culture. The ENP has complemented the common spaces of the PCA on the basis of expected common values with Russia. However, even before the current Ukrainian crisis EU-Russia relations were becoming strained, and these regional cooperation spaces can also be understood as contested geopolitical visions (Scott, 2017: 24-27).

This interest in territorial cooperation is understandable, because the common border is 2,250 kilometres long, which is about a tenth of the Russian border and a fifth of the EU land border. Finland plays a particular role here, because it constitutes more than half the EU-Russia border, 1,272 kilometres. By 2012 there were thirty-six crossing points, and the Finnish- Russian and Estonian-Russian borders were the most frequently crossed. The population in the Russian border provinces was 4.3 million; on the EU side it was largest in the Finnish and Polish border provinces, with a total of 4.4 million. However, as the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, do not have provinces, their population as a whole makes the EU total significantly higher. The provinces on both sides of the border have lower living standards than metropolitan areas. Nevertheless, although salary differences on the EU-Russian border have diminished, in 2008 Finnish salaries were three and a half to five times higher than Russian salaries in border provinces, while in the Baltic States and Poland the salaries were one and a half times higher. On this basis it has been suggested that geographic and socioeconomic conditions are “not very favourable for EU-Russia interaction” (Golunov, 2012: 48-51). The exception is the Finnish-Russian borderland because of the different economic structures of Finland and Russia. In 2007 between a quarter and a fifth of Russian imports came through the Leningrad Oblast, which borders Finland (Liikanen et. ah, 2007: 45, 51).

At the general EU-Russia level economic interests have been the basis of cooperation. In 2010 the EU was Russia’s largest trading partner; Russia was the EU’s third largest partner. However, economic interests have not been enough to overcome deep-rooted perceptions of the opposite number, “the other”. According to Golunov (2012) the changes in EU-Russian perceptions can be roughly divided into four phases, 1991-2000, 2001-2007, 2008-2013, and 2014—. From the outset these perceptions had different bases on different sides of the border. Until the early 2000s Russia aimed to be perceived as a “normal European country”, while it was readily perceived in the EU as another world, a source of chaos and crime, and a poorly managed country. From the Russian perspective this was seen as a “pedagogical governmental technology approach”. In the early 2000s the EU abandoned the objective of shaping Russian institutions more closely in accordance with EU norms. At the same time the maintenance of state sovereignty and prevention of what was seen as intervention in internal affairs assumed greater importance among Russian objectives. Despite seeing the EU as less threatening than the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Russia perceived the EU as a geopolitical competitor in the post- Soviet space on the basis of a “realist” paradigm that gained popularity with the political and academic elites. Yet the EU’s perception of Russia also began to change from the mid-2000s, partly as a consequence of domestic political changes there. First, Russia was perceived as an authoritarian, not a chaotic, power. Any idea of it becoming European and integrating with EU structures was abandoned. Second, Russia was seen as using its energy and other resources to exert pressure on the Union (Golunov, 2012: 52-3).

These realities alone make it possible to claim that both a clear potential and limits exist for cross-border cooperation. It therefore becomes necessary to ask how the EU’s neighbourhood policy is seen from the Russian perspective. To what extent is it perceived as a new form of regionalism based on mutual interdependence, or as an outsourcing of migration control and the creation of buffer zones, reminiscent even of the “civilising mission” of traditional empires (McCall, 2017: 12, 18-19)? Is it possible that regional cooperation spaces can actually be seen as contested geopolitical visions?

The development of the Russian border policy between 1996 and 2018

Post-Soviet Russian border control is initially analysed here based on the Border Regulations of 1993 and the Border Policy document of 1996. This will then be related to the 2018 Border policy update by comparing changing attitudes to regional cooperation and national security. Regarding security and foreign politics, after the first years of western orientation between 1991 and 1993 a new consensus based on sovereignty and great power emerged within the Russian political elite. This basic change was already gradually occurring during Yeltsin’s presidency, but became stronger and more unilateral regarding actorness during Putin’s presidency. These visions would also have implications for border cooperation (Berger, 2020: 128-144, 165-168, 352-372).

According to the 1996 document Russian border control is divided into thirty-seven districts, from Kamtchatka to Karelia. Finland is directly linked with the Murmansk and North Western districts. Russian border control has focused mainly on Russia’s southern borders, some of which are poorly demarcated in Central Asia and the Caucasus. In the north the border with Finland belongs to the “completely defined” category. Other members of this group are the borders with Norway and Poland, as well as with Mongolia, China, and North Korea in Asia. This means that the borders with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belorussia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Kazakhstan were at the time understood as incompletely defined.

