Like neighbours, Estonia to lay down a frontier zone

Hanno Pevkur.

PHOTO: Jaanus Lensment

Within years, the  Estonian Eastern border modernised for €71m will after the example of neighbours get a frontier zone with specific requirements, says interior minister Hanno Pevkur (Reform). While width is not yet decided, border guards will gain richer information of what is happening near the border, and whoever goes there will be better scrutinized. 

-People have been telling Postimees that building the border has halted, agreements to buy out the land proving elusive.

Naturally, we would have wished all to be settled by now. Still, with a couple of land owners we are in negotiations. Last week, I signed a paper which increased the compensation to land owners. Owners of all 87 lots get extra €1,000. I hope that helps settle the issue.

-Do you feel people are testing the state as to how much they might get?

I have not had feedback about ill will, Rather, the price set by experts made them sad. Some lots have been prices in dozens of euros! If I’d been offered €57 for a piece of land, I’d have been sad too. An expert has no feelings.

-Bulk of the taxpayer money goes to build the information system.

It means 135 kilometres of electronic surveillance, which pushes up communication costs. It’s about the connections and the security, with backup provided. Internet connection, electricity, then the technology requiting optical lines.

-How much of the work is seen by the Russians?

They do not see everything, but the fact is that a border is between two nations. We have informed them of the works. Important that they know crossing of the border will be recorded via video or sensors.

-From Eston Kohver and treason cases we know that smuggling has had to do with Russian border guard. The door closes now?

The other side has gotten the message that we are fixing our border. Even without a border treaty. Already, illegal crossings are down. Last year, in first two months we had 20 illegal crossings, this year we have had two ( as at end of May, 28 and 21 respectively – O. K.). So the message we are at work at the border is received.

-How much help is shown by Russian border guard, at the moment?

We have detected normal cooperation, but also where we find traces of an illegal crossing and the other side says they see nothing. But I guess we need to understand that while our border guards would be praised, they would be punished perhaps.

-Foreign drones have been detected above the border. Is Estonian state just observing that or have orders been issued to act?

Border guards have a right to shoot a drone down. At that, it must be ensured it was in Estonian airspace. That is not easy. Thus far, there are no instances where we would have used weapons against drones.

Have we seen them fly? Yes. Have we been able to identify the owner? Having not caught them, no. Nowadays there are electronic cannons to disturb their movement. I am rather thinking about applying modern technologies.

-For starters, own drones would help.

We will surely apply those, the issue is what type. We will begin with rotor type which are able to stand at one place. They cost €30,000 to €40,000 and come with an infrared camera. With money available, I would not exclude high flying drones some day, invisible for human eye. These would be permanently circling above 150 kilometres of the border.

-What will change for locals with the new border?

At the moment, we are discussing amendments to State Borders Act. As we get the border completed, Estonia will get some kind of a frontier zone. Our neighbour have it different: Latvians have up to two kilometres, Finns up to three. Can’t draw a clear line. Must be a logical explanation, whether linked to a road or local government line.

So we will have two sets of rules: one is the ten metres wide border strip where people cannot go.

In the frontier zone, people can live and do their things, but with certain restrictions. If we need to react to events on the border, for instance, we can say we travel through a private road. If someone see two busloads of young people around, they can ask border guards about it. For events in frontier zone, bit different regulations apply.

-What will the border be like in 2019?

Border crossing points will be quite like today. If someone comes with Vietnamese in trunk, he might still get across. On water front, not much change – even with border marks on Narva River, fishermen still stray beyond them. But regarding the green border, all crossings will be detected.

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