The new border guard department of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) will be headed by Egert Belitšev who is currently in charge of integrated border management at PPA. Belitšev will become PPA Direct General Elmar Vaher’s deputy in charge of the border guard.
Belitšev (35) has a Citizenship and Migration Board background and has spent the past six years working in the border guard. He started his career as a senior inspector for the former board’s regional department North in 2006. Belitšev continued as a migration officer when the police, border guard and migration agencies were merged to form the PPA in 2010. Belitšev moved into the border guard service when he became a leading official of the PPA integrated border management bureau in 2014.
Minister of the Interior Mart Helme signed the PPA’s new statutes last week that are set to enter into force later this week after being published in the State Gazette. Belitšev was Elmar Vaher’s choice to run the border guard service.
“We agreed that the director general would pick out a candidate, and I made no obstacles in terms of his choice. Cooperation with Egert Belitšev has been successful, if only in the border development tender process. He is experienced and motivated, knows his field, and we have no reason to question Vaher’s judgment here,” Helme said.
The interior minister said several candidates where weighed and that he met with several people, while Belitšev stood out. Helme said the other candidates are capable people and will be involved in guarding the border one way or another. Postimees’ information suggests one candidate was former border development project lead Toomas Malleus who has been in the border guard for decades.
Elmar Vaher said that the agency’s new statutes will be published on Friday and see border guard tasks, such as the PPA fleet, flight squad and border development, move into the hands of Egert Belitšev.
Border chief position returns after six years
Elmar Vaher removed three deputy positions from the PPA’s structure in 2014, including that of a border guard director. The department was headed by Rando Kruusmaa at the time. Changes to the PPA’s structure were signed by then interior minister Hanno Pevkur.
Vaher said, commenting on his decision from six years ago, that it was not a mistake. “We changed our structure to have integral management. I have told Minister of the Interior Mart Helme that I was ready to perform border guard tasks with the recent structure. That said, I respect the minister’s position according to which he finds it easier to secure funding for additional tasks and border infrastructure developments if the border guard is a separate department within the PPA. The agency’s statutes are up to the minister to change, while it’s my task to implement the changes in a way that would retain as much of the recent structure as possible while also facilitating the development of the border guard in accordance with the coalition agreement,” Vaher said.
Belitšev said that he took some time to think over Vaher’s proposal before accepting.
The new border guard chief regards as his primary duty building up a functional border guard structure within the PPA. “It is an opportunity to strengthen border guard measures, attach meaning to border defense, create a corresponding training system and ensure necessary equipment,” he said.
Belitšev agrees that laying off the border guard chief six years ago cannot be considered a mistake as every decision is made in its time.
“The changes today aim to strengthen the border guard and render it more of a priority. We are complying with the government’s wishes and reinforcing the border guard,” he said.
The new border chief said that the practical organization of the new internal security reserve is being drawn up, while some details still need to be discussed. “It is my task to make the border guard department’s structure work in the most effective way in which the reserve is one part,” Belitšev explained.
The PPA announced a decision to close the Alajõe guard post on the shore of Lake Peipus in East Viru County a few weeks ago. Both Vaher and Belitšev support the move and say it will not weaken the guard.
“The most important thing in guarding the border is to proceed based on your risk assessment, in other words, to be in the right place at the right time. We have surveillance that covers the entire lake and we plan our response capacity accordingly. The Vasknarva border post is very close to Alajõe and it takes less time to get to the boundary line from there. The Mustvee cordon covers the whole of Lake Peipus,” Belitšev said.
Elmar Vaher added that the Alajõe guard post was unnecessary and that abolishing it will rather boost cooperation as the border guard officers stationed there will be working with other cordons directly. “The border is not guarded by a building somewhere but border guards with proper training and modern equipment,” Vaher said.
Lake Peipus might become part of the land border if it freezes over in the winter. Vaher said that is not enough to justify retaining the Alajõe cordon as the section guarded by the post usually does not freeze during the winter.
Construction to begin on Midsummer Day
PPA and Merko Ehitus signed a contract for the eastern border development project’s first stage construction work on Tuesday. Construction work is set to begin around Midsummer Day. Merko will construct a 23.5 kilometer section of the border complete with a fence in Võru County, stretching from the meeting point of the Estonian, Latvian and Russian borders to the southern shore of Lake Vanigõjärv in Tserebi Village, 3.5 kilometers north of the Luhamaa border crossing point. The new section is set to be completed in the spring of 2023.
Development of the eastern border became a priority in the fall of 2014, after FSB agents kidnapped Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) operative Eston Kohver in Southern Estonia. Construction work on the first section of the new border will begin six years after the incident.
Mart Helme said the main reason things have taken so long was the initial and admittedly utopian plan to have every imaginable structure and piece of technology guarding the new border.
“We just couldn’t find the money this would have required. We spent the whole of last year reevaluating recent projects and developing new and cheaper solutions. That said, the eastern border will sport that utopian science fiction solution one day as it can be upgraded with new technology that keeps getting cheaper,” the minister said.
Helme added that the following sections of the border will not have full-length fences because difficult terrain makes it unnecessary in places.