The relationship between the definition of internal and external threats is an especially interesting one in early Russian border policies. The prevention of economic and demographic penetration, Russia’s international isolation, and the observing of Russia’s interests at the borders with Community of Independent States (CIS) members emerge as a “foreign policy dimension” of border control. The main threats for the Russian border regions are contained in a list of nine points, beginning with territorial demands, the incomplete international demarcation of the border, nationalism, ethnic and regional separatism, and religious conflicts. Yet the instability caused by declining living standards, ethnic conflict; forced migration, terrorism; and armed conflict constitute only the final three points on the list.1 The border threat list of the mid-1990s accurately reflects the acute Russian foreign policy problems, the retreat of troops from the Baltic States, and problems with the demarcation of the border there. The threat of ethnic and regional separatism that led to the first Chechen War in 1997 explains the problems in the Caucasus. Flowever, the state had only meagre resources to increase living standards, and no major terrorist or separatist attacks had yet taken place on Russian territory.

A comparison of the 1996 border policy with the more recent 2018 policy reformulation shows what has changed and remained regarding threat perceptions and priorities. The updating of border policy can be followed through two phases. In January 2018 an FSB project for a new border policy was published on the order of President Putin. At that point “the main threats to national interests and security” were as follows: (1-3) territorial claims, international terrorism, and sociopolitical and military tension close to the border; (4—7) underdevelopment, crime, the illegal use of natural resources, and logistical isolation; (8-9) natural catastrophes and diseases, and attempts of foreign states to use maritime resources. The foreign political aspect has become stronger and openly confrontational: “the leading world powers” attempt to push Russia from “its sphere of strategic interest”, halt economic progress, and create tension close to borders and the conditions for social instability - for example, terrorism in border regions.

Interestingly, in relation to the ongoing Ukrainian conflict the FSB project claims: “The Russian Federation has no territorial claims on other states, [and] rejects any territorial claims [presented to it]”. However, borders can be changed through agreements based on international law. Fruitful conditions should be created for developing international border cooperation.2 On the official level of reformed border policy Russia therefore seems willing to present a clean image in 2018, without territorial problems, despite the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and the continuing conflict with Ukraine.

The final version of the actual presidential decree of April 2018 follows this general line, but with occasional different emphases. There is a clear foreign policy motivation for the reformulation of border policy. External factors have changed the nature of challenges and threats related to the border: the increase of NATO’s infrastructure in the west and northwest, foreign attempts to increase tension within CIS borders (South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Georgia), and a growing risk of terrorism and international crime. In this final decree the seven main threats for national security are territorial claims, claims on Arctic and Far Eastern natural resources, the economic and demographic influence of foreign states on underdeveloped areas, the destabilisation of border regions by foreign intelligence services, terrorism, extremism, and international crime, in relation, for example, to illegal immigration, and natural and technological catastrophes. Compared with the earlier FSB project, the significance of maritime resources, especially in the Arctic and Far East, has grown. Yet the role of foreign intelligence services in destabilising border areas has remained.3 Despite the strengthening of threat scenarios, international cooperation is mentioned, emphasising bilateral bases. Regarding international organisations, the CIS, Shanghai group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Eurasian Economic Union are mentioned in the FSB project. However, the EU is not mentioned, either as an opponent or a

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A comparison of Russia’s border policies reveals both change and continuity. In the reformed border policy of 2018 there is a greater focus on conflictual international relations, military tension, and the infiltration of foreign intelligence services. The border policy of 1996 did not recognise NATO-based tensions in the northwest. The Baltic Sea and the Arctic, including Scandinavia, were not listed among the hotspots, probably because NATO enlargement had yet to take place. The emphasis has generally shifted from national interests to national security. Continuity remains in the definition of national interests as the foundation of border policy, the underlining of bilateral cooperation with the significance of the CIS, and tellingly, in the claim that the principles of the border policy accord with international law. Territorial claims have remained the top group of border threats, probably as a result of the war with Georgia in 2008, the occupation of Crimea in 2014, and the ongoing undeclared war in Donbass, Eastern Ukraine. The continuity is later clear in the significance given to Russia’s multinational population. On the one hand, religious, ethnic, and separatist conflicts are seen as a threat to the border regions. On the other, institutional, and even multilateral, border cooperation is recog' nised as in the interests of “populations living in the border regions of the Russian Federation and neighbouring countries”.5

Building the state by forming the borders: Russia and Finland

The following cases aim to show how state building, whether multinational or nation state, influences the understanding of state interests and Russia’s territory. This approach is applied to the institutions that practically control the border between Russia and Finland, the regulations defining their objectives, and presentations of their own history. Both the Finnish RVL and the Russian Border Service, which is subordinated to the Federal Security Service (PS FSB), can be regarded as regulative organisations, based on formal rules, control and consequences, sanctions, and breaking the rules. Public definitions of the objectives of these organisations therefore offer a good source for identifying the similarities and differences connected with border control and its related threats (Scott, 2008: 50-56).

In Russia the general context for defining the border is offered by the Russian National Security Strategy from 2015. In this document the function of security policy is based on the concept of national interests. In the Russian understanding its central parts are: 1) the defence of the country; 2) the security of the state and society; 3) improving the living standards of Russian citizens; 4) economic growth; 5) science, technology, and education; 6) healthcare; 7) culture; 8) environmental protection; and 9) the strategically stable and equal relationship of states. Internally, the threats to Russian national interests are expected to be prevented by focusing on strengthening society’s internal unity, safeguarding social stability, and cooperation between nationalities and religious tolerance. Long-term national interests are defined on five levels. The first underlines the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. The second level again brings out national unity and both political and social stability.6

Meanwhile, the objective of foreign and security policy based on national interests in Finland is: 1) to strengthen Finland’s international position; 2) guarantee independence and territorial integrity; 3) upgrade Finnish welfare; and 4) uphold the functioning of society. Specifically, the avoidance of military conflict is mentioned as a central objective.' It is not difficult to observe similarities in the basis of national interests in the three first points of each country’s list. The differences surface when the objec- tives of and threats to the organisations controlling the border are compared.

The objectives of the RVL mainly emphasise the integrity of the border, border control, crime prevention, international cooperation, and national defence. The main threats to border control are unpermitted crossings of the border, and the emphasis of control is on the EU Schengen Area’s outer border - that is, the border between Finland and Russia. The Schengen countries control the outer border of the area on the basis of common reg- ulations. This cooperation is concentrated in the EU Office for Border Security, Frontex. In crime prevention the central threats are human traf- ficking and the organising of illegal immigration. To prevent them, the RVL closely cooperates with the other control organisations, the Police and Customs. These threat scenarios have a strong historical background that is related to the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s. The RVL has the most international cooperation with the closest neighbouring countries, especially with the Russian border service, but also with the border services of the Baltic States.8

The Russian Border Service clearly underlines both the country’s larger foreign political and supranational objectives and the potential internal threats to its borders, especially from ethnic and religious conflict. The Finnish Border Guard’s objectives are generally more narrowly defined, focusing on controlling the border zone and mobility across it, without objectives directly related to Finland’s internal circumstances or foreign policy. Nevertheless, both international cooperation and cooperation within the supranational structures of the EU, especially in relation to its outer border, are included in Finnish objectives.

Both the differences and similarities of the Russian and Finnish border control organisations can be studied in more detail through their selfunderstanding. The historical representations of both organisations offer a resource for achieving this. The central question remains how state building, either on the multinational or nation state basis, influences understandings of border regions, the relationship between internal and external security, and the character of international or supranational cooperation.

The self-understanding of the border controllers of a multinational state

The Finnish Border Service (RVL) and the Russian Border Service (PS FSB), which is subordinated to the Federal Security Service (FSB), can both be regarded as regulative organisations.9 The control and expansion of the border is connected with the birth of a strong state. The starting point is the birth of Kievan Rus and the establishment of border control, though not in the present sense, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Alexander Nevsky, a medieval prince of Novgorod, is mentioned at this point in contrast to “the princes, who were unable to defend the borders”. The formation of a “strong Russian state structure” (sil'noi russkoi go.mdarstvenosti) ensues when Russia is liberated from Mongol rule under the leadership of Muscovy between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. The tasks of the officials controlling the border are seen as having simultaneously stabilised as “the Russian centralised state was formed and remarkably strengthened”. When the state expanded rapidly during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, border troops were the “means of an active border region policy”. In Russian eighteenth- and nineteenth-century historiography this process was defined as internal colonisation, or self-colonisation. Previous presentations described the process as neutral, but later ones highlighted its winners and losers (Etkind, 2015: 160-163, 167-168).

The second theme, the relationship between the state’s internal and external security, surfaces first from the economic perspective. The protectionist economic policy of the eighteenth century created the need for customs organisation to limit smuggling and increase state revenues. Customs were organised on a military basis on 6 August 1827, which is taken as the date of the founding of the modern Russian border control organisation. The connection between internal and external security became evident in threats to the political system, when the “centre of revolutionary action moved from Europe to Russia”. The Special Corps of Gendarmes was involved with border and customs control in the mid-nineteenth century. The border crossing points especially were controlled by the gendarmes. Only in 1897 was a specific border guard unit created, which was subordinated to the Ministry of Finance because of its association with revenue.

The significance of economic interests continued despite the change in the political system, “when the imperial state formation disintegrated and the Soviet state was formed in 1917”. Lenin is quoted as saying: “If the state foreign trade monopoly were not so important, the question of border control would not be so significant.” However, as early as 28 May 1918 the Council of Peoples’ Commissars issued a decree on the establishment of border troops. This formed the basis for Soviet border control. The structure and organisation of border control continued mostly on the previous basis. The border guard troops were subordinated to the security police (OGPU) in 1923. OGPU’s predecessor, the Cheka (VTchK), was officially called the All-Russian Extraordinary (or Emergency) Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. Thus, the relationship between internal and external security was further underlined.

After the Second World War, between 1955 and 1987, the number of border guard troops grew fivefold, which helped to reduce smuggling. During the same period the principal tasks were the struggle against bourgeois ideology and ideological deflection, the securing of the raw materials of the continental shelf and regulation of Soviet borders were considered of secondary importance to these. There was thus a clear continuity in the political control of the border, which had already begun in the mid-nineteenth century. The international dimension surfaced only after the Second World

War in relation to securing the economic privileges provided by international agreements and the participation of the border troops in the Afghan War.

The international dimension of the objectives became stronger when Russian border control was reorganised after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In 1992 the president issued a decree on the centralised control of the Russian Federation’s territory. The Federal Border Service (FPS was established as an independent organisation in 1994. Its subordination to the Federal Security Service, the FSB, on 1 July 2003 was justified on the basis of external and economic threats: preventing international terrorism; the drugs trade; illegal immigration; human trafficking; and the illegal use of federal raw materials. Despite the long description of historic continuity, the conclusion underlines the significance of Soviet-era border troops and border control for the present border service. The institutional connection between border control and the security police applies here too, though the ideological emphases are not as direct as during the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union.

The importance of a strong, centralised state for border control throughout Russian history is made quite clear. Internal and external threats to the state are easily connected in this respect. Flowever, the multinational basis of the state emerges only indirectly in referring to the expansion of the Russian state in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The state’s economic interest in border control originates with the modern period, from the eighteenth century, remaining a constant despite regime changes.

The emergence of nation state border control

The history of the RVL is interpreted here in two parts as a source for achieving the organisation’s self-understanding. Reading the first and second parts of the RVL’s history provides a clear nation state perspective of border control, border regions, the relationship between internal and external security, and international cooperation. The core of the Finnish nation state was defined by the area of the Finnish Grand Duchy, which had been part of the Russian Empire for about a hundred years. The actual definition of Finnish borders began between 1918 and 1919, after the conflicts of independence and during the civil war. These state-building contradictions are clearly visible in the first part, where the titles use the term “war of liberation”, whereas the actual text uses the terms “war between brothers” or “civil war” (Kosonen and Pohjonen, 1994: 14, 36-37).

From the perspective of border definition it is interestingly pointed out that the objective of the Finnish state, even during the civil war, was expansion, the “moving of the border eastwards” - that is, the conquest of Russian East Karelia. Internal and external threats are combined in the argumentation, based on the need to prevent an attack by the Reds, the losers of the civil war, some of whom had fled from Finland to Russia. This linked the easing or rationalising of geopolitically national defence with concern about revolution, “which part of the people had supported”. The main part of the border with the Soviet Union north from Lake Ladoga was defined as the “eastern border”, while the border with the Soviet Union on the Karelian Isthmus constituted a special zone that was under military rule between 1918 and 1921. No less in the Finnish case the economic interests of the state were part of the relationship between internal and external security. The local population’s resistance to a controlled or closed border was significant when it threatened trade or smuggling, an important source of livelihood on both sides of the border.

Unlike the “eastern border”, the control of the border with Sweden was from the outset subordinated to the civilian administration. The current RVL was established on 21 March 1919, and almost immediately its chain of command changed from the Armed Forces to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Internal conflicts in defining the border emerged in practice in 1920 as a consequence of the Finnish objective of expanding into East Karelia. Some of the rank and file refused to fight and guard the border in the East Karelian Repola district, which was to be annexed to Finland before the Tartu Peace with Soviet Russia defined the border. This clearly shows that some of the rank and file had already formed an opinion about where the border of the nation (state) should or should not be. The Tartu Peace Treaty in October 1920 created a basis for the stabilisation of relations between Finland and Soviet Russia, and two years later control of the border was stabilised with a border treaty that decreased tension, especially after the failure of the East Karelian Uprising in 1922.

The relationship between internal and external security changed more generally in Finland after the Second World War. This included border control, reflected in the new border treaty at the beginning of the 1960s. The treaty also regulated the return of people illegally crossing the border. The policy of the Finnish officials was mainly passive compliance: Soviet views “were observed with special care”, but private border crossings were not reported unless the Soviets specifically asked about them. In principle, this policy was not problematic until 1968, when Finland finally ratified the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which entailed the recognition of the right to asylum (Kosonen and Pohjonen, 1994: 461-463, 470-476).

The relationship between internal and external security was transformed when the Soviet Union disintegrated, and the Russian Federation emerged between 1990 and 1992. The threats related to the “eastern border” resurfaced, but now the reason for them was more demographic than it was political. The principal threat was seen as the emigration of between tens of thousands and a quarter of a million from the Russian border region population across the Finnish border. Significant planning and preparations for this eventuality were made. According to the second part of the RVL’s history this threat scenario was given greater emphasis within the Armed Forces; the RVL was more sceptical about the claim that the Russian population would be prepared to leave their home country en masse, despite the food crisis. This view was based on the well-functioning contact between the Finnish and Soviet border guards. Ultimately, only some hundred citizens of third countries attempted to apply to Finland for asylum through the Soviet Union.

International contact and regional cooperation had already begun to be emphasised in Finnish border control before EU membership in 1995. The RVL established contacts with the Russian service in 1992, when practical cooperation on the control of the border and the exchange of information was agreed. The tripartite cooperation begun between Finland, Russia, and Estonia thus reflects the change in operational requirements. The initiative of the RVL was in tune with the EU’s objective, and especially Germany’s, of preventing the newly independent Baltic States and Russia from becoming an illegal immigration route into the EU (Pohjonen, 2009: 24-35, 58-62).

A common theme for the historical self-understanding of both organisations is the role played by the state in building development and its economic needs. The different bases of multinational and nation states seem to reflect a different understanding of the permanence or stability, changeability, and control of the border. In Russia the difficulty of controlling the border is connected with the disintegration of Kievan Rus, as well as the growing number of neighbours when Muscovy expanded. The mobility of the border emerges in the role of the border troops in border region policy as a means of colonisation from the sixteenth century. In Finland, after the failed expansion attempts of the post-civil war years and the Second World War, the border came to be seen as more permanent as the territory of the nation state was stabilised. The border is defined strongly in relation to the Soviet Union, which the specific term “eastern border” aptly reflects (Laine, 2017: 88-89; 2018).

For Russia the connection between internal and external threats arises partly as a result of its multinational population and society, because same national minorities may live on both sides of its borders. As a threat to the political system, the relationship between internal and external threats arises in the Russian presentation of history from the late imperial period, continuing through the Soviet period. In Finland such a relationship is visible only during the first decades after independence. Interestingly, regarding the origin of the Finnish nation state, the international or even supranational element of the RVL’s objectives had already emerged before EU membership.

Based on its imperial heritage Russian patriotism is linked to a multinational rather than a nation state. Patriotism is therefore mainly defined by state borders and the governing of them. This emphasises the importance of the concept of a strong state and its central role in “nation building”, which in a multinational society means loyalty to the state and its institutions. Since at least the Soviet era the higher civil servants have played a central role. They have been given significant advantages in the present political and economic system. State-owned companies and services create mutual dependencies between their business and other parts of society. However, the “strong state” is a two-way concept. It requires the government to offer symbolic and material support to the population, but also to react to the demands associated with the needs of the population. The aggressive great power policy of the present administration has been quite successful in the annexation of Crimea, but it has been unable to respond convincingly to popular expectations concerning the welfare and credibility of institutions (Kangaspuro, 2016: 54-56, 66). This internal conflict, with an economy dependent on raw material exports, lays the foundation for Russian actor- ness, both concerning western security political challenges and the definition of its borders.

State building, territory, and bordering

This chapter’s general premise has been the connection between present border construction and historical state building. The cases of Russian border policies and the historical self-understanding of border control organisations have been used to analyse Russian border-related threat perceptions of the EU neighbourhood policies and the differences between multinational and nation states. It is now possible to suggest answers to the questions presented at the beginning of the chapter concerning the nature of Russian border-related threats, the basis on which they are argued, and the significance of the changes in border policy in the last twenty years. The historical context not only helps explain Russian threat images but the different foundations of actorness and territorial conceptualisations in comparison with the EU.

In observing the differences between a multinational and a nation state, the aim is to avoid the trap of methodological nationalism, where an imperial or multinational state represents the premodern, and the nation state the modern, era. Instead of treating them as dichotomies, it is more useful to understand them as parts of a continuum from the imperial to the nation state. State building takes place in both cases, though partly through a different logic, based on the role of nationalism and the nation. The imperial state is characterised by a multinational population, hierarchy, and tensions between the national core and peripheries (Turoma and Waldstein, 2013: 14-15). Legitimacy is usually based on a ruling institution, nobility, or party. Regarding contemporary Russia, it could be claimed that the state administration has replaced the Soviet-era party (Sakwa, 2005: 255-257). After the collapse of the Soviet Union the old power structures resurfaced in neopatrimonialist form during the early 2000s. The elites created a clearly centralised administration, which became the means for collecting extra income, “rent”. In such circumstances the modernisation of society and the economy will at best remain limited (Gel’man, 2016: 19-22).

In applying this framework to the Russian perception of border regions, the significance of the Russian state’s five-hundred-year imperial past should be recognised. The Russian state became multinational from the mid-six- teenth century. This means that the state’s borders have not been stable but mobile, either expanding or retreating, and potentially vulnerable (Kahonen and Laine, 2019: 36). Even if it has been politically useful for the present Russian administration to exaggerate this, the 1990s were genuinely perceived as a collapse of Russian society and the state. This created social demand for a strong state, which has been easy to combine with state and border-centred patriotism, and the significance of a “realist” paradigm for the Russian political elites. By the late 1990s three state-building and geopolitical visions of Russia could be recognised: 1) the re-creation of the Soviet Union as fully as possible; 2) the creation of a Slavic Russia, including the Belarusians and Ukrainians; and 3) a more limited republic of Russians (Tolz, 1998: 267-294). From Russia’s political elite’s perspective it seems the first cannot be realised, the second has been attempted but is threatened by the entanglement in the undeclared war against Ukraine, and the third is unacceptable.

Yet the centrality of the integration paradigm and the enlargement of the EU as a supranational entity, at least until the 2010s, have not been unproblematic. They have led to a partial underestimation of state building and nationalism, both in post-Soviet Eastern Europe (e.g. Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine) and in Central Europe (e.g. Poland and Hungary) within the EU. The central argument of the chapter is that long-term structural differences over two hundred and fifty to five hundred years reflect both different practices and conceptual understandings of sovereignty, and the role of the state and border regions, for example, between Russia and the “West”. These differences have now clearly emerged in Russian national security and border policy documents, leaving little optimism for the creation of common spaces during the present administration. Good examples of Russia’s present understanding of threats related to its border regions are the significance given to territorial integrity, natural resources, the foreign destabilising influence, and potential ethnic and religious conflict. Regardless of the increasing significance of national security regarding border regions, it is possible to find some scope for de-territorialised population-based contact and cooperation. The Russian argumentation, in any case, does not aim beyond, but very much at, geopolitics (Scott, 2017: 26).

The multinational foundations of the state remain a resource and a vulnerability for the Russian political elites, both in domestic and foreign policy. However, from the perspective of Russia’s neighbours, the problems are not limited to the occasional use of aggression and expansion to gain great power status. As long as the imperial and colonial heritage is not acknowledged as a component of Russia’s foreign relations, its relations with neighbouring states and their border regions will tend to remain tense. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case the more recently these states have separated from it.


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